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June 17, 1988
THE REPUBLICAN CONSPIRACY OF 1860
How Lincoln Was Nominated For President
by Anthony K. Wikrent
Abraham Lincoln at the beginning of 1860, the year he was nominated the
Republican Party candidate for President, and the year he won the election.
This wonderful photograph was taken by Mathew Brady in New York City,
when Lincoln was speaking at Cooper Union.
Abraham Lincoln might very well have been lost in the obscurity of the
Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois, had he not, at some point in the beginning
of 1854, made a decision: that he personally would shoulder the responsibility for saving the American Union from a crisis so severe as to threaten its
existence. And thus he drew around himself a small group of men who
conspired to elevate him to the White House. In this, Abraham Lincoln
acted very much like Lyndon LaRouche, who similarly decided, in the late
1950s, that he personally would fight to terminate the financial system of
usury that endangers the dignity, and, increasingly, the existence, of
Lincoln was fully aware that what he fought to preserve was Benjamin
Franklin and Alexander Hamilton's American System of political economy,
as Lincoln's writings from the mid-1830s onward attest. This American
System had been embodied in the three major principles of Lincoln's Whig
Party: a strong national bank, to allocate credit into productive investments,
and discourage speculation; a program of internal improvements, such as
construction of harbors, canals, and railroads; and a protective tariff, to
encourage the development of American manufactures, and protect them
from the depredations of, especially, British usurers.
It was a system tailored to protect and promote free labor, where, in
Lincoln's words, a man "could eat the bread earned by the sweat of his own
brow without asking leave of anyone." To establish the American System
throughout the world—and in so doing, destroy the Venetian/ British system
of usury that depended on slave labor—was the great moral purpose of the
The British and their various European allies had been striving ever since
America's Revolution, and especially since the Congress of Vienna, to
destroy the United States and its American System: first, in the Second War
for Independence (The War of 1812); then through the patient cultivation of
a great schism over slavery—as evidenced by the Nullification Crisis of the
1820s (a rehearsal of the Civil War); and later, throughout the 1850s, the
development of paramilitary forces in the South, based on the Knights of the
Golden Circle. These schemes for the ruin of the American Union included
the promotion of the abolitionist movement—which argued that since the
South refused to give up slavery, the North should secede! (This explains
why Lincoln and his allies were loathe to join the abolitionists.)
Thus, by 1854, the American System had been forced into retreat by the
repeated assaults of the historically ignorant, and therefore easily manipulated, Jacksonians. The Whig Party was all but buried. So, then in 1854, as
now, the enemies of America began to openly push their plan, which would
smash the Union and eradicate the hated American System.
Under this onslaught, entire institutions, such as the Whig Party, began to
crumble. To meet the crisis, Lincoln and his allies built a new institution:
the Republican Party. Then, they overcame the vicious opposition of the
Establishment—that combine of powerful banks and financial interests—to
engineer the nomination and election of their man, using tactics that, if they
were employed today, would immediately draw the ire and indictments of
the "liberal dictatorship's" government lawyers and prosecutors.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act
In January 1854, U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, an old Democratic rival of Lincoln's from their days together in the State Legislature,
introduced a bill organizing the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska, a
necessary preliminary to having a railroad built along a route where Douglas
had heavily speculated in land values. In order to gain Southern support for
the bill, Douglas had written in a provision to allow the settlers to decide for
themselves whether to seek admission to the Union as Slave States, or Free.
This provision struck down the Missouri Compromise, which had averted
the great crisis of the 1820s; the Compromise had allowed Missouri to enter
as a Slave State, thus appeasing the slave power, while stipulating that
slavery would never be permitted in any other territories north of 36 degrees
and 30 minutes north latitude. The Missouri Compromise thereby preserved
the clear intention of the Founding Fathers "to set slavery in the course of
With Douglas' provision on Kansas and Nebraska, however, the republic was
immediately plunged into controversy. The "slave democracy" was determined that Kansas should enter the Union as a Slave State; the majority of
Northerners were just as determined that the original intentions of the
Founding Fathers should be honored by keeping Kansas Free. "Emigrant
Associations" were organized by both sides to flood Kansas with settlers in
an effort to determine the outcome of any election. When it became
apparent that the anti-slavery forces would win by this means, the slave
democracy organized armed groups in Missouri to sweep into Kansas,
terrorizing and sometimes murdering anti-slavery leaders, and preventing
people from voting unless they freely professed support for slavery. One of
the measures enacted by the pro-slavery Kansas legislature that was elected
in the midst of this terror, made it a crime to inform blacks of their rights—
and the punishment prescribed was death!
