The Election of 1860 was the most important presidential election since the birth of the nation. Less than a century after winning its independence from England, the United States was now on the brink of collapse because of the slavery issue and the dispute over "states rights."
War Drums on the Horizon
As the political process wove its way through the months of 1860, the threat of Civil War sat perched like a vulture awaiting the outcome of the election. The South threatened to break away from the Union if the election did not go their way, but President James Buchanan chose to leave the problem to his successor.
The voters, in 1860, had four major candidates from which to choose on the ballot.
- The Constitutional Union Party, an off-shoot of the old Whig Party, nominated the first candidate, John Bell, of Tennessee.
- The Democratic Party was deeply split by the slavery question and the northern Democrats fielded Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, as their candidate.
- The southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky.
- The Republican Party, on the third ballot, finally decided on Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, as their standard bearer.
Bell's campaign was based on the idea of maintaining the Constitution and the Union. Breckinridge called for a congressional slave code for the territories, and Douglas argued that each territory should be allowed to decide whether or not it desired the institution of slavery. The Republicans were against any further expansion of slavery. Lincoln and Douglas ran energetic campaigns, but Breckinridge and Bell did not.
Election Results and Civil War
The Election of 1860 was historical because of Lincoln's anti-slavery stance.
- Lincoln was elected president with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote, but collected 180 electoral votes.
- Douglas received 29.5 percent of the popular vote, but only 12 electoral votes.
- Breckinridge won 72 electoral votes with only 18.1 percent of the popular vote.
- Bell gathered 39 electoral votes with only 12.6 percent of the popular vote.
- A few months later the United States erupted into a deadly civil war, and the southern Confederacy selected Jefferson Davis as its president.