The Life of Abraham Lincoln
By Henry Ketcham
Public Domain Books
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
16th President of the United States
Chapter XIX. The Election
There are two things which made the campaign of 1860 paradoxical, so to speak. One was that the nomination was equivalent to an election, unless unforeseen difficulties should arise. The other was that this election might be used by the extreme Southern democrats as an excuse for precipitating war. They threatened this.
After the nomination the committee of the convention duly called on Lincoln to give him the formal notification. This committee included some names that were at that time, and still more so later, widely known. Among them were three from Massachusetts: Ashmun, then Governor, and chairman of the Chicago convention, Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican, and Boutwell. There were also Gideon Welles, Carl Schurz, Francis P. Blair, and W. M. Evarts. The chairman of this committee notified Lincoln in a brief speech, to which he responded with equal brevity. Even these few words impressed his hearers with a sense of dignity and manliness which they were only too glad to perceive. Said Mr. Boutwell: “Why, sir, they told me he was a rough diamond. Nothing could have been in better taste than that speech.”
One who had opposed Lincoln in the convention said: “We might have done a more daring thing [than nominate him], but we certainly could not have done a better thing.” Carl Schurz evidently shared this feeling.
Judge Kelly of Pennsylvania was a very tall man and was proud of the fact. During the brief ceremony he and Lincoln had been measuring each other with the eye. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the President- elect demanded:
“What’s your height?”
“Six feet three. What is yours, Mr. Lincoln?”
“Six feet four.”
“Then,” said the judge, “Pennsylvania bows to Illinois. My dear man, for many years my heart has been aching for a President I could look up to, and I’ve found him at last in the land where we thought there were none but little giants.”
The general feeling of the committee was that the convention had made no mistake. This feeling quickly spread throughout the entire party. Some of Seward’s friends wanted him to run on an independent ticket. It is to his credit that he scouted the idea. The democrats, at least the opponents of Lincoln, were divided into three camps, The first was the regular party, headed by Douglas. The second was the bolting party of fire-eaters, who nominated Breckinridge. The third was the party that nominated Bell and Everett. This was wittily called the Kangaroo ticket, because the tail was the most important part. Lincoln’s popular vote at the November election was about forty per cent, of the total. It was plain that if his supporters held together and his opponents were divided, he could readily get a plurality. There were attempts on the part of the opponents of Lincoln to run fusion tickets in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, so as to divert the electoral votes from him; but these came to nothing more than that New Jersey diverted three of her seven electoral votes.
A curious feature of the campaign was that all four candidates declared emphatically for the Union. Breckinridge, who was the candidate of the Southern disunionists, wrote; “The Constitution and the equality of the states, these are symbols of everlasting union.” Lincoln himself could hardly have used stronger language. Some people were doubtless deceived by these protestations, but not Douglas. He declared: “I do not believe that every Breckinridge man is a disunionist, but I do believe that every disunionist in America is a Breckinridge man.” During the period of nearly six months between nomination and election, Lincoln continued simple, patient, wise. He was gratified by the nomination. He was not elated, for he was not an ambitious man. On the contrary, he felt the burden of responsibility. He was a far-seeing statesman, and no man more distinctly realized the coming tragedy. He felt the call of duty, not to triumph but to sacrifice. This was the cause of his seriousness and gravity of demeanor.
There was no unnecessary change in his simple manners and unpretentious method of living. Friends and neighbors came, and he was glad to see them. He answered the door-bell himself and accompanied visitors to the door. Some of his friends, desiring to save his strength in these little matters, procured a negro valet, Thomas by name. But Abraham continued to do most of the duties that by right belonged to Thomas.
Some one sent him a silk hat, that he might go to Washington with head- gear equal to the occasion. A farmer’s wife knit him a pair of yarn stockings. Hundreds of such attentions, kind in intent, grotesque in appearance, he received with that kindness which is the soul of courtesy. There was a woman at whose modest farmhouse he had once dined on a bowl of bread and milk, because he had arrived after everything else had been eaten up. She came into Springfield to renew her apologies and to remind him that he had said that that repast was “good enough for the President.” While he commanded the respect of Bryant, Schurz, Boutwell, and such, he was at the same time the idol of the plain people, whom he always loved. He once said he thought the Lord particularly loved plain people, for he had made so many of them.
Shortly after his nomination he was present at a party in Chicago. A little girl approached timidly. He asked, encouragingly, if he could do anything for her. She replied that she wanted his name. He looked about and said, “But here are other little girls–they will feel badly if I give my name only to you.” She said there were eight of them in all. “Then,” said he, “get me eight sheets of paper, and a pen and ink, and I will see what I can do for you.” The materials were brought, and in the crowded drawing-room he sat down, wrote a sentence and his name on each sheet of paper. Thus he made eight little girls happy.
The campaign was one of great excitement. His letter of acceptance was of the briefest description and simply announced his adherence to the platform. For the rest, his previous utterances in the debates with Douglas, the Cooper Institute speech, and other addresses, were in print, and he was content to stand by the record. He showed his wisdom in his refusing to be diverted, or to allow his party to be diverted, from the one important question of preventing the further extension of slavery. The public were not permitted to lose sight of the fact that this was the real issue. The Chicago wigwam was copied in many cities: temporary wooden structures were erected for republican meetings. These did good service as rallying centers.