Lincoln was outraged by Douglas' unleashing of such evil, and he reentered
the political arena from which he had retired in 1850, surprising his friends
with his earnestness and command of the issue. When it became known that
Douglas was to speak at the Illinois State Fair in early October 1854, they
called on Lincoln to do battle and make reply.
Stephen Douglas, the "Little Giant," in a daguerreotype by Mathew Brady.
The Lincoln-Douglas debates gave Lincoln for the first time a national
Lincoln Answers Douglas
Douglas faced a difficult task—when he first arrived in Chicago, he had
been jeered from the speaker's platform—but his tremendous persuasiveness
was beginning to win him back his support, and even arouse the old enthusiasm for the "Little Giant," as Douglas was called. But Lincoln was not awed
by the Olympian fame of the Senator.
With a deep sense of moral outrage, Lincoln thundered that Douglas'
Kansas-Nebraska bill was
wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska,
and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every
other part of the wide world where men can be found inclined to take
it. This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal, for
the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the mon-
strous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our
republican example of its just influence in the world; enables the
enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites;
causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity; and especially because it forces so many men among ourselves into an open
war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing
the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right
principle of action but self-interest.
Lincoln's exposing of Douglas' sophistries was more than the Little Giant
could tolerate, and he sought and obtained Lincoln's agreement that each
would cease speaking on the subject. This pact, of course, threatened Douglas's program to regain the fawning loyalty of his admirers, and he honored
the agreement for but a few days.
Lincoln now decided to seek election to the U.S. Senate (at that time,
determined by the state senate). Lincoln's aspiration received an important
boost when, in an upset in the fall elections of 1854, anti-Nebraska forces
won a majority of seats in the Illinois legislature. Among the observers of
the increasingly bitter fight was the newly elected clerk of the state senate,
Dr. Charles Ray, a struggling editorial writer for the Galena Jeffersonian.
Ray had been reared an ardent Jacksonian Democrat, with a fiery passion for
defending the rights of man. The agitation in Kansas and the repeated outrages by the pro-slavery forces had aroused his ire, and he eagerly wrote and
reprinted tirades against the slaveocracy.
Despite misgivings about Lincoln's "southern origins," Ray was impressed
as he watched Lincoln lobbying the state senators, smoothing the way for
Whigs and anti-Nebraska Democrats to come together. And when Lincoln
called on his supporters, on the 10th ballot, to vote for anti-Nebraska
Democrat Lyman Trumbull in order to prevent pro-slavery Governor Joel
Matteson from being elected, Ray realized that Lincoln was no mere
politician, vain and ambitious. As much as he had hoped for election,
Lincoln was more determined that his cause should prevail, and he had
selflessly sacrificed his own ambition to give the North a Free Soil, antiNebraska voice in the U.S. Senate when it was most needed.
Another newspaperman who took notice of the tall, earnest lawyer from
Springfield was the young publisher of the Cleveland Morning Leader,
Joseph Medill, a pioneer of business reporting. Medill grew up in Stark
County, Ohio, reading the weekly edition of Whig leader Horace Greeley's
New York Tribune. The 1852 defeat of Whig presidential candidate General
Winfield Scott, stunned Medill, who correctly saw that it augured the
collapse of the Whig Party, and he began agitating for the formation of a
new party, to be called "Republican."
Medill was of the same cast as the republic's founders, and, like them, he
dreamt of spreading settlements, civilization, and industries westward.
Thus, Medill jumped at the opportunity to visit Chicago in the fall of 1854.
