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1860 Republican Convention
Going into the Republican Convention of 1860, William Seward was the focus of attention. The Party was riding an unprecedented wave of popularity most commonly attributed to its anti-slavery stance. However, a portion of the Republican success must be attributed to dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party as a whole. In-fighting between President James Buchanan and Stephen A. Douglas over Bleeding Kansas had created a deep division in the party and at least some Republicans were disenchanted former Democrats.
In order to win the election, a Republican would have to win most or all of the North, because he would win few or none of the South. Republicans were not well organized in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The party began working on these states, drawing from members of other parties, especially the Know-Nothings. In the western states, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, Democrats were still strong, making a win here difficult. They never were as radical as the east. Ohio had voted Republican in the Election of 1856, but with less than 50% of the vote.
Seward seemed to have the nomination wrapped up since late in 1859, but the politician in him came out. To avoid a radical label after Harper's Ferry, candidate Seward dispensed with the traditional "free" and "slave" state monikers, and began calling them "capital" and "labor" states. John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry had not abated the Northeast's radical views, but in trying to widen his appeal to the western Republicans, Seward began to alienate his core constituency in the east.
Another problem facing Steward was his belief black males should have the right to vote. This was not as accepted in the west as it was in the east. Another problem stemmed from a speech he gave in Rochester, New York, in 1858, referring to the "irrepressible conflict" facing the United States. Western states did not see a struggle with the South as a forgone conclusion.
Finally, Seward was from New York, at the time the corruption capital of the United States. He was closely associated with the men at the top of the corrupt empire including Thurlow Weed, who some regarded as Seward's boss.
There was a good deal of competition for the Republican nomination. Among the candidates were Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, Salmon Chase and Ben Wade of Ohio, Abraham Lincoln, and Kentucky's Cassius Clay. Of them Abraham Lincoln may have been the least known, not holding an elected position since the 1840's.
Lincoln's major claim to fame at the convention was the defeat of Stephen Douglas in the popular election for the Senate in his home state of Illinois. Since Douglas was the presumptive Democratic nominee, Lincoln's performance in the election was important, although the popular vote for the Senate seat was a "beauty contest" and the Democratic-controlled state assembly returned Douglas to Washington.
While Seward was busy sewing up his nomination in December, 1859, Lincoln journeyed to Kansas to speak to anti-slavery Republicans and independents. On the day John Brown was executed Lincoln praised the man but decried his violence, saying "Slavery should be dealt with at the ballot box."
Lincoln's next stop was to be Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church in the heart of Seward country, Brooklyn, New York. Beecher wanted him to clarify a point he made in the Lincoln-Douglas debates regarding the extension of slavery. When he arrived in New York he found the crowd was too big for Beecher's church and the meeting was moved to Cooper Union (Cooper Institute) in Manhattan. Running the meeting was the Young Men's Central Republican Union, a loose-knit group of anti-Seward Republicans. Lincoln defended his stance that Congress had the right to make laws governing the territories, then took the opportunity to take the Democrats head-on. The Republican Party was only sectional because of the South. Republicans did not instigate the John Brown raid and did not condone violence. As to the charge that electing a Republican president would lead to secession, Lincoln compared this to "a highwayman holding a pistol to his victim's head."
Then to the surprise of nearly everyone in the building, Lincoln called for peace with the South. He then called for the Republicans to have faith in the system and to "obey our duty as we understand it." Cooper Union broke out in cheers and applause. Abraham Lincoln was everything that William Seward was not.
The convention, held at the Wigwam in Chicago, Illinois, drew delegates from 24 states, including Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland. A Texas delegation did exist, but its origins are disputed. Some of the more famous names in attendence included newspaperman Horace Greeley, David Wilmot (who served as chairman), Eli Thayer, who organized the early anti-slavery societies, and three members of the Blair family.
The first Republican credentials dispute erupted over the size of delegations from southern slave states. Northern delegates argued that convention votes should be allocated on the basis of party strength in each state rather than population. The full convention voted to send the report back to the credentials committee, which ended up reducing the size of the southern delegations.
The Republican platform reflected the concern of the party over the western states. While the 1856 platform included attacks on the "twin relics of barbarism," no such attack existed in the 1860 platform. They denounced the actions of John Brown at Harper's Ferry and acclaimed the right of Congress to make laws regarding slavery in territories. There were additional tariffs, a homestead act, and transcontinental everything to attract voters in California. The platform was accepted overwhelmingly on May 17, 1860
Voting began to nominate a candidate for President on the third day. In the first round of voting 12 men's names appeared. In support of Seward, Thurlow Weed began promising campaign contributions to party leaders who could deliver their delegation to Seward on the second or third ballot. Horace Greeley led the ant-Seward forces, but even he was saying the nomination was Seward's.
Voting began on May 18. The party had decided to poll the state in geographical rather than alphabetical order, from east to west. This also gave Seward an advantage, since his strength lay in the east and if it was close, a few changed votes might swing it his way at the last minute.
Maine began, with 10 votes for Seward and 6 for Lincoln. When New Hampshire voted, Lincoln took his one and only lead during the first vote, 13-11. From then on it was Seward, especially once New York had voted. At the end of the first ballot Seward had 173.5 votes with 233 needed to win the nomination. Lincoln was a strong second with 102 votes. Three others hovered near the 50 vote mark and the rest saw totals below 25. Lincoln's men now simply tried to increase his vote total on the second ballot.
As the role call left the New England states the convention was aflutter with the news Lincoln was leading, 36 to 33. Of course, New York's votes left Seward strongly in the lead, but Lincoln closed throughout the western states. When the votes were tallied, Seward had 184 and Lincoln had 181.5.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania went for favorite son candidates on the first ballot but switched to Lincoln on the second and third ballot respectively, although Lincoln's camp had to promise Simon Cameron a cabinet post to precipitate the change. At the end of the third ballot, Lincoln had 231.5 of the needed 233 votes. Joseph Medill, from the Lincoln camp, had been waiting the final talley in the Ohio camp. When Lincoln was 1.5 votes short, Medill told Ohio David Cartter that Salmon Chase could have whatever he wanted if Cartter could swing the needed votes. Upon recognition, the Ohio chair announced the switch of 4 votes from Chase to Lincoln, pushing Lincoln over the needed total. The convention broke out in wild applause.
According to Inside the Wigwam: Chicago Presidential Conventions 1860-1996, the convention delegates were influenced by Lincoln supporters who packed the convention hall after receiving counterfeit tickets. While the counterfeit ticket story is true, the affect of the Lincoln supporters on the convention is still debated.
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1860 Republican Convention was last changed on - May 13, 2007
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