Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26, 1860: Anderson Moves to Fort Sumter

On Wednesday, December 26, 1860, Major Robert Anderson moved his small garrison from Fort Moultrie to the unfinished Fort Sumter.

Anderson had been pressing the War Department for orders since taking command of the Charleston garrison in mid-November.  About all he had been told was that he could defend himself if attacked.  Anderson's main concern was Fort Sumter.  It sat on a man-made granite island in the middle of the mouth of Charleston harbor and was empty except for some civilian workmen.  It could be easily captured by South Carolina militia, and would give them complete control of the harbor, leaving Washington unable to send supplies and reinforcements to the garrison.

Finally, Secretary of War John B. Floyd sent Major Don Carlos Buell to Charleston to give Anderson some instruction.  The orders -- "a broad explanation of general policy rather than explicit orders" -- were given to Buell verbally.

On December 11, once he had visited the garrison and made his own appraisal, Buell put Anderson's orders in writing.  Anderson was not to do anything to provoke the people of Charleston, but, if attacked, he could move his men into whichever fort was the most defensible.  Buell went farther:  "You are also authorized to take similar steps whenever you have tangible evidence of a design to proceed to a hostile act."  As Charleston was a hotbed of "tangible evidence," Anderson, if he interpreted his orders liberally, now had permission to move to Fort Sumter whenever he thought necessary.

After dark on December 26, Anderson evacuated Fort Moultrie.  The wives and children of the enlisted men were transported to Fort Johnson, on the south side of the harbor.  The two small companies of the garrison marched down to the wharf and boarded boats that took them to Fort Sumter.

Anderson's move touched off a major crisis.  After declaring its independence, South Carolina had sent a group of commissioners to Washington to negotiate for the Charleston forts and arsenal.  These commissioners reached Washington at about the same time as the news of Anderson's move.  The group was indignant, accusing President Buchanan of breaking the agreement he had reached earlier with the South Carolina congressmen.  They demanded that Anderson be ordered to return to Fort Moultie.  Buchanan almost capitulated, but a few cabinet meetings strengthened his resolve and he sent the commissioners on their way.  He even decided to reinforce Anderson.

South Carolina authorities quickly took possession of the now empty Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney, the arsenal, the customs house and the post office.  Every Federal official in the state, from judges to postmaster, resigned.

"The row is fast and furious now.  They say if we had been left out in the cold alone, we might have sulked a while, but back we would have had to go, and would merely have fretted and fumed and quarreled among ourselves.  We needed a little wholesome neglect.  Anderson had blocked that game, but now our sister States have joined us and we are strong.  I give the condensed essence of the table talk:  'Anderson has united the Cotton States.  Now for Virginia!'  Those who want a row are in high glee.  Those who dread it are glum and thoughtful enough."  -- Mary Boykin Chesnut

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20, 1860: Secession

So now the nation was in a period of transition.  Abraham Lincoln would be the next president of the United States, but would not take office until March 4, 1861.  President James Buchanan's term was coming to an end.  He was a lame duck just marking time.

Even before the election, fire-eaters (and even much more moderate men) in the South recognized what Lincoln's election would mean and began threatening secession if the election did not go as they wanted.  Before the election, such talk was dismissed as mere idle threats.  Now, with Lincoln's election an accomplished fact, the talk of secession was taken more seriously.

From The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton:
But there was still deep confusion and bewilderment, and in such times men of intense singleness of purpose can often drive through to their chosen goal and compel their fellows to trail along after them. The Southern men who, in November of 1860, proposed secession and the creation of a new nation had the advantage of knowing precisely what they wanted and of standing for immediate, emotion-releasing action. Those who counseled delay and full exploration of the possibilities of compromise were using the kind of talk that should have been (but was not) voiced in the presidential campaign; now it came too late, it had no force in it, and state and regional patriotism were generating a pressure that made it sound empty.

Lincoln had not advocated interfering with slavery in the states where it already existed. What put him at odds with the South was his stance on slavery in the territories. Lincoln vehemently opposed any expansion of slavery; if it could be contained where it was, it would eventually wither and die.  Some of those who wanted secession envisioned a new nation that stretched across the South and on into Cuba and Central and South America.

Also, to quote Alexander Stephens, Lincoln's election would "put the institutions of nearly half the states under the ban of public opinion and natural condemnation."  The mere existence of an administration hostile to slavery would spell eventual doom for the institution.

It had reached the point where Lincoln was already considering how to maintain the Union:  "My own impression is, at present (leaving myself room to modify the opinion, if upon a further investigation I should see fit to do so) that this government possesses both the authority and the power to maintain its own integrity.  That however is not the ugly point of the matter.  The ugly part is the necessity of keeping the government together by force, as ours should be a government of fraternity."

Secession threats were nothing new.  They had come at various times as different crises had arisen.  The last serious threat of secession had come in 1850 when the proposed admission of California and New Mexico to the Union as free states had caused regional strife.  Southern states sent delegates to a convention in Nashville.  It came to nothing, defused by the Compromise of 1850, but South Carolina delegates left Nashville convinced that cooperative action with other slave states was not the answer.  At the next crisis they would act alone and the other slave states would be forced to follow their lead.

This was the crisis and South Carolina was ready to act.  On October 12, 1860, Governor William H. Gist called the South Carolina legislature into special session.  This was all routine.  South Carolina was the only state whose people did not vote in presidential elections; the legislature decided where the state's electoral vote would go.  But Governor Gist advised the legislature to remain in session until the result of the election was known.  If Lincoln was elected, the legislature was advised to summon a state convention to consider secession.

