Photo of Lincoln taken February 27, 1860 in New York City, the day of his famous Cooper Union speech.
"The Rail Candidate," Lincoln's 1860 candidacy is held up by slavery issue (slave on left) and party organization (New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley on right)
Entering the presidential nomination process as a distinct underdog, Lincoln was eventually chosen as the Republican candidate for the 1860 election for several reasons. His expressed views on slavery were seen as more moderate than those of rivals William H. Seward and Salmon P. Chase. His "Western" origins also appealed to the newer states: other contenders, especially those with more governmental experience, had acquired enemies within the party and were weak in the critical western states, while Lincoln was perceived as a moderate who could win the West. Most Republicans agreed with Lincoln that the North was the aggrieved party as the Slave Power tightened its grasp on the national government. Yet despite his Southern connections (his in-laws owned slaves), Lincoln misunderstood the depth of the revolution underway in the South and the emergence of Southern nationalism. Throughout the 1850s he denied that there would ever be a civil war, and his supporters repeatedly rejected claims that his election would incite secession.
Throughout the election, Lincoln did not campaign or give speeches. This was handled by the state and county Republican organizations, who used the latest techniques to sustain party enthusiasm and thus obtain high turnout. There was little effort to convert non-Republicans, and there was virtually no campaigning in the South except for a few border cities such as St. Louis, Missouri, and Wheeling, Virginia; indeed, the party did not even run a slate in most of the South. In the North, there were thousands of Republican speakers, tons of campaign posters and leaflets, and thousands of newspaper editorials. These focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln's life story, making the most of his boyhood poverty, his pioneer background, his native genius, and his rise from obscurity. His nicknames, "Honest Abe" and "the Rail-Splitter," were exploited to the full. The goal was to emphasize the superior power of "free labor," whereby a common farm boy could work his way to the top by his own efforts.
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States, beating Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats, and John Bell of the new Constitutional Union Party. He was the first Republican president, winning entirely on the strength of his support in the North: he was not even on the ballot in nine states in the South, and won only 2 of 996 counties in the other Southern states. Lincoln gained 1,865,908 votes (39.9% of the total), for 180 electoral votes; Douglas, 1,380,202 (29.5%) for 12 electoral votes; Breckenridge, 848,019 (18.1%) for 72 electoral votes; and Bell, 590,901 (12.5%) for 39 electoral votes. There were fusion tickets in some states, but even if his opponents had combined in every state, Lincoln had a majority vote in all but two of the states in which he won the electoral votes and would still have won the electoral college and the election.
Secession winter 1860-1861
As Lincoln's election became more likely, secessionists made it clear that their states would leave the Union. South Carolina took the lead, followed by six other cotton-growing states in the deep South. The upper South (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas) listened to and rejected the secessionist appeal. They decided to stay in the Union, though they warned Lincoln that they would not support an invasion through their territory. The seven Confederate states seceded before Lincoln took office, declaring themselves to be a new nation, the Confederate States of America. President Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy.
President-elect Lincoln evaded possible assassins in Baltimore, and on February 23, 1861, arrived in disguise in Washington, D.C. At his inauguration on March 4, 1861, the German American Turners formed Lincoln's bodyguard; and a sizable garrison of federal troops was also present, ready to protect the capital from Confederate invasion and local insurrection.
Photograph showing the March 4, 1861, inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in front of U.S. Capitol Building
In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln declared, "I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments," arguing further that the purpose of the United States Constitution was "to form a more perfect union" than the Articles of Confederation which were explicitly perpetual, thus the Constitution too was perpetual. He asked rhetorically that even were the Constitution a simple contract, would it not require the agreement of all parties to rescind it?
Also in his inaugural address, in a final attempt to reunite the states and prevent the looming war, Lincoln supported the pending Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which had already passed Congress. This amendment, which explicitly protected slavery in those states in which it existed, was designed to appeal not to the Confederacy but to the critical border states. At the same time, Lincoln adamantly opposed the Crittenden Compromise, which would have permitted slavery in the territories. Despite support for the Crittenden compromise among some prominent Republicans (including William Seward), Lincoln denounced it saying that it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego."
By the time Lincoln took office, the Confederacy was an established fact, and no leaders of the insurrection proposed rejoining the Union on any terms. No compromise was found because a compromise was deemed virtually impossible. Lincoln might have allowed the southern states to secede, and some Republicansrecommended that. However, conservative Democratic nationalists, such as Jeremiah S. Black, Joseph Holt, and Edwin M. Stanton had taken control of Buchanan's cabinet around January 1, 1861, and refused to accept secession. Lincoln and nearly every Republican leader adopted this position by March 1861: the Union could not be dismantled. However, as a strict follower of the constitution, Lincoln refused to take any action against the South unless the Unionists themselves were attacked first. This finally happened in April 1861.
Historian Allan Nevins argues that Lincoln made three miscalculations in believing that he could preserve the Union, hold government property, and still avoid war. He "temporarily underrated the gravity of the crisis", overestimated the strength of Unionist sentiment in the South and border states, and misunderstood the conditional support of Unionists in the border states.
Fighting begins: 1861-1862