President Shrimpo 0:00
Hello, my name is President Shrimpo. And you are listening to in the West Wing, a political history podcast brought to you by WKNC 88.1. And in this week's episode, we will be taking a look at the chaotic four way race, the election of 1860 with a fractured Democratic Party, and a rising Republican Party for Lincoln and liberty too.
So entering the election of 1860, we, we see sort of this collapsed of, of the doe face political consensus of Northern Democrats who are accommodating the interests of the Southern wing of the party, and sort of slave interest within American government. And we see that this disastrous presidencies of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan just really utterly destroyed the reputation of the Democratic Party in northern states. And so, after more than a decade, of Northern Democrats just bending over backwards to serve the interests of the Southern planter class, the party just had to draw a line in the sand at some point. And we see that line being drawn in 1860. So for the bulk of Northern Democrats, they've taken a position called Popular sovereignty. Basically, they came to sort of the consensus that the policy taken by the Kansas Nebraska Act was sort of the best course in which territories would be able to decide for themselves whether or not they would be slave or free. And really, this was not a good arrangement by any means. It allowed slavery as an institution to creep farther and farther north. But the thing was, for as much as this accommodated southern interests, the southern wing of the party didn't think it went far enough. And so we see this, then, with the Dred Scott decision, ruling that in all federal territories, slavery, by default, should be legal, essentially. And so with this ruling in 1857, it put a lot of Northern Democrats in a precarious position. And one of these northern Democrats was Senator Stephen Douglass of Illinois, one of the co authors of the Kansas Nebraska act. And entering the midterms of 1858. Douglass was in a very close contest with against his Republican counterpart, former congressman Abraham Lincoln. Now now, Douglass was able to win the senatorial election after a very close contentious race between him and Lincoln. And throughout the election, he had to sort of define his position as a much more moderate sort of Democrat that would be drawing a line in the sand, otherwise he would lose reelection in his home state. And in order to win reelection, in a series of debates between Lincoln and Douglass, Douglas outlined his so called free port doctrine, which essentially, by default, rejected the Dred Scott ruling, and instead favored a return to popular sovereignty, saying in his debate with Lincoln, quote,
Stephen Douglas 3:48
"Can the people of a territory in any lawful way against the wishes of any citizen of the United States exclude slavery from their limits prior to formation of a state constitution? I answer emphatically, as Mr. Lincoln has heard me answer 100 times from every stump in Illinois, that in my opinion, the people of a territory can by lawful means exclude slavery from their limits, prior to the formation of a state constitution.
President Shrimpo 4:11
And hearing this today, I mean, this sounds like really the softest of positions that somebody could take that, you know, it seems to be already be bending over to slave interest by saying that like, oh, we can ignore the the agreements that have the Missouri Compromise and all of that, if just the people living there that happen to settle in a territory decide that they want to be a slave territory or free territory. But to Southern Democrats, that was just a step too far for Douglass. And so the most militant of pro slavery Democrats in the south formed a faction known as the fire eaters, and these fire eaters were determined to prevent Douglass from winning the Democratic nomination in 1860. And chief among these fire eaters, was William Yancey of Alabama, who, in a letter written in 1858, which would come to be known as The Scarlet Letter, say, quote,
William Yancey 5:21
No national party can save us. No sectional party can do it. But if we could do as our fathers did organized committees of safety all over the Cotton States, and it is only in them that we can hope of any effective movement, we shall fire the southern heart, instruct the southern mind, give courage to each other. And at the proper moment by one organized concerted action, we can precipitate the Cotton States into a revolution.