The convention was called to order on December 17 in the state capital, Columbia.  Smallpox was rampant in the city at the time and the delegates voted to reconvene in Charleston and adjourned.  They arrived in Charleston the following afternoon. On Thursday, December 20, 1860, the convention heard the report from the Committee to Prepare an Ordinance of Secession:
We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention of the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States was ratified, and also all Acts and parts of Acts, of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of 'The United States of America,' is hereby dissolved.

There was no debate. The motion was put to a vote and passed 169-0.

As predicted, the other Deep South states followed South Carolina's lead. Mississippi seceded on January 9, 1861. Florida seceded the following day, and Alabama the day after that. Georgia seceded on January 19, Louisiana on January 26 and Texas on February 1.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

December 8, 1860: Maintaining the Status Quo

On Saturday, December 8, 1860, most of South Carolina's Congressional delegation met with President James Buchanan.  They worked out an agreement to keep the federal military presence in the state as it was, that the garrison at Fort Moultrie in Charleston would be neither reinforced nor attacked.

The agreement was put in writing the next day in a letter from the South Carolina Congressmen to Buchanan:

"In compliance with our statement to you yesterday, we now express to you our strong convictions that neither the constituted authorities nor any body of the people of the State of South Carolina will either attack or molest the U.S. Forts in the harbor of Charleston previously to the action of the convention, and we hope & believe not until an offer has been made through an accredited Representative to negotiate for an amicable arrangement of all matters between the State and the Federal government, provided that no reinforcements shall be sent into these Forts & their relative military status remains as at present."

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15, 1860: Anderson Takes Command in Charleston

On Thursday, November 15, 1860, Major Robert Anderson took command of the small garrison at Charleston, South Carolina.  Anderson replaced Colonel John L. Gardner of Massachusetts.

The Charleston garrison -- 10 officers and 64 enlisted men of Companies E and H of the U.S. First Artillery and the regimental band -- were all at Fort Moultrie, then the only active military base in the harbor.  The other forts were either obsolete or unfinished.

South Carolina state authorities put their secession plans in motion early in November of 1860, almost immediately upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the federal property in the state, everything from the forts that guarded Charleston harbor to the courthouses and post offices, quickly became a major issue.  The state's leaders wanted the United States to vacate the property or at least negotiate a sale price. 

The Buchanan War Department was trying to placate the Charlestonians by replacing Gardner with Anderson, a Kentuckian.  Gardner had started a major row by attempting to move a supply of arms from the Federal arsenal in the town to Fort Moultrie.  On November 7, he sent an officer ashore with a boat to move the arms, but a large crowd gathered at the wharf to prevent the transfer.  Soon, most of Charleston was protesting to Washington.

Anderson, 56, was a 35-year veteran of the army.  He graduated from West Point in 1825, 15th in his class.  He fought in the Black Hawk and Seminole Wars, then in the Mexican War where he was wounded at Molino Del Rey.  In peace time, he served on War Department boards and translated several French texts on artillery into West Point instruction manuals.  He had a reputation as an industrious and energetic officer. 

Saturday, November 06, 2010

November 6, 1860: Election Day

Tuesday, November 6, 1861, was Election Day, and Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln won 180 electoral votes, much more than the minimum 152 needed.

Lincoln won only 40% of the national popular vote, but handily defeated his three challengers. He won the election with a strong sweep of the northern states; he won 60% of the vote in the North while losing just two dozen counties.

Of the eleven states that would eventually secede, Lincoln appeared on the ballot only in Virginia. He finished fourth there with just 1.1% of the vote. In the four slave states that did not secede Lincoln came in fourth in Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland, and finished third in Delaware.

Constitutional Unionist candidate John Bell won Virginia, Kentucky and his native Tennessee for 39 electoral votes.

Southern Democratic candidate John Breckenridge won the rest of the south, eleven of the 15 slave states, for 72 electoral votes. He won 45% of the section's popular votes to Bell's 39%.

Northern Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas won 5-15% of the popular vote in most slave states and higher percentages in Northern states where he was Lincoln's main opponent.  In all, he finished second in the popular vote with 29.5%, but with his votes so scattered around the country he was able to win only 12 electoral votes, finishing last in that category.  He won the state of Missouri, and picked up three of New Jersey's seven electoral votes.

The split in the Democratic Party and the addition of the Constitutional Unionists don't appear to be big factors in Lincoln's win.  If all the opposition votes had gone to a single candidate in every free state, Lincoln would have lost only New Jersey, California and Oregon, and still would have won with 169 electoral votes.  In several states the opposition did try to unite behind fusion candidates, but there was too much animosity between the competing interests for much success.

The election of 1860 saw the second-highest turnout in United States history with 81.2% of the eligible voters casting ballots.  In 1876, 81.8% of the voters went to the polls.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

October 5, 1860: Governor Gist Writes to Other Southern Governors

As Election Day 1860 approached, it became more and more apparent that Abraham Lincoln was going to be elected president.  The young Republican Party still needed to sweep most of the Northern states, to win all the states they won in 1856 plus a couple more.  They had their sights set on Pennsylvania and Indiana.  Those states held elections for state offices in October and Republicans won handily, virtually guaranteeing that the states would also go to Lincoln in November.