Seven years before, the town had completed building a major canal linking
Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, and had rapidly emerged as the rail hub
of the West—a pet project of Lincoln's when he was a member of the
"Sangamon Long Nine" group of Whig legislators in the Illinois legislature
during the 1830s (see "The American System Origins of Abraham Lincoln,"
in New Federalist, Sept. 24, 1987). Chicago's exhilarating growth and
unbounded enthusiasm for industrialization fascinated Medill, and items
lauding Chicago soon began to appear in his Morning Leader. Medill
confided to Greeley his desire to move to Chicago, who encouraged him,
suggesting Ray as a potential partner.
Ray was interested in purchasing the Chicago Tribune, a "Know-Nothing"
daily, because he saw that, like the Whigs and Democrats, the KnowNothings (who blamed all the country's woes on foreigners, immigrants, and
Catholics) were being splintered by the slavery issue. Ray believed he could
persuade many Know-Nothings to abandon their hatred of foreigners for a
crusade against the slaveholders; all he required was a partner. Medill
obliged him, in late April 1855.
Lincoln too detested the Know-Nothing "platform," seeing in them the type
of racist ignorance that would dissipate the energies of the nation against
false enemies, while the real scoundrels, like Douglas and his Eastern
Establishment backers, succeeded in destroying the Union and all it stood
for. In a letter to his old friend Joshua Speed of Kentucky, Lincoln blasted
the amorality of people who tolerated slavery and Know-Nothingism: "Our
progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we
began by declaring that 'Men Are Created Equal.' We now practically read it
'all men are created equal, Except Negroes'. When the Know-Nothings get
control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except Negroes, And Foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to
some country where they make no pretence at loving liberty—to Russia, for
instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY GOING TO THE RIGHT HOUSE.
A political cartoon circulated during the height of the 1860 presidential
campaign, attacking Lincoln and his supporters as "free love" advocates,
"welfare cheats," destroyers of the Constitution, etc.
By early 1856, Lincoln was ready to break from the Whigs, and join the
emerging Republican Party of Illinois, which had been touted by newspapermen like Ray and Medill. Lincoln maneuvered behind the scenes at a statewide meeting of editors in Decatur, held on Washington's Birthday, Feb. 22,
and called by Paul Selby of the Morgan Journal. Lincoln was the only
person who was not a newspaperman to appear at the meeting and, according to Selby, while "he did not take part in the public deliberations of the
convention, he was in close conference with the Committee on Resolutions."
Most of the platform, strongly protesting the extension of slavery, was
written by Lincoln and Ray.
After adopting the platform, the editors agreed to promote it in their
columns, to prepare the way for another convention which would formally
inaugurate the Republican Party in Illinois. The final act of the editors'
convention was to appoint a State Central Committee, and here again
Lincoln played a leading role, suggesting several of the names, and
approving the remainder.
Before the proposed convention was held, the nation had been further
aroused by the vicious attack on Senator Charles Sumner carried out by
Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina, who had beaten Sumner
senseless with a cane—on the floor of the Senate chamber! Slaveocrats in
the South cheered, and sent Brooks dozens of new canes.
The first Republican Convention in Illinois was held at Bloomington, on
May 29, 1856. Selby himself was unable to attend, for he lay at home
recovering from a brutal beating administered by the pro-slavery-extension
party. The convention speedily disposed of the formal business of adopting
a platform, appointing delegates to the national convention, and selecting a
state ticket. Then a call for speeches was made. The convention attendees
were still uneasy with each other; many had been bitter political rivals
before the issue of slavery extension had forced them together under the
banner of the Republican Party. Man after man arose, but none was really
able to stir the audience. Finally, remembering the power of his speeches
when he had dogged Douglas two years earlier, the attendees began to call
Dr. Charles Ray, the newspaperman who launched Lincoln's presidential bid.
Lincoln had sat unobtrusively throughout the convention, but he had given a
great deal of thought to what he might say or do to weld the disparate
elements of the emerging Republican Party of Illinois into an effective
fighter for freedom. Painfully aware of the great task that the previous
speakers had attempted, but failed, to achieve, Lincoln began to speak
haltingly. Yet, the emotional depth of his conviction drew the audience
toward him; men and women edged forward in their seats and strained to
catch every word he uttered. Lincoln began to speak with increasing confidence, advancing, hands on hips, toward the front of the rostrum. He looked
a foot taller as he straightened himself to his full height, and he fairly thundered as he hurled denunciations upon the slave power. "Kansas shall be
free!" cried Lincoln, and his audience lept to their feet, many standing on
their chairs, cheering, stamping, and weeping. Reporters who were assigned
to cover the speech, Medill included, were swept away by the wave of emotion, and dropped their pencils to they joined with the rest of the audience in
wildly applauding Lincoln's talk.
