San José State University

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Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley
U.S.A.

The South Carolinians,
the Splitting of the Democratic Party Vote
and the Election of Abraham Lincoln

Background to the Election of 1860

The cabal which convened the separate convention of Southern Democrats to nominate John Breckenridge must have known that the splitting of the Demcrats vote could only support in the election of Abraham Lincoln. This would have been particularly clear with John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party also in the race. Bell took a small but significant share of the vote that might also have otherwise gone to Douglas.

Here are the state-by-state election results for 1860.

Results in the Presidential Election of 1860
State Lincoln Percentage Douglas
+ Fusion
Percentage Breckinridge Percentage Bell Percentage
AL 13,618 15.1 48,669 54 27,835 30.9
AR 5,357 9.9 28,732 53.1 20,063 37
CA 38,733 32.3 37,999 31.7 33,969 28.4 9,111 7.6
CT 43,488 58.1 15,431 20.6 14,372 19.2 1,528 2
DE 3,822 23.7 1,066 6.6 7,339 45.5 3,888 24.1
FL 223 1.7 8,277 62.2 4,801 36.1
GA 11,581 10.9 52,176 48.9 42,960 40.3
IL 172,171 50.7 160,215 47.2 2,331 0.7 4,914 1.4
IN 139,033 51.1 115,509 42.4 12,295 4.5 5,306 1.9
IA 70,302 54.6 55,639 43.2 1,035 0.8 1,763 1.4
KY 1,364 0.9 25,651 17.5 53,143 36.3 66,058 45.2
LA 7,625 15.1 22,681 44.9 20,204 40
ME 62,811 62.2 29,693 29.4 6,368 6.3 2,046 2
MD 2,294 2.5 5,966 6.4 42,482 45.9 41,760 45.1
MA 106,684 62.9 34,370 20.3 6,163 3.6 22,331 13.2
MI 88,481 57.2 65,057 42 805 0.5 415 0.3
MN 22,069 63.4 11,920 34.3 748 2.2 50 0.1
MS 3,282 4.7 40,768 59 25,045 36.2
MO 17,028 10.3 58,801 35.5 31,362 18.9 58,372 35.3
NH 37,519 56.9 25,887 39.3 2,125 3.2 412 0.6
NJ 58,346 48.1 62,869 51.9
NY 362,646 53.7 312,510 46.3
NC 2,737 2.8 48,846 50.5 45,129 46.7
OH 231,709 52.3 187,421 42.3 11,406 2.6 12,194 2.8
OR 5,329 36.1 4,136 28.0 5,075 34.4 218 1.5
PA 268,030 56.3 195,636 41.0 12,776 2.7
RI 12,244 61.4 7,707
SC
TN 11,281 7.7 65,097 44.6 69,728 47.7
TX 18 0.0 47,454 75.5 15,383 24.5
VT 33,808 75.7 8,649 19.4 218 0.5 1,969 4.4
VA 1,887 1.1 16,198 9.7 74,325 44.5 74.481 44.6
WI 86,110 56.6 65,021 42.7 887 0.6 161 0.1
US 1,865,908 39.8 1,559,073 33.3 669,148 14.3 590,901 12.6

Although the splitting of the Democratic Party vote might plausibly have led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, in fact it had no significant result. If all of the votes for John Breckinridge and John Bell had gone to Stephen Douglas it would have resulted in Abraham Lincoln losing seven electoral votes, those of the states of California and Oregon. Lincoln's electoral vote would have been reduced from 180 to 173 and it only took 152 votes to win the presidency.

Possibly Lincoln's electoral vote might have been reduced one more vote to 172. New Jersey split its electoral vote of seven into four for Lincoln and three for Douglas on the basis of the plurality of the popular vote for Lincoln. Without the split in the opposition to Lincoln Douglas would have received a slight majority of the popular vote and the New Jersey vote might have been split four for Douglas and three for Lincoln, an inconsequential change.

Thus the Republic Party candidate, Lincoln, with only about 40 percent of the popular vote was slated to receive at least 57 percent of the electoral vote no matter what his political opposition did. This must have created some extreme consternation in the South and elsewhere. It raised the possibility that the Republican Party candidates for the presidency in the future would be unbeatable in electoral votes no matter that they had only the support of a minority of the popular vote. The turnout for the 1860 election had been a record high of about 81.2 percent so there was no hope for a greater turnout to reverse the situation.

Lincoln tried to assuage the fears of the slave holders concerning his election. He made statements that he had no plans for ending slavery and that he was only concerned with preserving the union. Despite this South Carolina seceded from the United States in December of 1860. South Carolina was secession-minded. About thirty years before South Carolina issued a statement of its secession over the matter of high tariffs on imports. Negotiations worked out a compromise and South Carolina rescinded its secession. But by 1860 South Carolinian politicians were again intent upon secession. Their actions in nominating John Breckinridge were an effort to insure the election of Abraham Lincoln and induce other states to follow South Carolina in secession.

Other states did follow almost immediately follow South Carolina in secession, some before Lincoln's inauguration. Here is the timeline of the secessions of the states.

The Timeline of the Secessions of States
State Passed
South Carolina December 20, 1860.[1]
Mississippi January 9, 1861.[2]
Florida January 10, 1861.[3]
Alabama January 11, 1861.[4]
Georgia January 19, 1861.[5]
Louisiana January 26, 1861.[6]
Texas February 1, 1861.[7]
Virginia April 17, 1861.[8]
Arkansas May 6, 1861.[9]
Tennessee May 6, 1861.[10]
North Carolina May 20, 1861.[11]
Missouri October 31, 1861.[12]
Kentucky November 20, 1861.[13]

In addition to these, the Maryland State Legislature considered secession but voted it down. Lincoln had Federal troops march through Baltimore and when they were stoned by crowds some of the soldiers fired into those crowds. The resulting Riots of April 1861 resulted in the deaths of twelve civilians and four soldiers. In an unconstitutional and impeachable act of tyranny Lincoln had Federal troops arrest the pro-secessionist legislators thereby preventing any possibility of the future passage of an ordinance of secession.

It was the hot-heads of South Carolina who initiated the hostilities of the Civil War by attacking Fort Sumter, thus giving Lincoln the basis for sending Federal troops to attack South Carolina. Virginia objected to having Federal troops march across its territory as being a breach of its sovereignty and it too seceded. The Federal Government allowed West Virginia to secede from Virginia but not for Virginia to secede from the United States.

It is often alleged that Lincoln preserved the union. The term union has the connotation of voluntary association. Lincoln did not preserve the union; instead he replaced voluntary union with involuntary membership in a Federal state. The name United States also has the connotation of a voluntary association.

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