On Friday, October 5, 1860, Governor William Henry Gist of South Carolina drafted letters to the governors of the cotton states.  In the letters, he virtually guaranteed that South Carolina would secede and wanted to know what their states would do.  He proposed "concert of action, which is so essential to success."  He declared that if any other state seceded, South Carolina would join them.  If not, South Carolina would go it alone if he could be assured that other states would follow.  The letters were delivered by his much younger cousin, States' Rights Gist.

From Bruce Catton's The Coming Fury:
The governors were by no means unrestrained in their enthusiasm when they wrote their replies.  As political veterans they could not get very far ahead of local sentiment, and local sentiment had not yet hardened.  Governor John W. Ellis, of North Carolina, wrote that the people of his state simply had not made up their minds what to do in case Lincoln should be elected:  "Some favor submission, some resistance, and others would await the course of events that might follow."  They probably would not think a Republican victory, in itself, proper cause for leaving the Union, although they would never support "the monstrous doctrine of coercion."  From Louisiana came similar words.  Governor Thomas O. Moore would need more than "the deplorable event" of a Republican victory to make him advise secession, and he believed most people in Louisiana felt the same way.  He did think that Louisiana should meet with other slave states to "endeavor to effect a complete harmony of action," but he feared this harmony would be hard to get.  To be sure, if the Federal government tried coercion, the case would be different; meanwhile, Louisiana was totally unprepared "for any warlike measures," and her arsenals were empty.

Mississippi was a different case. Governor John J. Pettus felt that his people would do anything in their power to keep the state "from passing under the Black Republican yoke," but Mississippi could not go it alone. He would call a special session of the legislature as soon as it was known that Lincoln had won the election, and he believed Mississippi would ask a council of the slave states; if such a council advised secession, Mississippi would probably go along. In Georgia, Governor Joseph E. Brown believed that a convention of the people, meeting sometime between election day and March 4, would determine the state's course of action. In his opinion the people would "wait for an overt act" rather than vote to go out of the Union, regardless of what other states might do, simply because Lincoln was elected. Still, "events not yet foreseen" might lead to more immediate action. Governor Andrew B. Moore, of Alabama, favored consultation among cotton-state executives. He did not think Alabama would secede alone, but "if two or more states will cooperate with her she will secede with them; or if South Carolina or any other Southern State should go out alone and the Federal Government should attempt to use force against her, Alabama will immediately rally to her rescue." Governor M. S. Perry, of Florida, felt that Florida could not take the lead in secession, "but will most assuredly cooperate with or follow the lead of any single Cotton State which may secede." A state convention would be called as soon as Lincoln's election became a fact; meanwhile, "if there is sufficient manliness at the South to strike for our rights, honor and safety, in God's name let it be done before the inauguration of Lincoln."

Presumably these men knew how the people in their states were thinking, and it is clear that even in the heart of the cotton belt a majority was not yet ready to secede and would not consider Lincoln's election adequate reason for secession. But the majority by now was at the mercy of events. It had been brought -- by fear, by suspicion, and by anger -- to a point just one step short of the final act; the smallest accident, the most casual misstep by some politician in Washington, might compel it to take that last step. Nor would it be necessary for the majority in all of the Southern states to be won over. The sense of regional solidarity had immense power, and where one state led, other states might well follow.
South Carolina would lead. Governor Gist would see to it.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Summer and Fall 1860: The Presidential Campaign

I've been doing a series of posts on the events that led to the Civil War.  This post will wrap up the series for awhile because everything ground to a halt during the summer and fall of 1860 with everyone looking forward to the presidential election in November.

Four candidates were vying for the office.  With the Democratic Party split in two (and with two Democratic candidates -- Stephen Douglas and John Breckinridge), Republican Abraham Lincoln looked like a sure bet, but it would take a lot of work to get him to the needed 152 electoral votes.  Lincoln would not even appear on the ballot in ten Southern states and would need to sweep most of the remaining states to keep the election out of the House.

This task would be complicated by the presence of the Constitutional Union Party and its candidate John Bell.  The party, mostly comprised of ancient Whigs and Know-Nothings, could not hope to win -- it was a party of moderates in a nation of extremists -- but it could play a spoiler role and keep Lincoln from winning.  They took no stand on the issues of the day.  Their party platform pledged simply for the Constitution, the Union and enforcement of the laws.

It seems rather quaint and odd now, but candidates did not do much campaigning back then.  They were expected to stay at home and let others do the work of campaigning for them.  They would appear statesmanlike, letting who and what they were speak for them, giving very few speeches to muddy the water, feigning ignorance of the excesses of their supporters. On August 8, 1860, there was a grand celebration in Springfield, Illinois, to celebrate the nomination of Lincoln.  Lincoln himself appeared just briefly, speaking only a very few words:  "It has been my purpose, since I have been placed in my present position, to make no speeches...I appear upon the ground here at this time only for the purpose of affording myself the best opportunity of seeing you and enabling you to see me...You will kindly let me be silent."  Then he rode away on horseback.

Douglas broke the mold, crisscrossing the country North and South to openly vie for votes, presenting himself as the only candidate strong enough to keep the Black Republican out of the White House and save the country from disunion.  Douglas was a formidable opponent and at the outset of the campaign appeared to have a chance of winning eight Northern states and one or two border states.

The Republicans met this challenge with vigor.  Lincoln would stay silent, but every other party leader was on the stump delivering an estimated 50,000 speeches.  It was the party of youth and youthful energy with a tremendous edge in first-time voters.  They organized themselves into "Wide-Awake" clubs and marched in grand torchlight parades, singing the party theme song, "Ain't You Glad You Joined the Republicans?"

