Lincoln Is Elected U.S. President Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The election of the first Republican president of the United States prompted the secession of the southern states from the union that in turn launched the U.S. Civil War, but it also gave the United States one of its greatest presidents.

Summary of Event

Members of the recently created Republican Party approached the 1860 election with great enthusiasm. The outgoing Democratic president, James Buchanan, had accomplished little of significance during his term in office, and he chose not to be a candidate for reelection. Republican candidates had enjoyed success in northern and western states in both the 1856 and 1858 elections, so the Republicans hoped that an attractive Republican presidential candidate would be victorious in the November 6, 1860, general election. Presidency, U.S.;election of 1860 Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;election of 1860 Presidency, U.S.;Abraham Lincoln[Lincoln] Douglas, Stephen A. [p]Douglas, Stephen A.;election of 1860 [kw]Lincoln Is Elected U.S. President (Nov. 6, 1860) [kw]Elected U.S. President, Lincoln Is (Nov. 6, 1860) [kw]U.S. President, Lincoln Is Elected (Nov. 6, 1860) [kw]President, Lincoln Is Elected U.S. (Nov. 6, 1860) Presidency, U.S.;election of 1860 Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;election of 1860 Presidency, U.S.;Abraham Lincoln[Lincoln] Douglas, Stephen A. [p]Douglas, Stephen A.;election of 1860 [g]United States;Nov. 6, 1860: Lincoln Is Elected U.S. President[3400] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 6, 1860: Lincoln Is Elected U.S. President[3400] Bell, John Breckinridge, John Cabell Buchanan, James [p]Buchanan, James;election of 1860 Hamlin, Hannibal

Votes in the 1860 Presidential Election





The Democrats Democratic Party;election of 1860 were in serious trouble going into the election. Democratic unity had been shattered under pressures engendered by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854[Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854];and Democratic Party[Democratic Party] and Democrats could not be certain of victory in any single northern state in 1860. Democratic candidates who opposed allowing the extension of slavery into newly created states alienated southern voters, and those who supported slavery were politically unacceptable in the northern and western states. Only in the South was the Democratic Party holding firm. However, Democrats throughout the nation recognized that their party could not win behind a southern candidate for president. A northerner was necessary, but the southern wing of the Democratic Party insisted that the candidate not take a strong position against slavery.

Meanwhile, no such disunity existed in the Republican Party, which had expressed its opposition to slavery in its 1856 platform. Republicans were jubilant at the impending split of the Democrats and, in order not to throw away a golden opportunity to take the White House, sought a moderate candidate who would appeal to former Whigs, northerners, and residents of border and western states.

Partisan disputes rather than genuine confrontation with national problems had characterized U.S. politics between the end of Andrew Jackson’s presidency in 1837 and the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. James Buchanan, Buchanan, James [p]Buchanan, James;election of 1860 the incumbent Democratic president from Pennsylvania, had been singularly ineffective in uniting his party, and his animosity toward Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas was obvious to fellow Democrats.

The country was enjoying a healthy economy in 1860. The economic downturn of the mid-1850’s, culminating in the Panic of 1857, was over. By 1860, the United States had achieved a considerable measure of economic integration, and the various regions had grown more interdependent. Domestic trade was far more important to the national economy than foreign trade. Many southerners, however, continued to feel that their economic growth would depend largely on cotton production. They also believed that slavery was essential and should be protected, not only in southern states but also in the territories and recently created states in the Midwest and West. At the same time, the economy of the North and the Northwest, however, was no longer as dependent on cotton and other agricultural products from the South as it had been earlier. Northern manufacturing and northwestern agriculture had achieved sufficient strength to produce adequate capital for further expansion, as was clearly demonstrated during the Civil War (1861-1865). Southern politicians, however, entered the presidential campaign of 1860 as if nothing had changed economically since the 1840’s.

During the winter of 1859-1860, Senator William H. Seward Seward, William H. [p]Seward, William H.;election of 1860 of New York appeared to be the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, but several prominent Republicans, including Salmon P. Chase Chase, Salmon P. from Ohio, Simon Cameron Cameron, Simon from Pennsylvania, Edward Bates Bates, Edward from Missouri, and the influential newspaper publisher Horace Greeley Greeley, Horace from New York, argued that Seward, who had a reputation for being a strident orator, might offend too many voters and cost the Republicans such key states as Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, and Massachusetts. Many Republicans therefore mounted a stop-Seward campaign. At the Republican convention in Chicago, in May, 1860, Seward led on the first two ballots. However, after forty-seven delegates from Pennsylvania changed their votes from Cameron to Lincoln, delegates from many other states also changed their minds, and Abraham Lincoln was nominated on the third ballot. The convention selected Hannibal Hamlin Hamlin, Hannibal from Maine as the Republican vice presidential candidate.

In contrast to the Republicans, the Democrats were sharply divided. At their national nominating convention in Charleston, South Carolina, in April, 1860, southern delegates demanded the acceptance of the Alabama platform that called for the positive protection by Congress of slavery in the territories. The South was willing to accept Stephen Douglas as the Democratic candidate, but only if he accepted the Alabama platform. Realizing that northern and western voters never would tolerate the spread of slavery into new U.S. territories and states, Douglas refused to support the Alabama platform. The delegations of eight southern states then withdrew from the convention and called for another convention to meet in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond, Virginia Douglas and his followers adjourned to Baltimore, where he was nominated.

The southern Democratic delegates who met in Richmond intensified the split by nominating a separate ticket, headed by John Cabell Breckinridge Breckinridge, John Cabell of Kentucky. The Republicans’ chances for victory improved even more when certain former Whigs formed the Constitutional Union Party Constitutional Union Party . This party was especially popular in border states. At its convention in Baltimore, the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell Bell, John of Tennessee. The field was a full one, with four candidates seeking the support of the nation. With the splintering of the Democrats, the creation of the Constitutional Union Party, and the unity of the Republicans, the election of Lincoln was almost a certainty.

Although the other candidates traveled extensively during the 1860 campaign, Abraham Lincoln chose to adhere to the tradition of the day and stayed home in Springfield, Illinois. Until the twentieth century, many presidential candidates believed that it was undignified for a candidate for the nation’s highest office to campaign personally. Moreover, because four candidates were running, Lincoln simply needed a plurality, not a majority, to win the electoral votes in northern, midwestern, and eastern states, in which the Republicans had strong support. By remaining in Springfield, Lincoln was able to deliver set speeches affirming his intention of protecting the U.S. Constitution and preserving the union. He did not have to answer unexpected questions from reporters and avoided making blunders during the campaign.

The Republicans nearly swept the North, with Douglas carrying only New Jersey and Missouri. The Bell Bell, John ticket carried three border states, while Breckinridge Breckinridge, John Cabell received all the electoral votes in the South. Lincoln was a minority president, with less than 40 percent of the popular vote; he received only 1,866,452 popular votes, compared to a total of 2,815,617 for his three opponents. In electoral votes, however, Lincoln received 180, while his opponents received 123. Nearly 70 percent of the voters opposed expansion of slavery into the territories.


During the 1860 election, the Republicans gained control of the presidency and the House of Representatives, but the Democrats retained control of the Senate. However, the Republican success was attended by dire consequences. News of Lincoln’s election precipitated the secession of South Carolina, followed by the secession of six other southern states by February, 1861. Outgoing President Buchanan Buchanan, James [p]Buchanan, James;election of 1860 did nothing to stop the illegal secessions. The responsibility of preserving the union fell on Abraham Lincoln, who took his oath of office on March 4, 1861. The Civil War would begin just over one month later.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Masterful biography that portrays Lincoln as ambitious, often defeated, and tormented by a difficult marriage, yet having a remarkable capacity for growth and the ability to hold the nation together during the Civil War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Einhorn, Lois J. Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Contains an excellent analysis of the eloquence and effectiveness of such important speeches by Lincoln as the Gettysburg Address and the Cooper Union speech of February 27, 1860.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gienapp, William E. Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Biography that devotes most of its attention to Lincoln’s presidency, which was dominated by the Civil War that began shortly after his inauguration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lincoln, Abraham. Lincoln on Democracy. Edited and introduced by Mario Cuomo and Harold Holzer. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. Collection of the famous speeches delivered by Abraham Lincoln. Contains several essays on his importance in the preservation of democratic values in the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oates, Stephen B. With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. Well-documented and reliable biography of Lincoln that provides excellent discussions of his unsuccessful senatorial campaign in 1858 and his successful presidential campaign in 1860.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Randall, J. G. Lincoln, the President: Springfield to Gettysburg. 4 vols. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1945-1955. Good description of Lincoln’s career in law and politics, from his years in Springfield until the decisive battle of the Civil War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. 2 vols. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926. Although now quite old, this two-volume study of Lincoln’s career before the White House, and Sandburg’s four-volume work Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), still constitutes one of the most readable biographies of Lincoln.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Waugh, John C. On the Brink of Civil War: The Compromise of 1850 and How It Changed the Course of American History. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2003. Study of congressional wrangling between northern abolitionists, southern secessionists, and moderates that dominated national politics up until the election of 1860.

Twelfth Amendment Is Ratified

Congress Passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act

Birth of the Republican Party

Bleeding Kansas

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Establishment of the Confederate States of America

Lincoln Is Inaugurated President

U.S. Civil War

Lincoln Issues the Emancipation Proclamation

Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

James Buchanan; Stephen A. Douglas; Abraham Lincoln; Mary Todd Lincoln; William H. Seward. Presidency, U.S.;election of 1860 Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;election of 1860 Presidency, U.S.;Abraham Lincoln[Lincoln] Douglas, Stephen A. [p]Douglas, Stephen A.;election of 1860

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