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How We Elected Lincoln

A.J. Dittenhoefer


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THE Republican National Convention that convened in Chicago, May 16, 1860, proved a complete refutation of the frequently expressed belief that the new party had died with Fremont 's defeat in 1856. Some of the ablest and most distinguished men in the country appeared as delegates and as candidates for nomination. During the four years following Fremont 's defeat by James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, former minister to England, the Republican party had been strengthened by the affiliation of many Northern Democrats who were inclined to oppose the extension of slavery. The struggles to exclude the curse of slavery from Kansas and Nebraska had agitated the entire country during these years, and had brought many new voters into the ranks of the Republican party.

William H. Seward was admittedly the great Republican leader and the ablest champion of his party. His speech in the United States Senate on the "Irrepressible Conflict" had made him

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famous all over the country, and he was constantly talked of by both friends and foes. At least two-thirds of the delegates at the Chicago convention favored his nomination, and even the majority of the delegates from Illinois, Lincoln 's own State, while instructed to vote for "Honest Old Abe" as the favorite son, passively favored Seward.

In the New York delegation was Tom Hyer, the noted champion prize-fighter of his generation. He bore the banner of the New York City Republican Club, and was an ardent supporter of Seward. Being a man six feet two and a half inches in height, he presented an imposing figure.

The defeat of Seward's ambition was generally ascribed to an unhealed break between Horace Greeley, Thurlow Weed, and himself. These three men, all eminent in their spheres, constituted what was known then as the "Republican Triumvirate," or what would now be called the "Big Three." This breach. occurred in November, 1854, over five years previously. Greeley resented the injustice that he believed had been meted out to him, being sincerely of the opinion that Senator Seward had deceived him, and this unfriendly feeling had fermented into a fully developed hatred.

His letter to Seward announcing "a dissolution of the political firm of Seward, Weed, and

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Greeley, by the withdrawal of the junior partner," is a part of political history. It is a long epistle, covering more than five pages in Greeley 's Recollections of a Busy Life, in which is recounted the writer's career in New York, from his start as "a poor young printer" to his affiliations with the political powers of the Empire State. While it contains kindly words for Thurlow Weed, it proclaims the severance of all relations with Seward. In conclusion, it acknowledges acts of kindness by his former partner in politics, and, reiterating that "such acts will be gratefully remembered, the writer takes an eternal farewell."

In the stormy days preceding the Chicago convention the New York Tribune's opposition to Seward's nomination had been continuous. But I have always had an idea, based upon a study of the actual occurrences in the convention where I was a looker-on, and from my intimacy with Mr. Greeley, that the factor which had the most to do with Seward's defeat was the fear of Henry S. Lane, Republican candidate for Governor of Indiana, and of Andrew G. Curtin, Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, that Seward could not carry these two States. This weakness would not only insure defeat of the Presidential ticket, but would carry down with it the aspirations of these two Gubernatorial candidates.

I talked with both of these able politicians on

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the subject, and the reasons they gave for their opposition to Seward were that he had antagonized the Protestant element of the country and the remnants of the old "Know Nothing party" by his advocacy, in a message to the New York Legislature, of a division of the school funds between Catholic parochial schools and the common or public schools of the States in proportion to the number of Catholics and non-Catholics. How much ground there was for the anxiety of Lane and Curtin I have never been able to settle in my mind. Whether they were unduly alarmed or not, the dissemination of these views among the delegates created a noticeable weakening on the part of Seward's friends.

The battle in the convention was a contest of political giants. Thurlow Weed, to -whom Lincoln afterward became greatly attached, was Seward's devoted and loyal friend and champion. He gallantly led the fight for him, ably supported by Edwin D. Morgan, the war Governor of New York, and chairman, at that time, of the National Committee, and also by Henry J. Raymond, the distinguished founder of the New York Times, and in later years Lieutenant-Governor of the State of New York.

Before the convention was called to order at least eight candidates were in the field; to enumerate them:

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William H. Seward, of New York.
Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois.
Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania.
Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio.
Edward Bates, of Missouri.
William L. Dayton, of New Jersey.
Justice John McLean, of the Supreme Court.
Jacob Collamer, of Vermont.

George Ashman, of Massachusetts, was chosen permanent chairman of the convention, and after the platform was read Joshua Giddings moved that it should be amended by inserting a part of the Declaration of Independence. This was violently opposed by another delegate in a rather sarcastic speech, whereupon George William Curtis, one of the great orators of America, and at the time editor of Harper's Weekly, got the floor and in his mellifluous voice said:

"Gentlemen, have you dared to come to this convention to undo what your fathers did in Independence Hall?"

Curtis's speech carried the amendment.

