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The Election of 1860 Reconsidered

A. James Fuller

Publication Year: 2012

A reassessment of the most pivotal election in American history

The election of 1860 was a crossroad in American history. Faced with four major candidates, voters in the North and South went to the polls not knowing that the result of the election would culminate in the bloodiest conflict the United States had ever seen. Despite its obvious importance, surprisingly few studies have focused exclusively on this electoral contest itself. In The Election of 1860 Reconsidered, seven historians offer insightful essays that challenge the traditional view of the election, present fresh interpretations, and approach the contest from new angles.

In engaging essays on the main presidential candidates, the authors employ biography to explain the election. Michael S. Green deftly analyzes Abraham Lincoln and effectively overturns the view of the Republican as a passive candidate. James L. Huston provides an innovative reconsideration of Stephen A. Douglas in defeat with a profound look at the Little Giant’s campaign tours of the South. Using the lens of honor, A. James Fuller scrutinizes John C. Breckinridge in an enlightening study of the Southern Democratic candidate’s campaign. In another groundbreaking essay, Fuller reconsiders Constitutional Unionist John Bell as a Whig who stood for the republican principle of compromise. The biographical theme continues in John R. McKivigan’s splendid examination of Frederick Douglass as he carefully guides the reader through the changing attitudes and ambivalence of the abolitionist perspective.

As Douglas G. Gardner demonstrates in his fine exposition of the historiographical themes involved with the election, The Election of 1860 Reconsidered includes interdisciplinary concerns and new lines of inquiry. Addressing matters of interest to political scientists as well as historians, Thomas E. Rodgers takes up the issue of voter turnout in a sophisticated analysis that emphasizes ideology. Political culture and context allow A. James Fuller to make revealing interdisciplinary connections while using the state of Indiana as a case study to test and refute realignment theory. Turning to observations from across the Atlantic, Lawrence Sondhaus offers a new approach to the election in his penetrating study of how Europeans viewed and misunderstood the U.S. presidential race.

This remarkable book breathes new life into political history and will serve as a primer for a generation of scholars interested in understanding the most important election in American history.

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. iv-x

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pp. xi-xii

In the months surrounding the 150th anniversary of the election of 1860, scholars around the country gathered for conferences dedicated to analyzing this event. One such meeting was the third annual symposium of the Civil War Study ...

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Introduction: The Election of 1860 Reconsidered

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pp. 1-6

The most important presidential election in American history took place in 1860. The electoral contest marked the culmination of the sectional conflict and led to the secession of the Southern states and the beginning of the Civil War. Over the past ...

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1. The Political Organizer Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Campaign

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pp. 7-27

“Seward will be first on the ballot, Chase next—then Bates or Cameron. . . . My policy has been to keep down my name everywhere as a candidate for the first office. . . . Seward’s friends generally prefer me after himself,” and “I think without doubt ...

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2. The 1860 Southern Sojourns of Stephen A. Douglas and the Irrepressible Separation

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pp. 29-67

On the evening of Saturday, August 25, 1860, a crowd numbering between four and six thousand people gathered before the steps of the Court House in Norfolk, Virginia. Standing before them, the Little Giant of Illinois, the first presidential candidate ...

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3. A Forlorn Hope Interpreting the Breckinridge Campaign as a Matter of Honor

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pp. 69-101

The campaign of John C. Breckinridge, the Southern Democratic candidate for president, remains one of the most puzzling aspects of the election of 1860. Why did the vice president of the United States, a young man with a bright ...

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4. The Last True Whig John Bell and the Politics of Compromise in 1860

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pp. 103-139

The election of 1860 featured four candidates for the presidency and actually became two separate races as the Republican Abraham Lincoln faced off against the Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in the free states, while the ...

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5. Frederick Douglass and the Abolitionist Response to the Election of 1860

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pp. 141-164

Secessionists vehemently branded Abraham Lincoln an abolitionist in rationalizing their departure from the Union after his election to the presidency in November 1860. This view was arguably more the product of the growth ...

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6. Saving the Republic Turnout, Ideology, and Republicanism in the Election of 1860

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pp. 165-192

In the voter turnout estimates published by Walter Dean Burnham in 1975, the election of 1860 had the second highest turnout of any presidential election in American history. Subsequent estimates have suggested a lower turnout ...

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7. The Election of 1860 and Political Realigment Theory Indiana as a Case Study

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pp. 193-223

The election of 1860 was the most critical political contest in all of American history. It has been at the heart of the electoral-realignment genre, which includes the work of such political scientists as Walter Dean Burnham, V. O. Key Jr., E. E. Schattschneider, and ...

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8. The View from Abroad Europeans Look at the Election of 1860

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pp. 225-244

In sharp contrast to the depth of European interest in the bloody war that resulted from it, the U.S. presidential election of 1860 attracted relatively little attention across the Atlantic. Few European commentators foresaw the outcome of the ...

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9. “An Inscrutable Election?” The Historiography of the Election of 1860

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pp. 245-264

“Altogether, it was a very curious, a very mixed, and except for its grand central result, a very inscrutable election.” So Allan Nevins in 1947 judged the presidential contest of 1860, back in an era when political history, and especially ...


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pp. 265-266


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pp. 267-271

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776224
E-ISBN-10: 1612776221
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351482

Publication Year: 2012