President Shrimpo 5:45
This position was held by many Southern Democrats at the time. And many delegates predicted that should Douglass be nominated, the party would be split in two, and that whoever the Republican nominee would be, would be the victor in the election of 1860. And so prior to the Democratic National Convention, hosted in May, delegates from seven deep southern states would meet and sort of form a plot to block Douglass's nomination at any cost. And this Cabal, essentially, of southern fire eaters would be able to control a majority of the Democratic Party's platform committee, and they would draft the most radically pro slavery platform for the party, which embraced the Dred Scott decision, and called for further pro slavery acts to be enacted by Congress, so called slave codes, that northern Democrats simply could not accept it if, if the Democratic Party took this extreme position. Democrats all over the country knew it would cause the party to lose any future election they ran in. And so with the party's national convention, beginning in Charleston, South Carolina, even northern doe faces, recognized that they weren't a precarious position. If they agreed to the South's demands, they recognized that it would be political suicide, essentially, the Dred Scott decision was simply too unpopular. And in fact, northern delegates preferred to ignore the platform, some proposed platform and instead run again on the platform put forward in 1856, which was softer on the issue of slavery. And so the convention very narrowly voted to reject the southern wings platform that was put forward. And as a result, the southern wing of the party opted to simply walk out of the party's convention, and delegates from the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, as well as portions of Arkansas and Delaware's delegations walked out of the Convention on April 30, and May 1, and set up an opposing convention on the other side of Charleston. Despite this huge walkout, the remaining delegates would proceed with the presidential balloting process. But the issue for Douglass camp is that despite the fact that Douglasa had a solid majority of support from the delegation, present at the convention, he still required two thirds of the entire party support in order to win the nomination. And really, he struggled to secure that necessary margin. After 57, grueling ballots, Douglasa was no closer to receiving the nomination. And on May 3, the Convention voted to adjourn with no nominee selected. Needless to say, this was a humiliating outcome for the Democratic Party. And even if the party had put together a united front and easily nominated a candidate, the party was already in a weak, precarious position. And so now more than ever, the Republican Party recognized that they had an opportunity to finally win the presidential election. And so we now cut to the Republican National Convention, of 1860. This is their second presidential convention. And it's the convention met in Chicago. At that time, Chicago was only a city of about 100,000 residents, and they had no meeting hall that was large enough to accommodate the 1000s of delegates and spectators that were needed. And so as a result, a temporary wooden structure, it would be constructed that would be affectionately nicknamed the wigwam. But it would be able to seat up to more than 10,000 people in the audience. And really, it was an excellent meeting hall because it had, it was it was essentially designed to have really excellent lines of sight for the entire audience. It had really excellent acoustics for speaking to a large, such a large crowd of people. But you have to wonder, why did the party select a city that was so small relative to the needs of what the convention needed. And so let's put a little pin in that, but we'll come back to that in a bit. With the convention gathering, on May 16, delegates were electrified by the news that the Democratic Party was in disarray. And as I said, before, they believed now more than ever, they could win the nomination. One thing I want to note about this convention, is that it was almost entirely attended by northerners. The only states that had slavery, that still sent delegates to the convention, were the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, and Missouri, as well as Texas. The best I can chalk that up to is the large German population in Texas, may have been sort of more pro Republican than the average Texan. But still, the delegations from all of these states were fairly small, and really could not be considered a full representation at the convention. And the chairman for the convention, was former Democratic Congressman David Wilmont, famous for his authoring of the Wilmont proviso, as we talked about in the previous episode. And he delivered the keynote speech, saying, quote,
David Wilmot 11:57
A great sectional aristocratic party or interest has for years dominated with a hand over the political affairs of this country, that interest was rested, and is now resting, all of the great powers of his government to the one object of the extension and the nationalization of slavery. It is our purpose, gentlemen, is the mission of the Republican Party in the basis of his organization to resist this policy of a sectional interest.
President Shrimpo 12:20
And I think this really outlines excellently, the position held by the Republican Party, they came to recognize that the interests of the Southern planter class and and the slaveholding aristocracy in the South had come to unjustly dominate the federal government at all levels. And I think there was a deep seated anxiety that I think the Republican Party rightfully recognized stemmed from the institution of slavery. And so the party drafted a 17 point party platform, the first 10 points of this platform, were about the issues of Free Soil in territories, blocking the extension of slavery, ending the Fugitive Slave Act, I think, very importantly, preserving the union, keeping the states of this country together. And then the remaining points of the 17 platform, were more focused on domestic policy and economic agendas. So they importantly, focused on the existence of a protective tariff, the enactment of a Homestead Act, which would allow white settlers to travel westward with the endorsement and support of federal government, which was very popular among these sort of Western Midwestern sort of