Then the campaign biographers began to appear. It was said that by June he had had no less than fifty-two applications to write his biography. One such book was written by W. D. Howells, not so famous in literature then as now. Lincoln furnished a sketch of his life, an “autobiography" so called. This contains only about five hundred words. Its brevity is an indication of its modesty.
Nor was there any lack of eulogistic music. Among the writers of campaign songs were J. G. Whittier and E. C. Stedman.
The parading contingent of the party was represented by the “Wide- Awakes.” The uniform was as effective as simple. It consisted of a cadet cap and a cape, both made of oil-cloth, and a torch. The first company was organized in Hartford. It had escorted Lincoln from the hotel to the hall and back again when he spoke in that city in February after his Cooper Institute speech. The idea of this uniformed company of cadets captivated the public fancy. Bands of Wide-Awakes were organized in every community in the North. At the frequent political rallies they poured in by thousands and tens of thousands, a very picturesque sight. The original band in Hartford obtained the identical maul with which Lincoln had split those rails in 1830. It is now in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, in Hartford.
Though Lincoln had much to cheer him, he had also his share of annoyances. One of his discouragements was so serious, and at this day it appears so amazing, that it is given nearly in full. A careful canvas had been made of the voters of Springfield, and the intention of each voter had been recorded. Lincoln had the book containing this record. He asked his friend Mr. Bateman, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to look through the book with him. They noted particularly those who might be considered leaders of public morals: clergymen, officers, or prominent members of the churches.
When the memorandum was tabulated, after some minutes of silence, he turned a sad face to Mr. Bateman, and said: “Here are twenty-three ministers, of different denominations, and all of them are against me but three; and here are a great many prominent members of the churches, a very large majority of whom are against me. Mr. Bateman, I am not a Christian–God knows I would be one–but I have carefully read the Bible, and I do not so understand this book.” He drew from his pocket a New Testament. “These men well know that I am for freedom in the territories, freedom everywhere as far as the Constitution and laws will permit, and that my opponents are for slavery. They know this, and yet, with this book in their hands, in the light of which human bondage cannot live a moment, they are going to vote against me. I do not understand it at all.”
After a long pause, he added with tears: “I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and work for me–and I think He has–I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God. I have told them that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and Christ and reason say the same; and they will find it so. Douglas doesn’t care whether slavery is voted up or voted down, but God cares, and humanity cares, and I care; and with God’s help I shall not fail. I may not see the end; but it will come and I shall be vindicated; and these men will find that they have not read their Bibles aright.”
After another pause: “Doesn’t it appear strange that men can ignore the moral aspects of this contest? A revelation could not make it plainer to me that slavery or the government must be destroyed. The future would be something awful, as I look at it, but for this rock [the Testament which he was holding] on which I stand,–especially with the knowledge of how these ministers are going to vote. It seems as if God had borne with this thing [slavery] until the very teachers of religion had come to defend it from the Bible, and to claim for it a divine character and sanction; and now the cup of iniquity is full, and the vials of wrath will be poured out.”
Lincoln did not wear his heart upon his sleeve. On the subject of religion, he was reticent to a degree. Peter Cartwright had called him an atheist. There was a wide, if not general, impression, that he was not a religious man. This did him great injustice. It is for this reason that his remarks to Mr. Bateman are here quoted at length. From his early boyhood, from before the time when he was at great pains to have a memorial sermon for his mother, he was profoundly, intensely religious. He did no injustice to any other man, he did not do justice to himself.
The election occurred on the sixth day of November. The vote was as follows: Lincoln received 1,866,452 popular votes, and one hundred and eighty electoral votes. Douglas received 1,375,157 popular votes, and twelve electoral votes. Breckinridge received 847,953 popular votes, and seventy-two electoral votes. Bell received 590,631 popular votes, and thirty-nine electoral votes.
Lincoln carried all the free states, excepting that in New Jersey the electoral vote was divided, he receiving four out of seven. In the fifteen slave states he received no electoral vote. In ten states not one person had voted for him.
Of the 303 electoral votes he had received 180, while the aggregate of all against him numbered 123, giving him an absolute majority of 57. The electoral vote was duly counted in the joint session of the two houses of congress February 13, 1861, and it was officially announced that Abraham Lincoln, having received a majority of the votes of the presidential electors, was duly elected President of the United States for four years, beginning March 4, 1861.
One circumstance is added which may be of interest to the reader. This was published, after his death, by his personal friend, Noah Brooks. It is given in Lincoln’s own words: “It was just after my election, in 1860, when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day, and there had been a great ’Hurrah boys!’ so that I was well tired out and went home to rest, throwing myself upon a lounge in my chamber. Opposite to where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it; and looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of the one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time, plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler–say five shades–than the other. I got up, and the thing melted away, and I went off, and, in the excitement of the hour, forgot all about it,–nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang as though something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home, I told my wife about it, and a few days after I tried the experiment again, when, sure enough, the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was worried about it somewhat. She thought it was ’a sign’ that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.”
The incident is of no interest excepting in so far as everything about Lincoln is of interest. The phenomenon is an optical illusion not uncommon. One image–the “paler,” or more indistinct, one–is reflected from the surface of the glass, while the other is reflected from the silvered back of the glass. Though Lincoln understood that it was an optical illusion, yet the thought of it evidently weighed on him. Otherwise he would not have repeated the experiment several times, nor would he have told of it to different persons.