Though no newspaper accounts of Lincoln's speech at the Bloomington
Convention appeared—it came to be called Lincoln's Lost Speech—word of
the effect it had in uniting the audience in purpose and resolve, spread
rapidly throughout the national organization of the Republican Party. At the
national convention in Philadelphia three weeks later, Lincoln's name was
the second proposed for Vice President, and he received 110 votes on the
At the 1858 Springfield Convention, Illinois Republicans "unanimously"
nominated Lincoln to bear their standard against Douglas, who was seeking
reelection to the Senate that year. The nomination is most interesting,
because it was the first nomination ever made by a political party for a U.S.
Senate candidate, and it shows again the maneuvering that took place behind
the scenes on Lincoln's behalf. Early in the proceedings, a group of delegates from Cook County (Chicago) marched into the assembly with a banner
proclaiming "Cook County for Lincoln," setting off a storm of applause.
Another delegate proposed "to amend the banner by substituting for Cook
County, the word which I hold in my hand," whereupon he unfurled a scroll
which had "Illinois" written on it, just the right size to fit on the banner.
Amidst "a perfect hurricane of hurrahs," the Cook County delegation
accepted the amendment, and thus was the first political nomination for the
U.S. Senate made.
That evening, Lincoln delivered his famous speech "A house divided against
itself cannot stand." Many of Lincoln's friends feared that the speech was
too radical, but Lincoln had carefully drafted it to force Douglas to explain
exactly his position on all aspects of the slavery issue.
The Great Debates
Not surprisingly, the slippery Douglas at first attempted to dodge the issue
by flinging charges of "abolitionism" and "sectionalism" at Lincoln. After a
month of this, Lincoln challenged Douglas to a debate. Douglas was less
than pleased. Though he was careful to display nothing but confidence to
the public, Douglas privately confided that he had nothing to gain, even if he
came off best in the debates, while the unknown Lincoln would gain much if
he made a good showing against the famous little orator. Douglas was
reaching for the White House, and he did not desire to be exposed by
Lincoln as an opportunistic politician possessing magnificent oratory but no
principles, especially when the country careened toward a great crisis and
the American people might demand a man of principle for their next
Here was the crux of the matter: Most of Douglas' followers were actually
not pro-slavery; they really did not care whether slavery were extended,
preserved, or obliterated. They were political hacks, opportunists like
Douglas, who had hitched their wagons to a fiery orator who looked as if he
could go far. They expected Douglas to rise to the presidency, and they
expected to rise with him. They had tied their fortunes to the existing
institutions—they could not see that the corruption of those institutions was
creating a crisis that could swamp, not only their small ambitions, but the
American Republic itself.
Douglas won reelection to the Senate; but, as he had feared, the debates did
give Lincoln a national audience, establishing him as one of the West's antislavery leaders. More: Lincoln was able to lure Douglas into a trap which
even Lincoln's supporters didn't understand it until it was sprung two years
later. At the second Lincoln-Douglas debate, held in Freeport, Lincoln had
asked Douglas, "Can a people of a United States territory, in any lawful way,
against the wish of any citizen of the United States, exclude slavery from its
limits prior to the formation of a State Constitution?"
Lincoln's supporters had almost begged him not to ask the question, arguing
that when Douglas answered in the affirmative, as he did, it would so
reassure wavering anti-Nebraska voters that Douglas's reelection and
Lincoln's defeat would be guaranteed. But Lincoln knew that an affirmative
answer by Douglas would thoroughly alarm the slavery leaders of the South.
"I am after larger game," Lincoln serenely told his anxious supporters. "The
battle of 1860 is worth a hundred of this." And it was not until the Democrat-
ic Party split in two at its 1860 convention in Charleston, S.C.—the South
refusing to support Douglas because of the answer he had given to Lincoln
two years before—that Lincoln's friends recognized his foresight.
