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1 Introduction The Election of 1860 Reconsidered A. James Fuller 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 century and a half, scholars have offered a number of different interpretations of the election, but surprisingly few works have been dedicated exclusively to the presidential contest itself. Most explanations of the campaign appear in general histories or in biographies of Abraham Lincoln or the other presidential candidates. Although nearly every succeeding generation of historians has managed to produce at least one full-length study, scholarship on the election of 1860 remains relatively rare. The sesquicentennial anniversary of the election offered an opportunity to fill this gap in the literature. Historians have taken up the cause, producing several new books on the subject, including this one.1 This volume reconsiders the election and offers fresh insights on the campaigns for the presidency. In his concluding essay, Douglas G. Gardner examines the historiographical tradition regarding the election, noting that scholars across the generations have focused on Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, with scant attention paid to the other candidates or to other related topics. Two of the essays clearly fall into that scholarly tradition —Michael S. Green argues that Lincoln played the role of master politician during the campaign, and James L. Huston explores the significance of Douglas’s southern tour. The other chapters move in different directions , and even those chapters dedicated to the Rail Splitter and the Little Giant provide new interpretations of the two most famous presidential Fuller text.indb 1 1/15/13 2:55 PM 2 · The Election of 1860 Reconsidered candidates. But this book breaks new ground by seeing the election as more than Lincoln’s victory and Douglas’s loss. Historiographical innovation appears in interpretations of the other candidates, the view from Europe , abolitionist perspectives, and close examinations of voter turnout and the presidential election at the state level. Several themes unify the various essays. Perhaps the most important theme of this book is political biography, a genre no longer fashionable among academic historians. In addition to the studies of Lincoln and Douglas by Green and Huston, I offer chapters on the other two major candidates for president, the Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge and the Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. John R. McKivigan explores the election through a biographical lens focused on Frederick Douglass. These biographical studies look at candidates and the election in the context of a life—that is, they go back several decades or even more to demonstrate why and how later decisions were made. Biographical approaches require 4 6 7 9 10 3 8 10 5 5 4 R-4 ND-3 3 8 6 4 13 AR LA MS AL GA FL SC NC NH VT TX NJ DE MD CT RI MA UNORGANIZED TERRITORY OR CA MN IA OH PA NY ME IL WI MI IN 3 4 4 4 23 27 35 8 11 5 6 13 15 12 12 9 VA TN KY MO The Election of 1860 Lincoln (Republican) Douglas (Northern Democratic) Breckinridge (Southern Democratic) Bell (Constitutional Union) 180 12 72 39 1,866 1,383 848 593 ELECTORAL POPULAR (in thousands) Fig. 1. The Election of 1860. (Map by Erin Greb) Fuller text.indb 2 1/15/13 2:55 PM Introduction · 3 biography, even in an essay format. In studying the lives of individuals, the authors demonstrate how the critical presidential contest in 1860 was related to and resulted from the life experiences of their subjects. Thus, in his chapter on Lincoln, Green challenges the traditional interpretation that sees the Republican as a passive candidate who let his operatives do the work in the campaign while he sat on the sidelines. Rather, Honest Abe was a superb politician and candidate. Seemingly passive on the surface , behind the scenes Lincoln pulled the strings and controlled his entire campaign. In the end, his ambition and political skills enabled him to organize for electoral victory. Huston focuses on Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s longtime rival and the man widely considered the favorite in the presidential race. He argues that Douglas’s tour of the Southern states during the campaign was actually a tool with which the Northern Democrat tutored Southerners on the procedures of democracy. Huston demonstrates that, ultimately, Douglas’s campaign reveals...


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