To impress all wavering delegates, an imposing political parade through the streets was organized by Seward's friends. It was great in numbers and enthusiasm. Hundreds of marchers, among whom Tom Hyer, in his glossy silk hat, was a prominent figure, were drafted into the parade by the political wire-pullers, but it had no

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effect in determining the result on the floor of the convention.

Indeed, from my long political experience I have come to the conclusion that these public parades, while imposing for the moment, have no permanent influence upon the voters. The mob of spectators along the streets are there largely as a matter of curiosity, and are not to be swerved from their convictions by any mere spectacle.

While this outside parade was being carried on, Lincoln 's friends developed tremendous energy and skill in marshaling the delegates. Among the leaders of the "rail-splitter's" cause were Joseph Medill, the celebrated editor of the Chicago Tribune, David Davis, the intimate friend of Lincoln, afterward appointed by him justice of the United States Supreme Court; Norman B. Judd; and Leonard Swett, remarkable for his close resemblance to Lincoln.

Greeley was an intense champion of Edward Bates, who had been a representative from Missouri during the administration of John Quincy Adams.

Greeley 's championship of Bates was remark-' able for several reasons. Bates was born in Virginia, he had been a lifelong slaveholder, and in politics he was what was known as a "Silver-gray Whig." Consequently he was conservative on the slavery question, clinging to the doctrine of the

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revolutionary sages that "slavery was an evil to be restricted, not a good to be diffused." Greeley insisted that the position that Bates thus held made him essentially a Republican. While lie believed that Bates would poll votes even in the slave States, he was confident that he would rally' about him all that was left of the old Whig party.

Greeley, regarding trouble with the Southern States as probably inevitable, yet believed that the nomination of Bates would check and possibly avert an open schism. He did not at the time avow these reasons for supporting Bates, but afterward frankly admitted them. While these views may have influenced his opposition to Seward's nomination, there is no doubt in my mind but that the real reason of his fight against Seward were the grounds herein before stated.

The Free Soil element at Chicago was both prominent and aggressive. A characteristic anecdote is told of Greeley during a caucus at which a Free Soil member shouted, "Let us have a candidate, this time, that represents our advanced convictions against slavery."

"My friend," inquired Greeley, in his falsetto voice, as he rose to his feet, "suppose each Republican voter in your State were to receive a letter to-morrow advising him that he (the said voter) had just lost a brother living in the South, who had left to him a plantation stocked with slaves.

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How many of the two hundred and fifty thousand Republicans would, in response, set free those slaves?"

"I fear I could not stand that test myself," was the rejoinder.

"Then it is not yet time to nominate an abolitionist," retorted Greeley, sitting down. This is a good story, but if the incident took place at all it must have occurred elsewhere than in the caucus of the New York delegation, for the reason that Greeley, not being a delegate from the State of New York, could not attend the caucus of that delegation. He was appointed a delegate from Oregon, by the special request of the Republicans of that State, and as such sat in the convention.

Seward had all of the delegates from New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and he counted many followers in other States.

Lincoln had a strong following from his own State, and on the first ballot mustered one hundred and two votes out of a total of four hundred and sixty-six. Seward received one hundred and seventy-two and a half on the second ballot; then Cameron turned his votes over to Lincoln, and thirteen of the Bates delegates followed suit. On the third ballot Lincoln 's vote had increased to two hundred and thirty-one and a half, while; Seward's was only one hundred and eighty. When

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the break started I turned to my neighbor in the gallery and remarked, "Seward is defeated; Lincoln will be nominated."

"No," he objected; "this is only one delegation, and Seward's friends are too devotedly attached to his fortunes. They will never go over to his opponent."

"And what will Greeley do?" I asked.

" Greeley will be left with only his hatred," he rejoined.

And yet, even as we were speaking, the tide had turned. Delegate after delegate came over to Lincoln, and the final ballot gave him three hundred and fifty-four votes and the nomination. When the result was announced there was an outbreak from the galleries which had been packed with Lincoln sympathizers, but the New York delegates sat silent and sullen in their seats. It seemed a long time, although it was really only a few minutes, before William M. Evarts, the distinguished member of the New York bar, who later became Secretary of State under President Hayes, and Senator from the State of New York, rose and moved, presumably with Seward's acquiescence, that Lincoln 's nomination be made unanimous. Then the applause broke out again and this time it was much more general and spontaneous.

Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, was nominated for

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Vice-President practically without opposition. The singular coincidence that the. last syllable of Lincoln 's first name, "Abraham," and the first syllable of his last name, " Lincoln," form the name "Hamlin," attracted wide attention at that time.

A great many anti-slavery advocates in the North differed with Lincoln as regards his views on the grave question of the immediate extinction of slavery in the Southern States. They did not understand him.

