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165 6 Saving the Republic Turnout, Ideology, and Republicanism in the Election of 1860 Thomas E. Rodgers 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 but still rank the 1860 contest as having one of the highest turnouts in the three decades between the mid-1840s and the mid-1870s. This article explores the factors that led to the high voter turnout in 1860. Although some of these factors, such as level of competition, will be familiar , one will be new to the literature. This new element, here labeled the republicanism factor, was the single most important cause of high political turnout in mid-nineteenth-century elections. Before exploring turnout for the nation, regions, states, and counties, some background is necessary to explain how scholars estimate turnouts and why the results vary so widely. Among the major estimates for 1860 are Burnham’s 81.2 percent, John P. McIver’s 72.1 percent, and Gerald Ginsburg’s 68.2 percent. These estimates vary primarily because they are based on different assumptions. A percentage estimate of voter turnout is derived from a numerator divided by a denominator. Numerators consist of vote totals. These are generally fairly consistent, but there can be variations in the numerators used in making turnout estimates for elections in the mid-nineteenth century. Sometimes it is difficult to find complete tallies , and sometimes those available vary because one compilation might accept or reject disputed local vote totals. Before 1892, popular votes were cast for individual presidential electors rather than for the electors as a group or for a presidential candidate, who on the modern presidential Fuller text.indb 165 1/15/13 2:55 PM 166 · The Election of 1860 Reconsidered short ballot represents his or her electors as a group. Voters sometimes gave slightly varying numbers of votes for the different presidential electors representing a given candidate in a state. In some reports of election results, the highest total for any elector is used for a presidential candidate ’s total, whereas in other reports an average of the various elector vote totals is given. Another possible complication is the inflation of vote totals by fraud. Although numerator disparities might cause some of the variation in turnout figures, the estimates of the denominator create most of the differences in the numbers.1 The denominator represents the total number of potential voters. Voter registration was rare in 1860 and thus of little help in providing a precise number of eligible voters. The main source of information for voter numbers in the nineteenth century is the United States census. State census numbers supplement the federal census statistics in some cases. Populations for noncensus years are estimated using linear interpolations. In 1860, only males 21 years of age and over were allowed to vote in the U.S. In most states, voting was further restricted only to white male citizens . The New England states, except for Connecticut, allowed black adult males to vote, and the state of New York allowed black males who satisfied a property requirement (fewer than 10 percent did) to vote. Some states, such as Indiana and Wisconsin, allowed immigrants who had started the naturalization process to participate in elections. A major problem with the federal numbers is that before 1870, the census compilations reported neither the number of males over 21 nor the number of male immigrants over 21. To estimate the number of white men over 21, the figures for white males aged 20 to 29 are usually reduced by 10 percent and then added to the numbers for white men aged 30 and over. Total male immigrant numbers for each state are given without ages in the 1860 census. White foreign males are lumped together with all white males in the age category tables. Estimates of how many of these native and foreign males of voting age were citizens have to be extrapolated from census reports from later years that provide information on citizenship. Next, estimates of the number of aliens who had started the naturalization process have to be calculated for those states that allowed such individuals to vote. Significant anecdotal evidence also indicates that some aliens voted in other states despite the fact that it was against the law. Some scholars ignore the anecdotal evidence and assume aliens banned by law from voting did not...


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