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Who Won The Election Of 1860 In The United States And Why?

Written By Denis Cummings
Last updated: May 22, 2023

The election of 1860 was a pivotal moment in American history, marked by significant political turmoil and divisions. This monumental election ultimately led to the victory of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. Lincoln’s victory, however, was not a straightforward affair and can be attributed to several factors that contributed to his triumph.

For starters, the nation’s political landscape was characterized by deep divisions and chaos in the lead up to the election. With tensions running high over issues such as slavery, the country saw the emergence of four main candidates who competed in the race. In addition to Lincoln, there were Stephen A. Douglas from the Northern Democratic Party, John C. Breckinridge from the Southern Democratic Party, and John Bell from the Constitutional Union Party.

Lincoln’s victory can be chalked up to favorable election dynamics and the strategic positioning of the Republican Party. The split in the Democratic Party’s base between Northern and Southern Democrats allowed the Republicans to capitalize on the disarray, drawing support from anti-slavery populations across the North. Despite Lincoln not receiving a majority of the popular vote, he secured enough electoral votes to clinch the presidency, setting the stage for an extraordinary tenure that would reshape America forever.

The Candidates Of The 1860 Election

The 1860 United States Presidential Election featured four major candidates, each representing a different party. Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate winner, was the candidate for the Republican Party. His primary opponents were Stephen A. Douglas of the Democratic Party, John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democratic Party, and John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party.

The Candidates Of The 1860 Election

Abraham Lincoln hailed from Illinois and was known for his anti-slavery stance. He had gained prominence during debates with his eventual opponent, Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln’s platform focused on stopping the expansion of slavery into new territories, which appealed to the voters in the North.

Stephen A. Douglas, also from Illinois, supported popular sovereignty and believed that each territory should decide whether to allow slavery. This moderate approach was intended to slow the pace of potential secession but didn’t garner strong support from either side of the issue.

John C. Breckinridge, a Kentuckian, was the candidate of the Southern Democratic Party. His platform advocated for the protection and expansion of slavery, which endeared him to the southern electorate. However, this stance further divided the Democratic party, ultimately benefiting Lincoln’s campaign.

John Bell came from Tennessee and represented the Constitutional Union Party. This party was primarily focused on preserving the Union and avoiding secession. He didn’t take a clear stance on slavery, which hindered his support base.

Abraham LincolnRepublican PartyAnti-slavery, no expansion of slavery
Stephen A. DouglasDemocratic PartyPopular sovereignty over slavery
John C. BreckinridgeSouthern Democratic PartyProtect and expand slavery, pro-secession
John BellConstitutional Union PartyPreserve the Union, avoid secession

Each candidate had a distinct geographical base of support:

  • Abraham Lincoln found his support primarily in the North, where anti-slavery sentiment was strong.
  • Stephen A. Douglas had some backing in the North as well, but ultimately his popular sovereignty policy didn’t win him enough votes.
  • John C. Breckinridge had strong support in the South, where pro-slavery and secessionist sentiments prevailed.
  • John Bell, trying to walk the middle line, found some support in the border states, but it wasn’t enough to mount a serious challenge.

In summary, the 1860 election was a battleground of ideologies and regional loyalties. It was a pivotal moment in American history, setting the stage for the Civil War and the eventual end of slavery in the United States.

Fact Check: Was Abraham Lincoln Black? 

Key Campaign Issues

The election of 1860 was a pivotal event in United States history, marked by a deeply divided nation grappling with several major issues. Among the most significant of these issues were slavery, states’ rights, and economic policy differences.

  • Slavery: The institution of slavery was a major bone of contention between the Northern and Southern states. Northern states had generally abolished slavery and were pushing for its abolition across the country. On the other hand, Southern states, whose economies largely depended on slave labor, sought to expand slavery into new territories. This disagreement led to a split in the Democratic party, resulting in two separate Democratic candidates representing different stances on the issue.
  • States’ rights: Closely related to the issue of slavery was the question of states’ rights. Many in the South argued that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to regulate slavery and that each state should have the right to decide the matter for itself. This issue fueled the rising tension between the North and the South, culminating in the eventual secession of Southern states after Abraham Lincoln’s election.
  • Economic policy differences: Another crucial factor contributing to the divisions in the election of 1860 was the disagreement between the North and the South over economic policy. Northern states, with their burgeoning industrial sectors, supported protectionist tariffs that would help their businesses remain competitive. Southern states, on the other hand, were predominantly agrarian and relied heavily on imports, making them opposed to high tariffs.