people that were in support of the Republican Party, as well as a point in favor of the construction of a transcontinental railroad. And so entering the Republican National Convention, the front runner was Senator William Seward of New York, and he was expected to be the nominee, but there was considerable opposition against his nomination from a number of different factions. I think a lot of people in describing the Republican Party overly simplify its composition, and sort of treat it as just a party that is, in the early years uniformly an abolitionist party, and that they sort of had a sort of unified, singular vision for what America should be. But that's just wrong, especially this early on. The Republican Party is more an amalgamation of these disparate factions that have these sort of very competing visions for what America should be, but have a unified purpose in opposing the expansion of slave power. And, and these disparate groups I think can be best understood in, in the front runners for the Republican National Convention. So leading among them was, as I mentioned previously, Senator William Seward, Seward was from the old sort of Whig establishment of New York. And he has, I think, sort of made his his start in politics as sort of a, the champion for the Whig economic agenda. So you know, the process of sort of national improvements, tariffs, this sort of, all of the ideas sort of outlined by Henry Clay, for the Whig party, I think, were also the agendas and goals of, of Seward. And so he sort of had the opposition then, of former Democrats, who, who sort of economically opposed him. But I also want to say that Seward was sort of seen as overly radical on the issue of abolition, he had made very fiery speeches against slavery. And as a result, he alienated quite a few moderates and conservatives within the party, who, yes, opposed the expansion of slavery, but maybe were not as in favor of outright abolishing slavery on a national scale. Another front runner was Salmon P Chase of Ohio. Chase was a former Democrat, representing sort of the Free Soil wing of the party. And so his sort of position then was, was he was more ideologically radical on the issue of slavery. However, in terms of his economic platform, he was opposed to tariffs, he was not in favor of the wide sweeping national improvement agenda of say that the old Whig Party was in favor of because, of course, he came from a democratic background. And so his economic platform was closer to say, a sort of a Jacksonian view of what American, the American economy should be, and what the federal government's role in the economy should be. And so as a result, Chase really struggled to secure support of many whigs or former whigs, I should say. And then another, I think, key figure in understanding the factions within this party is Missouri representative Edward Bates. Bates sort of represented then, the sort of more economically conservative wing of the party, and more socially conservative wing of the party. Bates had been a member of the Know Nothing Party. And so he sort of represented then this sort of faction within the party that was maybe economically more conservative, and also very anti Catholic and sort of very native essence view and opposed to immigration. And so Bates, that, they were a significant subsection of the party. And so of course, Bates represented them. And I think also, it's important to say that Bates, was, I think, sort of much more reserved on the issue of slavery, he was opposed to its expansion, but he was by no means an abolitionist. And then, of course, on top of that, you then have a mix of regional candidates sort of favorite sons for a particular region of the party. But none of these candidates really had a serious shot of winning the nomination in their own right. Rather, they were maybe positioning to kind of get concessions from whoever the nominee would be, or, you know, maybe poised to place their preferred candidate as the vice presidential candidate or something, you know. So we enter this very divided field where where no clear candidate has a majority support. And so now, enter Abraham Lincoln, the former Whig representative from the state of Illinois, from 1847 to 1849. Lincoln had gained quite a bit of prominence in the national spotlight during the midterms of 1858, because he ran on an incredibly close Senate race against Stephen Douglas. And while Lincoln did lose to Douglas, ultimately in the Senate race, he really made Douglass run for his money. And really, I think Lincoln also ran a really intelligent public relations sort of campaign at the time and during the midterms of 1858. He had done a number of public debates with Senator Douglass, in which he very famously and eloquently argued against slavery. He delivered the incredibly famous lines, "A house divided shall not stand". That was delivered during the Lincoln Douglass debate. And so he had copies of transcripts of the debates circulated widely. He was, he was widely sought after for speaking engagements, he really was able to build up quite a, quite a public reputation, despite the fact that he only served as a member of the House of Representatives for two years. And so as a result, he sort of quietly was seen as maybe a potential dark horse candidate, but but he was not really seriously considered as a potential nominee. And so seeing that the, that the national convention was very divided between its support. Lincoln, I think, was able to very effectively engineer the situation in his favor. In fact, as I briefly mentioned, it was quite odd that the national convention is being hosted in Chicago, you know, considering how small the city was at the time. And there's good reason to believe that behind the scenes, Lincoln and his, his supporters maneuvered to ensure that the convention would be held in Chicago, because Chicago was in Illinois, a place where Lincoln had the home state advantage where he was able to kind of get an organizational advantage over other candidates. And additionally, Lincoln made a very concerted effort to communicate with the delegates coming to the convention to ensure that he would be pretty much everybody's second choice. And so, when balloting began, Lincoln was able to sweep up anti-Seward delegates on the first ballot. And despite the fact that he came in a distant second place to Seward, he was seen as then the most viable opponent to Seward.
