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U.S. presidential election, 1860
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U.S. presidential election, 1860

Presidential CandidateElectoral Vote Popular Vote Pct Party Running Mate
(Electoral Votes)
Abraham Lincoln of Illinois (W) 180 1,865,908 39.82% Republican Hannibal Hamlin of Maine (180)
John Cabell Breckinridge of Kentucky 72 848,019 18.1% Democrat (southern states) Joseph Lane of Oregon (72)
John Bell of Tennessee 39 590,901 12.62% Constitutional Union (Whig) Edward Everett of Massachusetts (39)
Stephen Arnold Douglas of Illinois 12 1,380,202 29.46% Democrat (northern states) Herschel Vespasian Johnson of Georgia (12)
Total 100.0%
Other elections: 1848, 1852, 1856, 1860, 1864, 1868, 1872
Source: U.S. Office of the Federal Register

1860 is widely considered to be a realigning election.


The nation had been divided through the 1850s by the issue of slavery -- Abolitionists argued that slavery should be ended, and Northerners and Southerners fought every time a new state was admitted to the Union over whether it should be a slave state or a free state. Political alignments on this issue cut across the existing Whig and Democratic parties, dividing them among themselves.

Republican Nomination

At the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago, William H. Seward of New York, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania were the leading contenders for the party's presidential nomination. However, Lincoln, through the political astuteness of his managers and his own shrewd politicking, received the nomination on May 16, 1860. Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was selected as his running mate.

Party leaders declared that slavery could spread no farther. The party also promised a tariff for the protection of industry and pledged the enactment of a law granting free homesteads to settlers who would help in the opening of the West.

Democratic Nomination

The Democrats were not united. Stephen A. Douglas, a moderate who sought to compromise on the slavery issue, was the nominee of northern Democrats. Southerners split from the party and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for president. Diehard Whigs from the border states, formed into the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John C. Bell of Tennessee on a vague platform of union and compromise.

General Election

Lincoln and Douglas competed in the North, and Breckenridge and Bell in the South. Lincoln won only 39 percent of the popular vote, but had a clear majority of 180 electoral votes, carrying all 18 free states. Bell won Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia; Breckenridge took the other slave states except for Missouri, which was won by Douglas. Despite his poor electoral showing, Douglas trailed only Lincoln in the popular vote.

Lincoln was elected, primarily, because the Democrat party was divided into those many sections. Lincoln's election made South Carolina's secession from the Union a foregone conclusion. The state had long been waiting for an event that would unite the South against the antislavery forces. Once the election returns were certain, a special South Carolina convention declared "that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states under the name of the 'United States of America' is hereby dissolved." By February 1, 1861, six more Southern states had seceded. On February 7, the seven states adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America. The remaining southern states as yet remained in the Union.

Less than a month later, on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States. In his inaugural address, he refused to recognize the secession, considering it "legally void." His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union. But the South turned deaf ears, and on April 12, guns opened fire on the federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor. The United States Civil War had begun. More Americans would die in this conflict than in any other conflict before or since.

Portions copied from the following sources: U.S. Department of State infoUSA site, U.S. National Parks Service site

See also: President of the United States, U.S. presidential election, 1860, Origins of the American Civil War

External resources: