« PreviousContinue »
The Presidential Canvass.
Mr. Douglas had been, next to Mr. Buchanan, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination at the Cincinnati National Convention in 1856. When his competitor had received a majority of votes, though less than the required two-thirds, Douglas ended the contest by withdrawing his name. There was then little reason to doubt that the retiring rival, strong with his party both North and South, would be its leading candidate for the nomination four years later; and would he not be fairly entitled to the benefit of his own precedent in treating a majority vote as sufficient? Before adjourning, the Cincinnati Convention took the unusual course of naming the place where the next Presidential Convention should be held. Not less singular, that place was Charleston, S. C. In spite of all intermediate dangers — for the Governors of South Carolina and other States in the same year plotted secession in case of Fremont's election - Charleston in April, 1860, was not so “foreign” as it claimed to be in December. Douglas had a majority in the Convention clearly; but before a ballot was taken, nearly all the delegates from the Cotton States had withdrawn, after a fierce wrangle about the platform; and even then the
( 226 )
fatal two-thirds rule, which required the same number to nominate as before, remained unchanged.
The time had already come — a year and a half after the serious warning given him by Lincoln near the close of the Senatorial debate — when Douglas himself was too “sectional ” for the South. His party split on the identical issues pressed home to him by Lincoln at Freeport and Jonesboro.
The Charleston Convention dispersed thirteen days before the Republican Convention met at Chicago; and it was a month after that event when the reassembling — with vacancies filled — occurred at Baltimore. The seceding delegates organized at Charleston, and adjourned to meet at Richmond near the same date. The Baltimore Convention was abbreviated by a fresh secession, which included members from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and California. Caleb Cushing, too, who had presided at Charleston, and at Baltimore until now, resigned the chair, and with B. F. Butler and others from Massachusetts went over to the second gathering of bolters. Douglas having received (June 23d) two-thirds of the votes cast, though not of a full convention, was declared the Democratic nominee for President. A Southern running mate was found in the person of Herschel V. Johnson, of Georgia. The combined seceders nominated John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, and Joseph Lane, of Oregon, for President and Vice President, on the Southern platform rejected at Charleston.
Before the final consummation of the Democratic schism, still another National Convention met at Baltimore (May 19th), and nominated John Bell, of Ten
nessee, for President, and Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, for Vice President. The party was christened “ Constitutional Union,” and resolved “to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of the country, the union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws." The Convention was not numerically large. Its constituents were mainly “old line Whigs ” and “Americans ” hostile to the Democracy but unreconciled to the Republican party. Its candidates were destined to receive more votes than was generally anticipated at the time of their nomination.
Thus before the end of June the work had been laid out for an unprecedented quadrilateral contest.
To animate quite as much as to enlighten the voter seemed to be each party's purpose in the ensuing campaign. Vote-winning, if not a fine art, is a complex one. The press is alert and ardent; the stump orator abounds; there are mass meetings and clubs; banquets, barbecues, processions; the sound of fife and drum, of horn and cannon. There must be outward symbols of faith appealing to sense and sentiment: “hickory poles," “log cabins,” “rails,” and whatever else will best touch the sympathies of the million. It is idle to quarrel with these things. There is enough else that is more repulsive and lamentable in every important canvass, wherever there are liberal suffrage and large constituencies.
One novelty of the campaign of 1860 was an organization called the “Wide-Awakes," in which many thousands of young Republicans took part, with parades and torchlight marchings, enlivening their own zeal, swelling the ranks with new voters, and arousing an
efficient spirit wherever its work was visible, as it speedily came to be all over the land. Was it not, too, a preliminary training, as yet quite unconsciously, for keeping step in sterner phalanx and battalion on a coming day? Never was there a party, in any canvass, more thoroughly in earnest than the Republicans in 1860.
Again and again Lincoln had given time, talent and travel to urging the claims of the Presidential candidates of his own faith. Now he was to have a respite from these labors, but by no means to remain in quiet and solitude. He did not, like Douglas, see fit to take the stump in his own behalf as a candidate for the great office. But from the very beginning he kept close watch upon the course of events, North and South. He had few hours of idleness during all those summer and autumn months; not a day passed without its visitors coming single or in throngs. His modest dwelling, a few squares away from the chief State and county buildings, soon ceased to be the place in which he communicated in person with the public. He had a room for this purpose in the State House; yet Mrs. Lincoln had her calls, too, from far and near, in the little parlor at home, and heartily did her part in a social way. Her guests were affably entertained, and with each of them such an occasion was sure to re-live as a pleasant memory.
Usually, the voter had been practically left to choose between two Presidential candidates. Though it was otherwise now, there were really but two controlling subjects on which opinion was divided: the Union and Slavery. As to the first of these, neither the Douglas nor the Breckinridge platform had anything to say Cand in om 1799;
beyond a general reaffirmation (alike) of the Democratic platform of 1856, which declared "that all efforts of Abolitionists or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend of our political institutions.” The same platform affirmed: “That the Democratic party will faithfully abide by and uphold the principles laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798 and in the report of Mr. Madison to the Virginia Legislature in 1799; that it adopts those principles as constituting one of the main foundations of its political creed, and is resolved to carry them out in their obvious meaning and import."
While both wings of the Democratic party were pledged in these terms, it is to be noted that Jefferson Davis and the supporters of Mr. Breckinridge in general openly construed the “Resolutions of 1798 ” as an explicit declaration of extreme State-rights doctrines, including the right of a State to secede from the Union.
The Republicans had expressly affirmed at Chicago " that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the States, and the Union of the States, must and shall be preserved.” They also denounced the threats of disunion made in Congress by Democrats “in case of a popular overthrow of their ascendency, as denying the vital principles of a free government, and as an avowal of contemplated treason.” How the supporters of Lincoln,