And I think it's because Lincoln was able to kind of bring together the very disparate factions within the party. Lincoln was a Midwesterner, that sort of represented a support for the old, Whig economic agenda. But but also, he was sort of this rugged frontiersman, he came from this humble working class background. He, he sort of was able to kind of win the support of these these sort of Midwestern voters that, you know, maybe were traditionally working class Democrats. And so, through this, Lincoln was able to then kind of fuse together, the, the pro industry wing of the party through his support of weak economic practices, as well as then sort of the the more populist, working class oriented, sort of Western State, Democrat, former Democratic candidate voters. And additionally, his sort of quieter stance on the issue of slavery was not as extreme as say Bates, where he was able to still win over sort of more moderates and conservative voters who were anxious at nominating somebody who was too extreme on the issue of abolitionism. But he didn't drive away the sort of middle class moralists who, who represented this sort of fiercely abolitionist wing of the party. And so because of this, this sort of disparate support that Lincoln had, he was able to surge ahead on the second ballot when, when all of Pennsylvania's delegates, flipped to Lincoln's support. And he very, very narrow, very much narrowed the gap between him and Seward. Meaning in fact by the third ballot, Lincoln, would it be able to win the nomination outright, in an upset victory over the presumptive nominee, William Seward, and joining Lincoln on this ticket would be the, would be a former Democrat, and Senator from Maine, Hannibal Hamlin, Hamlin being a former Free Soil Democrat. And being from the New England region, meant that being paired with the former Whig and Midwestern candidate, Lincoln was able to provide sort of a balance on the ticket between those who were formerly Whigs and those who were formerly Democrats and also provide some regional balance within the ticket. And so with that, Abraham Lincoln was the Republican nominee for 1860. And so we now cut back to the Democratic Party, after the embarrassing Charleston convention. Democrats reconvened in Baltimore on June 18. And the first order of business for the reconvened Democratic Party was whether or not the party should readmit southern delegates who had walked out from the previous convention. And ultimately, all of the states delegates were readmitted. Except for Louisiana and Alabama, these two states would be substituted for an alternate slate of delegates. This wasn't good enough for the fire eaters in the party, and a second walkout was then staged. This, this walkout, I have to say, was an even bigger mess than the first walkout. And the party decided to go ahead with balloting. Anyways, and after two ballots, it quickly became clear that Douglass could not secure the necessary two thirds of the party's delegates, because two thirds of the party were not even present at the convention at this point, and so overturning a previous ruling, the party, the remaining delegates voted by acclamation that Douglass was the nominee, that he did not need to secure the two thirds of the entire delegation and that he only needed two thirds of the present delegates. And so Senator Stephen Douglas was nominated finally, as the Democratic nominee, along with Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama, who was unanimously nominated for the vice presidential nomination. And so the convention adjourned. Problem was, Fitzpatrick finally replied, and rejected the vice presidential nomination. He was the second candidate to have refused his party's vice presidential nomination. And so it would then pass on to the pro union forum, former governor of Georgia, Herschel Johnson. And so we now cut then to the southern Democratic convention that is organized parallel to the National Democratic Convention. And these extreme fire eaters within the party come together and decide to nominate sitting Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, essentially unanimously for their nomination for the Democratic ticket. Joining him was Oregon Senator Joseph Lane nominated for the vice presidential nominee. Lane was born in North Carolina and was absolutely the most pro slavery Senator, that was not representing a southern state, being from the state of Oregon. And it's through this then that we sort of see the natural outcome of, of the sort of regional rift within the Democratic Party. Ultimately, the concessions made by the northern wing of the party would never have been enough for the southern slave owning interest. And, of course, there would eventually come a time where northern Democrats would have to draw a line in the sand and say, No, you cannot get everything you want. And when the Southern Democrats finally stopped getting everything they wanted, they up and left, and nominated their own candidate that was extremely pro slavery. Now, I have to say, Lincoln, Douglas, and Breckenridge were not the only candidates in the election of 1860. The Republicans and the Democrats were not the only parties competing in the election of 1860, there was a fourth player, and that was the Constitutional Union Party. This is a party comprised of former whigs and know nothings, who were unwilling to join the Democratic or Republican Party. Generally speaking, these were primarily former Southern whigs that were bitterly opposed to everything that the Democratic Party stood for, but also did not embrace the Republican label, because, you know, they recognize that, you know, as southerners that the, that abolishing slavery would would harm them. And so this, this Constitutional Union Party, would come together and put forward a platform that completely ignored slavery, and entirely focused on preserving the union at any cost whatsoever. And so, the former Whig senator from Tennessee, John Bell, was nominated for their presidential, as their presidential candidate, along with former Massachusetts Senator Edward Everett. Everett was a so called cotton whig, which was a northern Whig, who was sort of neutral on the issue of slavery and sort of kind of didn't care enough to really do anything about it. So, on the campaign trail, with every party's candidate, put forward, we see a an incredibly tense election cycle. And really, things reached a fever pitch, and supporters from all political parties organized into essentially paramilitary groups. For the Republican Party, there was the wide awakes for the southern democratic wing, there were the so called Minutemen. And there were these just massive rallies and marches that were organized, that honestly sometimes turned quite violent. And so we it's, you know, it's this very heated, ugly election cycle, really one of the worst up to this point, if not the worst, up to this point. Note, despite the really ugly divisions within the Democratic Party, in three northern states, Democrats and Constitutional Union supporters would come together and form so called Fusion tickets on the ballots in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Really, nobody liked this arrangement. But the idea was that as a united force, that a fusion ticket could effectively oppose Lincoln in these very electorally rich states.