The Democratic Buchanan administration would hand the Republicans a key issue to exploit -- corruption.  A House investigating committee compiled a large volume of frauds, graft and bribery of one of the most corrupt administrations in U.S. history.  It came off the presses in June 1860, and an abridged edition was quickly compiled and distributed by the Republicans for the campaign.  Some later Republican administrations would prove to be just as corrupt, but in 1860 the young party had an unsullied reputation and they were led by the man already known as "Honest Abe."

The Constitutional Unionists would shoot themselves in the foot.  Campaigning in the South, trying to prove themselves as dedicated to Southern rights as the Democrats, they embraced a federal slave code for the territories.  This led many Northern conservative ex-Whigs to vote for Lincoln as the lesser of two evils.

The key questions were:  If Lincoln were to win, would the Southern states follow through on their ever-increasing threats to secede?  The Republicans saw this as a bluff, an idle threat.  What would the federal government do if secession became a reality?  Douglas was the only one to address this issue, promising to "hang every man higher than Haman who would attempt by force to resist the execution of any provision of the Constitution which our fathers made and bequeathed to us."  Breckinridge, the most likely candidate for anyone wishing a breakup of the Union, challenged "the bitterest enemy I may have on earth to point out an act, to disclose an utterance, to reveal a thought of mine hostile to the Constitution and the Union of the States."

The election would turn into one of the strangest in American history, morphing into two separate contests:  Lincoln vs. Douglas in the North, and Breckinridge vs. Bell in the South.

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 18, 1860: The Democratic Convention, Take Two

Stephen Douglas

On Monday, June 18, 1860, the Democratic Party reconvened in Baltimore, Maryland.  The first convention, at Charleston, South Carolina, in April, had broken up over the ideology of front-runner Stephen A. Douglas, with many delegates walking out.  Pro-Douglas supporters went to work in several Southern states, getting the state conventions to name new delegations -- friendlier to Douglas -- to replace the ones that had walked out.  Everyone was present now in Baltimore, but which delegates were entitled to seats?

The problem was passed to the credentials committee.  From Bruce Catton's The Coming Fury...
It would take the credentials committee three days to wrestle with this problem, and until the wrestling ended, the convention could do nothing but wait, its collective temperature rising hour by hour. Douglas men paraded the streets with brass bands, pausing when the spirit moved them to listen to stump speeches; Southern die-hards, in turn, had a way of gathering in front of the Gilmore House, where (William) Yancey was staying, for stump speeches of their own; and nothing that was said or done at any of these meetings served to promote harmony. At the Douglas meetings, held often enough on the steps of the home of the eminent Reverdy Johnson, former Senator, former Attorney General, and a leader of the "moderates" on the slavery question, orators shouted that devotion to Douglas was the only true test of Democratic fidelity. At the Gilmore House, in turn, the Douglas men were denounced as abolitionists in disguise, and Yancey cried that these Doulas leaders were selfish men who, ostrich-like, "buried their heads in the sands of squatter soveriegnty" and thereby exposed their anti-slavery posteriors. On the fringes of these meetings there were often a number of fist fights.
John Breckinridge

On June 21, the credentials committee emerged with two reports.  The pro-Douglas majority report held that the new delegations from Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas should be seated.  The Georgia delegation would be equally divided between old and new delegates.  The minority report demanded seating the original Charleston delegations.  The convention would vote to decide the matter.  Choosing the majority report would mean that Douglas would almost certainly gain the nomination.

The New York delegation, which had been thought to be solidly for Douglas, shocked his supporters by asking for more time to make up its mind.  That put the showdown off until the following evening.  The convention chose the pro-Douglas majority report and the exodus of Southern delegates quickly followed.

On the following day, June 23, the remaining delegates got down to the business of picking a nominee.  On the first ballot, Douglas got 173 of 190 1/2 votes cast.  On the second ballot, he received 181 1/2 out of 194 1/2.  A motion was quickly adopted declaring Douglas the nominee.  Later that evening, Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama was chosen as the nominee for vice-president.

Like Charleston in April, Baltimore had two conventions on this final day.  The defectors worked quickly, putting together a platform that asserted the pro-slavery positions they had fought for at Charleston, commended a projected acquisition of Cuba, and endorsed a plan for a railroad from some point on the Mississippi to some point on the Pacific Coast.  John C. Breckinridge, the current vice president, was placed in nomination.  He won a two-thirds majority on the first ballot, and was given the nomination unanimously.  Joseph Lane of Oregon was named for the vice-presidency.  The country now had two Democratic parties and two Democratic candidates.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16, 1860: The Republican Convention

On Wednesday, May 16, 1860, the Republican National Convention was called to order in Chicago, Illinois.  They met in the Wigwam, a hastily built auditorium at Lake Street and Market (now Wacker Drive).  In The Coming Fury, Bruce Catton describes it as...
"a sprawling two-story affair of lumber...measuring 180 feet along one side and 100 feet along the other...Nobody really knew how many people could be jammed into the place; estimates ranged from 6000 to more than double that number.  Pillars were decorated with tinder-dry evergreen boughs, red, white, and blue steamers ran everywhere, and the hall was brilliantly lighted by flaring gas jets; all in all, the Wigwam must have been one of the most dangerous fire traps ever built in America."

