Breckinridge Platform 1860

Continuing on with our examination of the platforms of the political parties in the 1860 election, we come to the platform of the Democrats who refused to support Douglas and nominated Vice-President of the United States John C. Breckinridge for President.  The platform is quite similar to the platform of the Douglas Democrats, including the endorsement of the 1856 Democratic platform.  The main distinction is that the Breckinridge Democrats made it clear that neither the Federal or Territorial governments had any power to prohibit slavery in a territory.  Once a territory was a state after it was admitted to the Union, its constitution could then allow or prohibit slavery.   I find the platform rather moderate in the context of the times, and Southern fire-eaters must have been disappointed that a more full bore pro-slavery platform was not adopted.  The Breckinridge platform: (more…)

Published in: on July 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Breckinridge Platform 1860  
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November 6, 1860: Lincoln Elected

One hundred and sixty years ago Abraham Lincoln was elected President.  Even though he got only 39.8% of the popular vote, his election came as no surprise.  With the Democrats split, Lincoln was a shoo-in to win the North which dominated the electoral college.  In ten slave states Lincoln’s name did not appear on the ballot.  Lincoln won a grand total of two counties in the fourteen slave states.  Secession fever was in the air in the South and many shrewd observers at the time thought that the United States of America, as then constituted, had elected its last president.  For four decades there had been wrangling between the North and the South over slavery, and now an avowed opponent of slavery had finally been elected president, entirely by Northern votes.  Although Lincoln was pledged not to interfere with slavery in the States, the election of 1860 was a demonstration of the growing political power of the North and the waning of the political strength of the South.  Losing the political battle, the South now looked for other avenues to protect its Peculiar Institution.

Published in: on November 6, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 6, 1860: Lincoln Elected  
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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: (more…)

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Constitutional Union Party 1860

Concluding our series on party platforms of 1860, we look at the platform, or more correctly, the non-platform of the Constitutional Union Party.  There is an air of melancholy about the attempt by conservative Whigs to make one last effort to head off the conflict over slavery through the formation of the Constitutional Union Party.  It was born in December 1859 and died after the election of 1860 when it was obvious that the program of the Party to simply ignore the slavery issue had been resoundingly rejected by both the North and the South.

The convention of the party met in May of 1860 in Baltimore and nominated John Bell of Tennessee for President and Edward Everett of Massachusetts for Veep.  John Bell would go on to support the Confederacy after the election and Edward Everett,  who would speak before Lincoln at Gettysburg, became an ardent supporter of the Union war effort.  In the fall of 1860 the ticket won the electoral votes of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The platform of the party has the virtue of brevity.  It condemns party platforms as having a divisive impact on the nation and states that the platform of the party is simply the Constitution, the Union and the enforcement of the laws.  The platform of the Constitutional Union Party: (more…)

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Constitutional Union Party 1860  
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Democratic Platform 1860

Last week we looked at the Republican Party platform for 1860 here.  The Democratic Party went into the election of 1860 hopelessly divided.  Although Douglas had been as pro-slavery as a Northern Democrat could possibly be and stand a chance of attaining the White House, he had alienated most Southern Democrats by his insistence during the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 that the people of a territory could vote to ban slavery.  This was anathema to pro-slavery extremists who increasingly dominated the Democratic party in the South.  After the anti-Douglas delegates bolted the Baltimore convention, ultimately to nominate Vice President John C. Breckinridge for President, the rump Democratic Party remaining adopted a very brief platform.

The platform adopted the 1856 platform, perhaps reasoning that Democrats had succeeded on that platform once, and might again.

Since Democrats were divided on whether a Territorial legislature could ban slavery, the Democrats punted the issue and said they would support whatever the Supreme Court decided.

The Democrats condemned Northern attempts to frustrate the Fugitive Slave Act.

The platform calls for “constitutional” assistance for a transcontinental railroad.  The Democrats were in a bind here.  A transcontinental railroad was vastly popular, but the Democrats since Jackson had opposed federal expenditures for internal improvements as unconstitutional.

Finally the Democrats called for acquiring Cuba from Spain, long the dream of pro-slavers who viewed Cuba as a future slave state.

It is striking to me that even after the most vociferous pro-slavery forces had bolted the party, just how wedded the Democrats were to pro-slavery policies.  Small wonder that vast numbers of anti-slavery Democrats had already become Republicans, and that more Democrats would leave the party during the Civil War, enough to ensure that the Democrats would be the minority party in the North for generations to come.  The Democratic Platform of 1860:  (more…)

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Republican Party Platform 1860

One hundred and fifty years ago this country was involved in the most momentous Presidential Election before or since.  It is interesting to look at the Republican Party Platform from that election.  Other posts will look at the other party platforms in that election.  Slavery and threats to the Union dominate, and the language of the platform in these areas is clear and direct.  The platform also calls for a protective tariff, appropriations for river and harbor improvements, a homestead act for land for settlers in the West, and a transcontinental railroad.  As a political document it is remarkable for its clarity.  Virtually the entire platform would be enacted in the coming years.  The text of the platform:


Published in: on October 1, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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