Ultimately, Abraham Lincoln emerged as the victor in the 1860 presidential election, winning 180 electoral votes and 39.8% of the popular vote. This victory, largely attributed to the Democratic party’s split and the inability of other candidates to present a united opposition, would have profound consequences for the nation, leading to the secession of Southern states and, eventually, the Civil War.

Impact Of The Democratic Party Split

The election of 1860 in the United States saw a significant event that would shape the country’s political landscape for years to come: the split of the Democratic Party. This division played a vital role in the ultimate victory of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican candidate. Let’s explore how the Democratic Party’s fracture impacted the outcome of the election.

The Democratic Party split primarily over the issue of slavery. Southern Democrats, who staunchly supported the expansion of slavery into the newly acquired western territories, clashed with Northern Democrats, who were more inclined to support popular sovereignty. This rift culminated in the nomination of two Democratic candidates: Stephen A. Douglas – a Northern Democrat, and John C. Breckinridge – a Southern Democrat.

The consequences of this split were far-reaching. Having two Democratic candidates divided the vote among Democratic supporters and hampered either of their chances to win. It allowed the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, to dominate the electoral vote despite having only 40% of the popular vote.

With the division in the Democratic Party, it became evident that:

  • Strength in numbers was crucial for a party’s success in the election. The discord within the Democratic Party severely undercut its chances of securing a victory.
  • Party unity was essential for maintaining political influence. The inability of the Democrats to present a unified front on key issues like slavery resulted in the weakening of the party.
  • Regional differences played a significant role in shaping the outcome of the election. Lincoln’s Republican platform, which opposed the expansion of slavery, resonated with voters in the more industrialized Northern states who were focused on economic growth and development.

The Democratic Party split unquestionably had lasting effects on American politics. In the immediate aftermath, it paved the way for the Republicans to become the dominant party, leading the nation through a turbulent Civil War. Additionally, the division highlighted the increasing polarization of the nation over the issue of slavery, a tension that eventually led to the secession of the Southern states and the beginning of the Civil War.

The Rise Of The Republican Party

The election of 1860 saw the rapid growth and eventual triumph of a new political force in the United States, the Republican Party. At its core, the party aimed to address the nation’s escalating tensions over slavery. Let’s break down some of the key factors that led to the Republican Party’s rise in prominence.

Who Won The Election Of 1860 In The United States And Why

The Republican Party was founded in 1854, formed by a coalition of anti-slavery Whigs, Democrats, Free Soilers, and American Party members. Their primary goal was to stop the spread of slavery into new territories and states, aligning with the Northern sentiment against the slave states’ power. This new party’s early appeal stemmed from its:

  • Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act
  • Rejection of the Dred Scott decision
  • Commitment to free soil principles

Furthermore, the Republican Party gained momentum from the heated debates and struggles that marked the era. It capitalized on the Bleeding Kansas crisis of the mid-1850s, which involved a series of violent confrontations between pro- and anti-slavery factions. Additionally, the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 played a pivotal role in raising the Republican Party’s profile, showcasing its commitment to containing slavery.

During the presidential election of 1860, the Democratic Party split into two factions: the Northern and Southern Democrats. This division was a significant advantage for the Republicans, enabling them to build a broader base of support. The party’s candidate, Abraham Lincoln, didn’t take a radical stance against slavery but insisted on preserving the Union by preventing slavery’s spread. His moderate platform resonated with the North and the West, making him a strong contender.

When Abraham Lincoln was announced the winner of the 1860 election, it marked the first time a Republican candidate had secured the presidency. It’s worth noting, however, that Lincoln won only 39.8% of the popular vote, yet claimed a large majority in the Electoral College, securing 180 electoral votes out of 303. In contrast, his closest competitor, Stephen A. Douglas, garnered 29.5% of the popular vote but only secured 12 electoral votes.

