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WAS LINCOLN A VULNERABLE CANDIDATE IN 1860? G. S. Boriti . . . politicians; a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who . . . are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men.------Lincoln in 1837 There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest . I say vague . . . yet the impression is common, almost universal .------Lincoln in 1850 Resolved, That we recognize not one merely but two Irrepressible Conflicts—the first between expansive Free Labor on the one hand, and aggressive, all-grasping Slavery propagandism on the other; the second—not less vital, not less imminent—between frugai government and honest administration on one side, and wholesale executive corruption, legislative bribery, and speculative jobbery on the other; and we recognize in Honest Abe Lincoln the right man to lead us in both.------Resolution to Ratify the Republican Presidential Nomination, New York, 1860, written by Horace Greeley. In the early days of 1861, William Cullen Bryant wrote to Lincoln that in.winning their first presidential election the Republicans had fought not only for the overthrow of the party of slavery extension but also to "secure a pure and vigorous administration of government." A few weeks earlier August Belmont, the Democratic national chairman, and the campaign manager of Stephen Douglas, went further. Unusually An earlier version of this article was read at the December, 1978meeting of the American Historical Association. I am imfabt(id to the cximmenrator, Don E. Fehrenbaclier, as weil as to the advice of Maxwell H. Bloomfield, Robert VV. Johaïuiïuii, Peyton MeOrary, Mark E. Neely, Jr.. C. Edward Skecn, Robert M. Sutton. MajorL. Wilson, and twoanonymous readers. All the above helped improve the article though several disagreed with its thisis. Civil War Iliston·, Vol. XXVII, No. 1 Copyright ©1981 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/81/2701-0002 $01 .00/0 ABRAHAM LINCOLN33 sensitive to the significance of symbolism, Belmont explained that Lincoln 's reputation for honesty was one of the factors in his nomination, over Seward's, and the most important factor in his election. Lincoln himself in a rare "interview" during the campaign saw fit to emphasize, "with great freedom," that corruption was "the bane of our American politics." And his sole speech of the campaign—if brief remarks to a Springfield crowd can be called a speech—deflected a tumultuous tribute by declaring that it was not being given to him personally but to "the representative of truth. . . ."It is not surprising that David Potter's Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis concluded that theRepublican candidate's honest image and antislavery stance were equally decisive at the polls.1 The centrality of the "Honest Abe" image to Lincoln's election is clear. But that image, though not without substance—for Lincoln was an exceptionally decent and honest politician—was, on the whole, artificial, in large part the creation of the sure political instincts of the Republican managers of 1860. Their candidate had devoted a lifetime to the maneuverings of politics and lawyering; but sensing the deep disenchantment of the electorate with lawyers, politicians, manipulators, and corruptionists (to follow a not uncommon progression of the time) they offered to a welcoming public the Honest Railsplitter of the West. He won, they won, "and the war came." "It may be that the forces tending to disrupt the Union were ultimately irresistible," Don E. Fehrenbacher wrote in 1963, "but we can surely agree that the moment of decision would have come later if Lincoln had not been elected in I860."2 It is also true that though the disruptive forces of the age were considerable, at a later date the disruption might not have come with the monumental violence of the 1860s. Lincoln's first 1 W. C. Bryant to Lincoln, Jan. 3, 1861, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress: August Belmont to John M. Forsyth, Nov. 22, 1860, in Letters, Speeches, andAddresses of August Belmont (n.p. [New York?], 1890), pp. 23-24; Utica (N.Y.) Morning Herald, June 27, 1860, reprinted in Sacramento Daily Union, Aug. 15, 1860, in Charles M. Segal, comp. & ed., Conversations with Lincoln (New York, 1961), pp. 33...


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