This was the second convention in the new party's history and delegates were cautiously optimistic about their chances in the November election, especially since the Democrats seemed so hopelessly divided.  But the Republicans could not hope to win any Southern states.  In fact, they would not even appear on the ballot in most of them.  They had to sweep almost all of the Northern states to win.  If not, the election could be thrown to the House of Representatives, where anything could happen.  Complicating their hopes was a third party, the Constitutional Union Party.  At their convention earlier in the month, they had nominated John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate for president.

Going into the convention, William Seward of New York was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, but while the Democrats had been concerned with their candidates' ideology, the pragmatic Republicans were more concerned with their nominee's electability.  Seward had strong support throughout the Northeast, but the Republicans could count on winning that section no matter who their nominee was.  The main concern was the Northwestern states, especially Illinois and Indiana -- the very area where Seward was weakest.

Seward was seen as something of a radical.  In 1850, in his "maiden" speech in the Senate, Seward immediately established himself as a prominent antislavery leader.  He called the speech "Freedom in the New Territories," but it quickly became known as his "Higher Law" speech.  Southerners declared that the Constitution provided for the extension of slavery into the territories.  Seward declared, "There is a higher law than the Constitution."  According to Seward, slavery was doomed and secession was futile.  A few years later, in 1858, Seward had spoken of "an irresistible conflict between opposing and enduring forces."  Seward had not said anything that Lincoln had not said in his "House Divided" speech, but he had somehow angered many more people.  He attempted to moderate his image after that, but mostly just alienated his more radical supporters.  He would not win many votes from disaffected Democrats and could not expect to win many border states.

The other major candidates were Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, Edward Bates of Missouri, and Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.  From The Coming Storm,
"Chase was a famous anti-slavery leader:  a little too much so, perhaps, for a new party that was going to have to draw some support from the Northern Democrats.  Chase had lofty hopes, and yet he was not quite making a campaign of it; he was merely standing off stage, full of dignity and rectitude, willing to receive whatever might be given to him, but not equipped with the guides and beaters needed by a man who hoped to penetrate a jungle like this one at the Wigwam.  Bates had the important backing of the famous Blair family and he came from a border state, which was in his favor.  If the convention should try to placate the South (which was somewhat unlikely), Bates would be a very likely choice.  He had, however, presided over the national convention of the Know-Nothings in 1856 and he would be a loser in any state where the German or other foreign-born vote was essential.  Cameron was a typical political boss who could hardly hope to carry anything except his own state of Pennsylvania."

Lincoln was the logical anti-Seward candidate, and his handlers, led by Judge David Davis, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to point out Lincoln's strengths to the delegates.  From James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of the Republic,
He was a former antislavery Whig in a party made up mostly of former antislavery Whigs.  But despite his house divided speech, he had a reputation as a moderate...Lincoln had opposed the Know Nothings, which would help him with the German vote, but not so conspicuously as to drive away former American (Party) voters who would refuse to support Seward.  Already known popularly as Honest Abe, Lincoln had a reputation for integrity that compared favorably with the dubious image of Thurlow Weed's New York machine.  Of humble origins, Lincoln personified the free-labor ideology of equal opportunity and upward mobility.  He had been born in a log cabin...Lincoln the railsplitter became the symbol of frontier, farm, opportunity, hard work, rags to riches, and other components of the American dream embodied in the Republican self-image.  Finally, Lincoln was from a state and region crucial to Republican chances, particularly if Douglas as expected became the nominee of northern Democrats.  Except for William Henry Harrison, who died after a month in office, no president had been elected from the Old Northwest.  The fastest-growing part of the country, this region believed that its turn had come.  The selection of Chicago as the convention site incalculably strengthened Lincoln's candidacy.  Huge, enthusiastic crowds composed mostly of Illinoisians turned up at the large hall...Counterfeit tickets enabled thousands of leather-lunged Lincoln men to pack the galleries."
The opening day of the convention was mostly devoted to the business of organization, naming committees, installing a president -- George Ashmun of Massachusetts -- and listening to speeches.  The second day was devoted to the party's platform.  A Seward delegate moved that the nomination of a candidate should begin, but the convention secretary announced that the tally sheets weren't ready.  Rather than wait a few minutes, the convention adjourned for the day.  By the time balloting began on the third day, Lincoln's men were ready.  They had the Indiana delegation on their side from the first ballot, and, after voting for Cameron on the first ballot, the Pennsylvania delegation was ready to support Lincoln on the second ballot.  Lincoln had written Davis, "Make no contracts that will bind me," but Lincoln was not here and Cameron wanted to be Secretary of the Treasury.  Davis is supposed to have said, "Lincoln ain't here and don't know what we have to meet, so we must go ahead as if we hadn't heard from him and he must ratify it."  However it was done, Cameron was placated and the Pennsylvania delegation made the switch.

On the first ballot, Seward led with 173 1/2 votes.  Lincoln got 102, Cameron 50 1/2, Bates 48.  On the second ballot, the trend was clear:  Seward 184 1/2, Lincoln 181.  The third ballot had Lincoln with 231 1/2 votes, just 1 1/2 votes away from the nomination.  Seward was down to 180.  Before the fourth vote could be taken, D. K. Cartter of Ohio got the attention of the chair and announced "the change of four votes of Ohio from Mr. Chase to Mr. Lincoln."  After a wild uproar in which several other delegations attempted to change their vote totals, William Evarts, chairman of the New York delegation, came to the dais.  He expressed disappointment that Seward had not been nominated, but moved that Lincoln's nomination be made unanimous.  The convention passed the motion.