They did not comprehend that he was at heart thoroughly imbued with the unrighteousness of property in human beings, but that he felt it was good policy to go gradually, step by step, hoping to unite the entire North and so bring about the ultimate abolishment of slavery; whereas, if the policy for the immediate extinction of slavery should be adopted it must inevitably have disrupted the Republican party.

I was present at that convention, not as a delegate, but as a "looker-on" and a student of American politics. I need not say that I learned much about the finesse and spirit of compromise that enters into all national conventions. From a brief conversation which I had with Mr. Greeley, I understood that while he disclaimed having effected Seward's defeat, he was only moderately gratified at Lincoln's nomination


In his well-known volume of Recollections he intimates that he exerted much less influence in bringing about Seward's defeat than I gathered from the conversation I had with him on the morning following Lincoln 's nomination.

The demand of the people of the North, where the Republican strength lay exclusively, was for a candidate who would appeal to both Free-Soilers and abolitionists. Between these factions there was an almost impassable gulf.

Now as the years have rolled on Lincoln has grown steadily in the love and admiration of the American people, and the unjust criticism which was made by the abolitionists at the time of his nomination, namely, that he did not favor the abolition of slavery in the States because he was born in the South, is regarded with disdain. The abolitionists in their intemperate criticism used language, in discussing Lincoln, hardly less acrimonious than that employed by the "fire-eaters" of the South; but they had no recourse except to vote for him. Thus were added thousands of unwilling votes to swell the Lincoln aggregate in the November election.

The Democratic convention had convened at an earlier date in Charleston, South Carolina, the city of my birth. After quarreling over a platform for a week, the convention was split by the withdrawal of the majority of the delegates of the slave

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States, following the adoption of the plank favoring the Douglas "popular sovereignty" doctrine. After fifty-seven ballots for President, in which Douglas had the majority in every instance, but not the two-thirds required for nomination in Democratic conventions, the convention adjourned on May 3, 1860, to reassemble at Baltimore, June 18. There, the places of the seceders having been filled, Douglas received one hundred and seventy-three and a half votes on the first ballot and one hundred and eighty-one and a half on the second, still lacking the vote of two-thirds of the three hundred and three delegates in convention. On motion of Sanford F. Church, of New York, who, in later years, became chief-justice of the Court of Appeals of that State, he was declared the nominee. Herschel V. Johnson, of Georgia, was named as candidate for Vice-President.

The remnant of the Charleston convention gathered itself together in a separate convention, also held in Baltimore, on the eleventh day of June. It adjourned on the 25th of that month, when John C. Breckenridge, of Kentucky,—at that time Vice-President under Buchanan—was unanimously named for President, with Gen. Joseph H. Lane, of Oregon, as his running mate. In the Charleston convention Benjamin F. Butler, of Massachusetts, who during the Civil War became identified with the North and was

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made a major-general in the Union Army, cast a solitary vote for Jefferson Davis as the Democratic candidate for President.

The three-cornered contest that followed between Lincoln, Douglas, and Breckenridge is paralleled in American political history by the famous campaign of 1824 when Jackson, Adams, Clay, and Crawford, all of the same party, were running for the Presidency. As none of the latter received a majority of the electoral vote, the election, under the provisions of the Constitution, was thrown into the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams received the nomination.

When the committee went to Springfield to notify Mr. Lincoln of his nomination, Judge Kelly, of Pennsylvania, known, because of his service of over thirty years in Congress, as the father of the House of Representatives, was one of the committee. The judge was unusually large in stature, and his great height attracted Mr. Lincoln, who, upon shaking hands with him, asked, "What is your height, Judge?"

"About six feet three," said Judge Kelly. "What is yours, Mr. Lincoln."

"Six feet four," replied Lincoln, with a smile, pulling himself up to his full stature.

"Pennsylvania," said Judge Kelly, "bows to Illinois. My dear man, for years my heart has been aching for a President that I could 'look

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up to,' and I have found him in the land where we thought there was none but 'Little Giants.'

Lincoln replied, "There is one man in this country who, though little in stature, is a giant in mind, and he has given me much hard work to do." Mr. Lincoln's reply to the committee that visited Springfield on May 19, to notify him of his nomination, and his formal letter of acceptance, dated May 23, avoided all reference to what Mr. Seward had described as "the impending crisis." In his letter Mr. Lincoln pledged "due regard to the rights of all States and Territories and people of the nation, to the inviolability of the Constitution, and the perpetual union, harmony, and prosperity of all." This assurance satisfied neither slaveholders of the South nor anti-slave men of the North. This letter often rose to haunt Lincoln in the latter part of the war, after he had issued the Emancipation Proclamation which gave freedom to all the slaves.

Mr. Lincoln was in the office of the Springfield Journal when he received the first notification of his nomination. After allowing the assembled people to congratulate him, he said, "There is a little woman down at our house that would like to hear the news," and he started at once for home.


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