And actually, really, there were, there were quite a few norms that were broken in this election cycle, such as the formation of fusion tickets. And also, this is the first election in which we see a presidential candidate actively campaigning on their own behalf during the presidential election, Stephen Douglas, would actively campaign delivering speeches across northern states. And this was a presidential first, no major political candidate up to this point, actively campaigned for the presidency, that was just sort of a norm that was never broken. And, and this was such an extreme election cycle. And it's such an extreme set of circumstances that we see this norm broken for the first time. But still, three out of four candidates did not actively campaign on their own behalf. And finally, we reach Election Day 1860. And Abraham Lincoln sweeped, the north and the west coast. He won in New England, he won in the mid Atlantic, he won in the Midwest, he won in California and Oregon, in these Pacific Coast states that had a sizable pro slavery population. And, of course, the southern Democratic nominee. Breckenridge would sweep the deep south. Bell, as with running with the Constitutional Union would only win in the Upper South, winning in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, which were of course, all very much Whig strongholds in previous election cycles. And Douglass, the mainstream Democratic nominee would lose, he came in fourth place in the Electoral College, only winning outright in the state of Missouri, as well as being awarded a number of electors from the fusion ticket in New Jersey. And so here it is, we see the, the outcome of southern extremism on the issue of slavery, and we see them tear their own party apart, recognizing that it would allow for the Republican Party to finally win the presidential election. And despite the fact that, that these delegates, you can make the case intentionally through the election to Lincoln, were so upset over Lincoln's election, that southern states almost immediately began organizing secession conventions. Essentially, they believed that with the election of an abolitionist, the federal government would begin to undermine the economic viability of slavery, to essentially strangle it as an institution and drive it out over time gradually, in the southern states. I have to say this, I don't think anybody genuinely believed that Lincoln would abolish slavery outright. He made it very clear, that was not what his intention was. His main objective was the preservation of the Union. He just simply wanted to stop its expansion. But that was too much for the Southern Democrats. And from December 20 of 1860 to February 1 of 1861, seven states would declare secession from the Union. This would include South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. And throughout this whole time, sitting president James Buchanan would feebly try to organize a compromise between Abraham Lincoln and the southern secessionists, but the problem was, southerners were committed to secession. They really feigned interest into compromise, just to really buy time. To cease federal weapons stores to sort of put themselves in an advantageous position militarily, so that the federal government would have to stop them through force. And that force would take a lot to knock out the southern states. And so the states that seceded, would unite into a new organization of these states, the Confederate States of America, and would elect Jefferson Davis, the Senator from Mississippi, and former Secretary of War as their new president, their new Confederate President. On March 4 1861, Lincoln would be sworn in as the 16th President of the United States. In his inaugural address, he made a plea to the southern secessionists for unity and to keep our country together, saying, quote,
Abraham Lincoln 35:56
I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends, we must not be enemies. Their passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The Mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and Patriot grave to every living heart and Hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched as surely that it will be by the better angels of our nature.
President Shrimpo 36:22
This plea for unity would simply fall on deaf ears, and the Confederate government would demand that federal troops withdraw from Fort Sumter at the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. Federal troops would refuse and on April 12, Confederate forces would begin a bombardment of the fort and capture Fort Sumter on April 13. This is generally considered to be the first shot of the Civil War. And as a result of, of Lincoln's call to arms for northern states, several holdout southern states would organize and successfully secede from the Union. And that would be the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas, all voting to join the Confederate States of America. And with that, the time for negotiation was over. And America would begin four dark years of civil war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. As always, I've been your host, President Shrimpo, and you've been listening to in the West Wing by WKNC 88.1. Special thanks to those who helped give history a voice in this week's episode of In the west wing with Joey sports as Stephen Douglass, Claire Conklin as we William Yancey, Justin Kern as David Wilmot and Sophia Cunningham as Abraham Lincoln. The intro music used on in the West Wing is Star Spangled Banner by the United States Marine Band, and our Outro Song is Libertad by Iriarte and Pesoa.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai