Lincoln's First Presidential Election
The presidential election of 1860 was one of the most raucous in American history. The Democratic Party convened in Charleston, South Carolina, in April, to select a suitable candidate. It adjourned without doing so after fifty delegates from the Southern states stormed out when the party refused to include a platform that guaranteed the constitutional protection of slave owners. The Democrats reconvened the following month in Baltimore but were again unable to reach a suitable compromise on the slavery issue, and, once more, the Southern delegates walked out, taking the majority of the upper Southern delegates with them. The remaining Democratic delegates selected Senator Stephen Douglas as their presidential candidate, based on a platform of popular sovereignty, once again pitting Douglas against Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to wear a beard. The look set a precedent, and of the next nine men to hold the high office, only William McKinley was clean shaven.
The more than 100 Southern Democrats who had walked out of the Baltimore convention gathered elsewhere in the city and nominated John Breck-inridge of Kentucky as their candidate of choice. Their platform called for the federal government to protect the rights of persons and property in the territories and wherever else its constitutional authority extended. Breckin-ridge was endorsed by incumbent president James Buchanan and former presidents John Tyler and Franklin Pierce.
The Republican Candidates
Meanwhile, the Republican Party held its convention in Chicago and established a platform that, among other things, opposed the spread of slavery into the territories. Contenders for the nomination included William Seward of New York, who was popularly viewed as a radical abolitionist; Salmon Chase of Ohio; and Edward Cameron of Pennsylvania. Lincoln wasn't the first choice of most of the delegates, but he was the second choice for many of them because of his relatively moderate stand on the important issues. The Pennsylvania delegation switched to Lincoln on the second ballot, and Lincoln took the nomination on the third ballot. Part of his victory may have resulted from a backroom deal that promised Cameron a cabinet post should Lincoln win, and Cameron became Lincoln's first secretary of war.
In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln won 1,866,000 popular votes for 180 electoral votes; Stephen Douglas won 1,375,000 votes for 12 electoral votes; John Breckinridge won 846,000 popular votes for 72 electoral votes; and John Bell won 560,000 popular votes for 39 electoral votes.
The Do-Nothing Party
A contentious faction of the Whig party calling themselves the Constitutional Union Party also met in Baltimore. They selected John Bell of Tennessee as their preferred candidate; however, neither the party nor Bell had much to offer voters. Their platform addressed none of the important issues, such as slavery, and merely vowed to uphold the Constitution. As a result, the party came to be jokingly known as the Do-Nothing and Old Man's Party.
The Election Results
When election day rolled around, the race for president had been regionally divided into two specific contests: Lincoln and Douglas in the North (Lincoln wasn't even on the ballot in the Southern states), and Bell and Breckinridge in the South. The candidates campaigned vigorously, and the races contained more than their share of mud slinging and rumor mongering. But in the end, the sharp division within the Democratic Party guaranteed a victory for Abraham Lincoln, who won almost 40 percent of the popular vote and, more importantly, the electoral votes of the largest states in the North and the West.