Cassius Clay of Kentucky received over 100 votes on the first ballot for vice president and seemed to be the favorite of the crowd in the Wigwam, but the professional politicians quashed that notion.  Clay was a true antislavery radical, a Westerner, and a former Whig.  They wanted Hannibal Hamlin -- a moderate, an Easterner, and a former Democrat -- to give the ticket balance.  Hamlin was nominated on the second ballot.

After choosing a committee to go to Springfield and formally tell Lincoln of his nomination, the convention adjourned.  Interestingly, President Lincoln would later name all the major candidates for the Republican nomination -- Seward, Chase, Cameron and Bates -- to his cabinet.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

May 9, 1860: The Constitutional Union Convention

On Wednesday, May 9, 1860, a ragtag group -- remnants of the old Whig Party and a few Know-Nothings -- met in Baltimore.  They called themselves the United States Constitutional Union Convention, and nominated John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate for president.  The distinguished orator Edward Everett of Massachusetts was named their vice-presidential candidate.

There was no way Bell could be elected.  He and the party stood for moderation at a time when the nation was quickly dividing into extremes.  The hope was that he would win enough votes to prevent anyone else from winning, throwing the election to the House of Representatives, where cooler heads might come to a reasonable compromise.

The convention denounced political party platforms as frauds, then adopted a simple one of their own which pledged to uphold the Constitution, the Union and the Enforcement of the Laws.  The convention adjourned without a single mention of slavery in the territories or the fugitive slave laws, but John Brown was mentioned a couple of times in passing.

Bell, a wealthy slaveowner, was 64 years old.  He had spent much of his life in politics, beginning as a Democrat before a falling out with Andrew Jackson in the fight over the Bank of the United States.  He served in the House of Representatives from 1827 to 1841, and served as Speaker of the House from 1834 to 1835.  Bell did a brief stint as Secretary of War in 1841 under Presidents Harrison and Tyler, then served two terms as a senator from 1847 to 1859.

Bell was very popular in the border states, and his candidacy had an impact the following week in Chicago at the Republican Convention.  William Seward, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, was weakest in the states where Bell was strongest, and the Republicans, who needed almost a clean sweep of the Northern states, finally chose Abraham Lincoln as their nominee, deciding that he was the more electable candidate.

Friday, April 23, 2010

April 23, 1860: The Democratic Convention

On Monday, April 23, 1860, the Democratic National Convention convened at South Carolina Institute Hall in Charleston to choose their nominee for president of the United States.  Some of the delegates hoped the party could unite around an electable moderate -- Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois was the clear favorite -- but slavery, particularly the issue of slavery in the territories, made that impossible.

Douglas was unacceptable to most of the Southern delegates and a small minority, the fire-eating secessionists believed they could get everything they wanted, a new nation, if the party lost the election.

Historian Bruce Catton, in The Coming Storm, says of Douglas that he "was a man about whom no one could be indifferent.  He was either a remorseless scheming politician or a hero defending the eternal truth, the appraisal depending partly on the observer's point of view and partly on what Douglas himself was up to at the moment...Very few men either hated or admired him just a little.  A passionate man himself, he evoked passion in others, in his friends and in his enemies."

Slavery in the territories became the major issue in American politics following the Dred Scott decision.  Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared in his opinion that Congress did not have the power to prohibit slavery in a territory.  The Fifth Amendment protected persons from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.  Slaves were no different than any other property thus a ban on slavery was unconstitutional.  "And if Congress itself cannot do this—if it is beyond the powers conferred on the Federal Government—it will be admitted, we presume, that it could not authorize a territorial government to exercise them. It could confer no power on any local government, established by its authority, to violate the provisions of the Constitution."

Republicans declared this opinion to be an obiter dictum -- an opinion voiced by a judge that has only incidental bearing on the case in question and is therefore not binding.  They refused to recognize the ruling as a binding precedent and vowed to "reconstitute" the Court after winning the presidency in 1860.

Democrats were overjoyed with the ruling.  Southern Democrats felt vindicated that "Southern opinion upon the subject of Southern now the supreme law of the land."  Northern Democrats called Taney's opinion "the funeral sermon of Black Republicanism," but were later discomfited to realize that slave property could never be excluded from a territory.

Douglas, a proponent of popular sovereignty, jumped into the fray with a speech at Springfield, Illinois, in June 1857.  He declared that the right of property in slaves was "a barren and worthless right" if the people of territory did not want it, if it was not "sustained, protected and enforced by appropriate police regulations and local legislation."

Lincoln began speaking of a pro-slavery conspiracy that was trying to "push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States," and began trying to paint Douglas as part of the conspiracy.  At Freeport, Illinois, during their senatorial debates in 1858, Lincoln pressed Douglas on the contradiction between Dred Scott and popular sovereignty.  Could the people of a territory exclude slavery if they wished?  From James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom...
Folklore history has portrayed this question as the stone that slew Goliath. If Douglas answered No, he alienated Illinois voters and jeopardized his re-election to the Senate.  If he answered Yes, he alienated the South and lost their support for the presidency in 1860.  The problem with this thesis is that Douglas had already confronted the issue many times.  Lincoln knew how he would answer the question:  "He will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation.  If this offends the South he will let it offend them; as at all events he means to hold on to his chances in Illinois...He cares nothing for the South -- he knows he is already dead there" because of his opposition to Lecompton.  Lincoln asked the question anyway; Douglas answered as expected.  His answer became famous in retrospect as the Freeport doctrine.
Lincoln was right.  Douglas was already dead in the South because of Lecompton.  Faced with an estimated two-to-one majority of free-soil settlers, the pro-slavery legislature in Kansas set up a rigged constitutional convention.  Delegates would be elected, but pro-slavery sheriffs were charged with registering voters and pro-slavery county commissioners would choose judges of elections.  Free-soilers refused to participate in this farce.  With only 2200 of 9250 registered voters participating, pro-slavery delegates won all the seats to the constitutional convention at Lecompton.  They sent their pro-slavery constitution and a petition for statehood to Congress without a referendum.

