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US History: The Election of 1864 – Abe Don’t Need No Civil War

The Election of 1864, and it’s the first election since 1812 to take place during a war, THE Civil War no less, and the stakes are ridiculously high, especially for the incumbent president Abraham Lincoln…

America’s Darkest Period

Since Lincoln’s win for the presidency back in 1860, the Civil War has officially begun following the assault at Fort Sumner in Charleston, South Carolina; After 11 states seceded from the Union to create “The Confederate States of America”, the conflict would lead to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Americans with the Union (who represented the North) struggling to beat the Confederacy (who represented the South) in the early stages of the war. Despite victories in the Battle of Gettysburg, the Siege of Vicksburg as well as the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant as the Union’s Major Army General in the middle of the war, the Confederates weren’t slowing down, and many people questioned the point of the war as it went on and on with no end in sight.

Confederate States of America and the Legal Right To Secede - History

Some who were against participating in the war even resorted to violence as seen by the infamous New York City Draft Riots in July of 1863 where middle-class white men not only protested the idea of being drafted to fight in the war but also rebelled against the wealthy elites and the possibility of black people taking their jobs as a result of being drafted to fight.

The riots only lasted a couple of days, but it also saw over a hundred people killed and over two thousand more injured which was small compared to those soldiers who died during the war. As the election of 1864 was getting closer and closer, it becomes very adamant that the results that occurred on the battlefield will dictate the results of the next presidential election. 

Divided Parties

Unsurprisingly, both the Democratic and Republican Parties are just as divided as the country itself going into the next election with both parties breaking off into two factions with one side wanting to continue the war while the other side wishing to end the conflict peacefully. On the Democratic side, the ‘Peace Democrats’ also referred to as “Copperheads” wanted to end the war quickly as opposed to dragging out the conflict, but they wished to do so through peace unlike the “War Democrats” who wished to finish the war and the Union army once for all.

Republicans meanwhile were so divided that the party had two different tickets running in the election for some time with the more radical republicans creating the “Radical Democracy Party” which strongly supported the abolition of slaves. They nominated John C. Fremont, the former Senator from California, war hero and the original Republican candidate for president in 1856 while Fremont’s running mate was John Cochran, a Union General from New York. However, both Fremont and Cochran would withdraw from the race in September after witnessing the platform in which the Democrats were running in this election.

Lincoln’s Presidency & The National Union Party

Gettysburg Address | National Geographic Society

The entirety of Abraham Lincoln’s time in office focused mainly on the civil war and how he would be able to end it; While he tried to remain moderate on the issue of slavery during his term, the writing was on the wall and by 1863 Honest Abe issued the Emancipation Proclamation and gave his famous Gettysburg Address before eventually adapting the idea of abolition for all the slaves in the country.

Still, Lincoln’s president also had some problems aside from the war, in addition to the Republican party being fractured and much of the country not liking him, Honest Abe suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus thus allowing people who Lincoln believed were in involved in conspiracy against the Union to be sentenced to jail without any trial. On top of that, Lincoln was unsure of his chances to win the election as the last president to win a second term in office was Andrew Jackson more than 30 years ago back in 1832. Nevertheless, Lincoln gathered as much support as he could and ran for president as part of the National Unity Party (another splintered off faction of the Republicans). 

In order to get the support needed to win the election, Lincoln needed to get those Democrats who hadn’t seceded from the Union on his side and because of this Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s vice president was dropped off the ticket and was instead replaced by the Military Governor of Tennessee and Democratic politician, Andrew Johnson as his running mate. After the candidates of the Radical Democracy Party dropped out of the race and the success that was The Battle of Atlanta in September of 1864, Lincoln’s chances of winning were greatly increased, but he still had to deal with the Democrats’ pick for president in the form General George B. McClellan.

George B. McClellan - Wikipedia

The History Between Lincoln and McClellan

In November of 1861, George McClellan becomes the new general of the Union army and goes about whipping them into shape for the army to properly continue the war. Despite this, McClellan is very hesitant to use the army which spurs Lincoln to tell the general that if he isn’t going to be using the army, he’d like to borrow it.

One day, Lincoln attempted to meet with McClellan at his house only to wait for long hours until the general arrived and snubbed Lincoln before eventually heading straight to bed, which is a very bold move by any person to do that to the president of the United States.

While most were getting tired of McClellan’s reluctance and slow pace to beat back the South, Lincoln tolerated it if meant that the general could lead the North to victory. However, Lincoln’s limits of accepting McClellan’s antics reached their boiling point following the bloodiest single battle in the entire war, The Battle of Antietam. After numerous causalities and loss of life on both sides, General Robert E. Lee retreats but McClellan and his army don’t pursue him which leads to Lincoln demanding an answer and he got one…in the form of a letter that basically said that Lincoln wouldn’t emancipate the slaves and that he had the utmost trust in him (McClellan) and his abilities. Upon hearing this, Lincoln decides that he will indeed emancipate the slaves and also informs McClellan that has been fired from his position as Major General of the Army effective immediately.

A few years later, McClellan would go on to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president with Ohio Representative, George Pendleton as his running mate. The Democrats attempted to have a balanced ticket by having their two candidates run under a peace platform, but McClellan was a War Democrat and he rejected the party platform which led to an inconsistent and dysfunctional ticket.

By September, John Fremont realizes that the Democrats are running a “balanced ticket” so he drops out of the race to endorse the incumbent president making this election an opportunity for either Lincoln or McClellan to get some revenge on the other. So that’s the background info, the candidates and history they both share with each other and now let’s look at the results;

The Results and Aftermath

By 1864 the states of Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia were added to the Union and allowed to vote. This combined with the fact that eleven states had seceded from the country made the electoral vote total to win in this election 118 or higher. As you can see from this map, Abraham Lincoln destroyed George McClellan in a landslide victory;

Honest Abe received 212 electoral votes and 55% of the popular vote while McClellan got 45% of the popular vote and received 21 electoral votes (which were just the states of Kentucky, his home state of New Jersey and Delaware). Lincoln became the first president since Andrew Jackson to be re-elected and the first Republican president to get a second term, but as you already know, Honest Abe wouldn’t get the opportunity to do much doing his second term never mind see the end of the Civil War following the events on April 14th, 1865.

On that day, actor and confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth entered the Ford’s Theatre where he snuck into President Lincoln’s box inside the hall and shot him in the back of the head before messing up his leg and making his getaway.

While Booth and some of his conspirators would end up dead or sentenced to prison following their roles in the plot, Abraham Lincoln would tragically die the next day at just the age of 56, making him the first president to die from an assassination attempt and thus making Andrew Johnson the 17th president of the United States for the next several years.

And that was the election of 1864, Lincoln was able to defeat another one of his rivals but was unable to finish the work he left behind and now his vice president, Andrew Johnson has become the new commander and chief as the country begins to head into the Reconstruction Era.

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