To summarize, various factors contributed to the rise of the Republican Party in the United States, which ultimately led to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Key factors included:

  • Aligning with the prevailing anti-slavery sentiment in the North
  • Capitalizing on high-profile debates and crises
  • The split within the Democratic Party
  • Lincoln’s moderate stance on containing slavery

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Election Results: The Lincoln Victory

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican candidate, emerged victorious in the 1860 United States Presidential Election. It’s important to recognize the factors that contributed to his success and consider the implications this election had on the country. In 1860, the nation was sharply divided along regional lines due in large part to the issue of slavery.

Abraham Lincoln Won The Election Of 1860 In The United States

A major contributing factor to Lincoln’s victory was the fragmentation of the opposition. The Democratic Party experienced a severe split, resulting in two separate candidates:

  • Stephen A. Douglas, representing the Northern Democrats
  • John C. Breckinridge, representing the Southern Democrats

In addition to these candidates, the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell. This split in opposition allowed Lincoln to capitalize on the divided vote, strengthening his chances of winning.

The electoral votes in 1860 were distributed as follows:

CandidateElectoral Votes
Abraham Lincoln180
John C. Breckinridge72
John Bell39
Stephen A. Douglas12

Lincoln secured a whopping 180 electoral votes, while his closest competitor, Breckinridge, received only 72. Although Lincoln won the electoral vote decisively, it’s worth noting that his popular vote was only around 40% – a clear indicator of the deep divisions in the country at the time.

Geographically, the electoral victory was even more striking. Lincoln managed to win every free state except for New Jersey, while most of the slave states went to either Breckinridge or Bell. It’s evident that the regional divide played a considerable role in the outcome of the election.

Another contributing factor was the free-soil sentiment among Northern voters. The Republican Party’s platform called for the non-extension of slavery into new territories, an appealing stance to those who wished to limit the spread of slavery. This position resonated with a large portion of the voting population and undoubtedly influenced the election results.

Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 United States Presidential Election was facilitated by several factors: a divided opposition, the regional split in sentiment across the nation, and a desire to limit the spread of slavery. This election set the stage for the American Civil War, which would begin soon after Lincoln took office in 1861.

Conclusion: Factors Behind The Victory

The election of 1860 was a crucial event in American history, and understanding the factors that contributed to its outcome provides essential insights into the country’s political trajectory. Several key elements played a hand in determining the winner of the election:

  • The divided major parties: The breakdown of the Democratic party, which saw it split into Northern and Southern factions, significantly weakened their chances of victory. This fragmentation allowed the relatively new Republican party, led by Abraham Lincoln, to rise to prominence.
  • Sectional tensions: The growing divide between the Northern and Southern states over the issue of slavery intensified in the 1850s, ultimately contributing to the fractured election of 1860. The split in the Democratic party greatly exacerbated these tensions and provided a uniquely advantageous context for the Republicans.
  • Lincoln’s appeal: Despite facing strong opposition from multiple candidates, Abraham Lincoln managed to build a broad coalition that took advantage of the divisions within his opponents’ ranks. He skillfully leveraged his moderate stance on slavery and economic policy to unite a broad range of supporters, ultimately granting him victory.
  • Campaign strategy: The Republican party ran a well-orchestrated campaign that capitalized on key political circumstances. By mobilizing their resources effectively and focusing on swing states, they managed to gain a strong electoral vote advantage.

Taking these factors into account, it’s clear that Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election was a product of several intertwined circumstances. While the political climate played a significant role, it was Lincoln’s ability to envision a unified nation that truly set the stage for his momentous accomplishment. As a result, this election not only shaped the course of American history but also underscored the importance of strong leadership in times of deep national division.

Charles Eames

Denis Cummings is a history enthusiast and author, with a passion for uncovering the stories of the past. Through his writing, he seeks to share his love of history with others and provide a unique perspective on the events that have shaped our world.

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