The Lecompton constitution caused such an uproar that the convention had to relent.  They now mandated a referendum on two alternative slavery clauses -- "Constitution with Slavery" or "Constitution with no Slavery."  This seemed fair except that the "no Slavery" clause declared that "the right of property in slaves now in this Territory shall in no manner be interfered with."  It merely prohibited the future importation of slaves.  Douglas became one of the fiercest opponents of the Lecompton scullduggery, forever tarnishing his relationship with Southern Democrats.

In January 1860, the Alabama Democratic convention instructed its delegates to walk out of the national convention if the party refused to adopt a platform pledging a federal slave code for the territories.  Other lower-South conventions soon followed suit.  Jefferson Davis laid the groundwork in a series of resolutions to the Senate.

The showdown came to the platform committee where each state had one vote.  California and Oregon joined the slave states to provide a majority of 17 to 16 for a slave-code plank.  The minority reaffirmed the party's 1856 platform endorsing popular sovereignty and adding a pledge to obey Taney's Supreme Court decision.  This was not good enough for the South.  The whole point of Douglas's own Freeport doctrine was that the Court decision could not enforce itself.  Two days of partisan wrangling ensued with southerners as determined to pass a slave-code plank as Douglas men were to block one.  Finally, the Douglas men prevailed, passing the minority platform 165 to 138.  Free states voted for it 154 to 30.  Slave states voted against it 11 to 108.  Fifty delegates from the lower-South states promptly walked out of the convention.

Douglas's supporters were at first elated with the walk-out.  With so many of the senator's enemies gone, it would be easy to get enough votes from the delegates that remained.  Then Caleb Cushing, the chairman and no friend of Douglas, ruled that whoever was nominated must get the votes of two-thirds of the original delegation, not just those that remained.  202 votes were needed.  For three days and 57 ballots, Douglas never got more than 152 1/2 votes.  James Guthrie of Kentucky, Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, Joseph Lane of Oregon, Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee and others received votes.  Finally, on May 3, the delegates called it quits and adjourned the convention.  They would reconvene in Baltimore on June 18.

Meanwhile, the Southern delegates who had walked out met, on May 1, in Military Hall and declared themselves the real Democratic convention.  The majority group they had deserted was the "rump convention."  They appointed a chairman, Senator James Bayard of Delaware, and passed a slave-code platform.  Then they sat back to see what the "rump convention" would do.  Most were hoping for Douglas to remove his name from consideration so that a more palatable candidate could be selected.  Barring that, they would choose their own nominee.  When the "rump convention" adjourned, they were at a loss and also adjourned.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 27, 1860: Lincoln at Cooper Union

On Monday, February 27, 1860, Lincoln gave a speech at Cooper Union in New York City.  The speech laid the groundwork for him to eventually win the Republican presidential nomination at their convention in May.  In fact, historian Harold Holzer wrote a book about the speech and titled it, "Lincoln at Cooper Union:  The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President."

Lincoln accepted the invitation to speak in New York City in October 1859.  It was to be held at Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, but the Young Men's Republican Union assumed sponsorship of the speech and moved it to Cooper Union.  Lincoln discovered this only after his arrival in New York City.

Several members of the YMRU, such as Horace Greeley and William Cullen Bryan, were opposed to William Seward, who was seen as the likely Republican nominee, and were casting about for alternatives.  Several other political figures declined invitations to speak, but this tall, ungainly Westerner, making his first address in the media capital of the country, delivered a well-researched speech that, according to Holzer, "skewered Stephen Douglas, deftly allied the Republicans with the Founding Fathers, promised the South he meant no threat to slavery where it existed, and then insisted that slavery itself was unmistakably evil."  He spoke before a crowd of about 1500 prominent New Yorkers, but newspapers spread his message across the Northeast and the rest of the country.  The speech transformed Lincoln into a national political figure.

The speech was in three parts.  Part One concerned the Founding Fathers and the positions they took on expanding slavery into the territories.  Lincoln showed that the Fathers were on the side of the Republicans.  Part Two was aimed at the South and argued that the Republican position on slavery was the "conservative" policy.  Part Three was aimed at Republicans and urged them to fight to prevent the expansion of slavery.  The speech did not contain many of Lincoln's usual rhetorical flourishes and is seldom quoted, but is known as his "right makes might" speech for a passage that came at the end:
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.
The text of the speech can be found at the National Park Service's site for the Lincoln Home.  A narration by Sam Waterston can be found at NPR.

After Lincoln's arrival in New York City, but before the speech, he visited Matthew Brady's photography studio on Bleecker Street.  The resulting image (shown above) would become known as the "Cooper Union Portrait" and would be the basis for campaign posters in the 1860 election.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

February 2, 1860: Jefferson Davis's Resolutions

On Thursday, February 2, 1860, one day after the U.S. House of Representatives finally elected a speaker, Senator Jefferson Davis (D-MS) introduced a series of resolutions on slavery in the U.S. Senate.

