November 22, 1860: Olympia Learns That Lincoln is Ahead


The Presidential election in 1860 was conducted on November 6.  Most of the nation within a few hours of a telegraph, learned almost immediately that evening or the next day, that Lincoln had been elected.  However, there were large portions of the nation, most of them in the West, where telegraphs were still unknown.  There news traveled at what to us seems an unbelievably slow rate.  Olympia, the territorial capital of the Washington Territory, did not learn of the initial election results until November 22, 1860.  The reaction to the news illustrates however that when examining the past, the perception of the people who lived at the time to events often differs radically from ours:

“Here, in this remote region, are we, this 22d day of November, able to give to our readers the result of the great Presidential struggle, which took place in so many States at points so remote, on the 6th of the same month. The annihilation … [of] time and distance seems incomprehensible.”

So wrote a journalist of the Washington Standard, an Olympia newspaper.  What to us is a reminder of the technological limitations of 1860, was a source of pride to the people of the time that their modern technology was rapidly shrinking their world.  The past truly is a different country, and we must always remember that as we study it.

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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  1. I can remember being excited about letter exchange with missionary friends in Brasil (we were in West Virginia) when the letters response was within two months… now with email we are concerned when response doesn’t come in two hours.
    An excellent reminder of the changes that have occurred due to technology.
    In Christ
    Dennis McCutcheon

  2. Dennis, when I tell my kids about the one party-line phone my family had when I was growing up, and that e-mail and the internet were decades away from being invented, they look at me with pity in their eyes!

    • My kids do the same thing. And when their granddad tells the one about using two baked potatoes for hand warmers while walking to school in the dark and eating them cold for lunch they really get the eye roll thing up to speed. We had a party line to, and operator the adults knew by name… what a time our generation lives in.
      In Christ
      Dennis McCutcheon

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