In the first of the six resolutions, Douglas argued that the States had adopted the Constitution as "free and independent sovereignties" and that "any intermeddling by any one or more States, or by a combination of their citizens, with the domestic institutions of the others, on any pretext, whether political, moral, or religious, with the view to their disturbance or subversion, is in violation of the Constitution, insulting to the States so interfered with, endangers their domestic peace and tranquillity--objects for which the Constitution was formed--and, by necessary consequence, serves to weaken and destroy the Union itself."  In case there was any doubt, he made it clear in the second resolution that the main "domestic institution" he was talking about was slavery.  He went on to argue in further resolutions that slavery could not be limited in the territories.  Only after a territory was admitted to the Union as a state could the residents outlaw slavery, and any interference of the Fugitive Slave Act was "hostile in character, subversive of the Constitution and revolutionary in their effect."

Davis did not seem to care if the resolutions were adopted; the purpose seemed to be to undermine Senator Stephen Douglas's Freeport Doctrine and to introduce principles Southern Democrats could unite behind at the upcoming convention of the Democratic Party.  The resolutions would put Douglas, the expected Democratic nominee for president in 1860 in an impossible position if they could be adopted as the part of the party's platform.  Douglas could not and would not try to defend these principles in the North.

Douglas recognized the trap laid for him and questioned the need for the resolutions:  "There is no necessity for legislation; no grievances to be remedied; no evil to be avoided; no action is necessary; and yet the peace of the country, the integrity of the Democratic party, is to be threatened by abstract resolutions, when there is confessedly no necessity for action."

The resolutions eventually passed in the Senate, but not in the House.

When the Democratic Party's platform committee met later that year in Charleston, each state had one vote.  California and Oregon joined the slave states to provide a majority of 17-16 for a slave-code plank based on the Davis resolutions.

Monday, February 01, 2010

February 1, 1860: A New Speaker of the House

On Wednesday, February 1, 1860, the U.S. House of Representatives finally chose a speaker.  William Pennington, a Republican from New Jersey, was chosen by a majority of one vote.

With passions now fully inflamed from John Brown's raid and execution, the first session of the Thirty-Sixth United States Congress convened in Washington on December 5, 1859.  The first order of business for the House was to organize and elect a speaker, usually a routine task.

The newly-formed Republican Party had a plurality, but not a majority.  There were 109 Republicans, 101 Democrats, 26 members of the American Party, a few Know-Nothings, and one lone Whig.  On the first ballot, Republicans lined up behind John Sherman of Ohio, who was thought to be moderate enough to garner the votes of enough representatives to win.  Democrats backed Thomas S. Bocock of Virginia.  Neither man gained enough votes, a majority, because a few other candidates received a scattering of votes.

Before a second ballot could be taken, Representative J. B. Clark (D-Mo.) put forth a resolution "that the doctrine and sentiments of a certain book, called 'The Impending Crisis of the South -- How to Meet It,' purporting to have been written by one Hinton Helper, are insurrectionary and hostile to the domestic peace and tranquility of the country, and that no member of this House who has endorsed or recommended it or the Compend from it is fit to be Speaker of the House."

If the goal was to shut down the government, Clark's resolution was a brilliant political move. As historian Bruce Catton put it in The Coming Fury...

That did it...(F)rom the time the Missouri Congressman dropped his resolution into the hopper, the House of Representatives became completely impotent.  It could not elect a speaker, it could not get itself organized, it could not even vote the pay which its members needed so badly, until it had worn itself out in hot discussion of a book which, taken by itself, was hardly of minor importance.  The row to which it gave birth settled nothing whatever.  It simply registered (in terms that would be ratified in blood, a short time thereafter) the appalling height the American political fever had reached.  The irrational had become wholly logical."

In The Impending Crisis, Helper, a Southerner, denounced slavery, not because of any benevolent feelings for the slaves, but because of the harm he thought the institution was inflicting on Southern whites.  "Slavery," he declared, "lies at the root of all the shame, poverty, ignorance, tyranny and imbecility of the South."  The New York Tribune recognized the book's value to Republicans and published a favorable review.  Some Southern states made it a crime to circulate the book.  A Republican committee published an abridged version in 1859 with added captions such as "The Stupid Masses of the South" and "Revolution -- Peacefully if we can, Violently if we must."

When Clark urged the House to resolve that anyone who had endorsed the Helper book was unfit to be speaker, he knew that 68 Republicans, including almost every viable Republican candidate, had signed a circular advertising the compend, the abridged version of the book.  The debate over the resolution went on for week after week, with the language becoming increasingly incendiary and members coming to the chamber armed.  Sherman was forced to try to explain that he lent his name without knowing what he was endorsing:  "I do not recollect signing the paper referred to, but I presume, from my name appearing in the printed list, that I did sign it.  I therefore make no excuse of any kind.  I never read Mr. Helper's book, or the compendium founded upon it.  I have never seen a copy of either."

Finally, on January 30, 1859, Sherman had had enough and withdrew his name from consideration.  After a series of give-and-take deals, William Pennington was chosen as Speaker of the House by one vote.

From Catton's The Coming Fury:  "At various places in the North, ardent Republicans celebrated, firing cannon and making jubilant speeches, as if some sort of victory had been won; and if the House had in fact discharged the unendurable emotional tension that possessed it, so that it could now get down to business and give the nation orderly government, a celebration would have been in order.  But nothing had been settled.  One stalemate had been ended, but the greater stalemate remained:  the undigestible lump of slavery remained, and this one effort to cope with it had been a noisy and spectacular failure.  Only the extremists had gained anything."