This engraving (above) of the "Wigwam," built to house the 1860 Republican
convention in Chicago, appeared in Harper's Weekly during the convention.
Campaigning for President
Soon after losing his 1858 Senate bid, Lincoln attempted to set his party's
eyes again on the real issue: "In this mighty issue, it is nothing to you,
nothing to the mass of the people of the nation, whether or not Judge
Douglas or myself shall ever be heard of after this night; it may be a trifle to
either of us, but in connection with this mighty question, upon which hang
the destinies of the nation perhaps, it is absolutely nothing."
During the debates, one of Lincoln's lawyer friends from the Eighth Circuit,
Jesse Fell of Bloomington, was in the East, on behalf of the Illinois Republican Central Committee, for which he was corresponding secretary. Fell
had been introduced to Lincoln back in 1835, and as legislators they had
roomed together at the state capital. Like the "Long Nine," Fell dreamt of
turning the muddy town of Chicago into a great lake port, and supported the
Throughout the East, Fell was surprised to find that Lincoln's speeches were
widely read and copied. People continually asked him about the lanky
lawyer from Springfield. Before he left the East, Fell had decided that
Lincoln should be pushed as Illinois' favorite son candidate for President.
The Republican State Committee, which had been virtually hand-picked by
Lincoln at the Decatur editors' meeting, secretly met in the offices of the
Chicago Tribune—Medill was secretary of the Committee—and mapped out
a plan to swing the nomination to Lincoln. The appearance of spontaneous
popular support was to be created, Medill recalled in 1895, by having "a
dozen country papers down in the Whig belt of the State . . . broach the
subject; then the Journal in Springfield was to copy what they said and The
Tribune also, with some editorial endorsement. A Rock Island paper was the
first to open out for the presidency."
In December 1859, Lincoln finally conceded to an old request of Fell's, and
wrote a short autobiography. Fell used this to start the ball rolling in the
East, by planting it with a newspaper contact in Chester County, Penna., just
outside of Philadelphia.
Also in December, according to Medill, "The time had come for The Tribune
to take up Lincoln's name for the presidency in downright earnest." Medill
went to Washington, and began pushing Lincoln as a compromise candidate
to the Congressmen. After developing "agreement," Medill dispatched "a
ringing Lincoln letter. . . . It was the first letter written east of the Allegheny
Mountains in any leading newspaper urging Lincoln for President in preference to the great and overshadowing Seward."
Judd now consulted with Fell, Medill, and the others, and the next tactic of
the Lincoln faction was developed. The next month, the Republican
National Committee was to select a site for the national convention. Judd
was on the RNC, and he convinced the Committee to hold the convention in
Chicago; he claimed that Illinois would be "neutral" ground, since Lincoln
was "obviously" not a front-runner for the nomination!
As far as the Eastern Establishment was concerned, that was true. Lincoln
was almost entirely blacked out by the Establishment press: His name was
rarely mentioned in editorials and articles previewing the convention. But
bringing the convention to Chicago was a big step in defeating the Establishment's plans for the presidency.
On Saturday, May 12, 1860, Republican state delegations began arriving in
"neutral" Chicago, among the delegates half the members of the U.S. Congress. They came to the "Wigwam," the new hall built expressly for this
convention. Most visible were the large retinues of cheering supporters
supplied by each leading contender for the nomination. The front runner, of
course, was William Seward of New York, the tall, imperious, famous statesman, a darling of the Abolitionists for having pronounced that a conflict with
the South over slavery was "irrepressible." His delegation was led by New
York City political boss Thurlow Weed, who had hired the notorious prizefighter Tom Hyer to lead 2,000 plug-uglies to demonstrate and cheer for
From Pennsylvania came nearly 1,500 people, who would do for favorite
son Simon Cameron what Hyer's men would do for Seward. Hundreds more
came from Ohio, supporting the candidacy of their favorite, Salmon Chase.
The other major candidates were Edward Bates of Missouri and old Supreme
Court Justice John McLean, who had opposed the high court's evil Dred
August 1860: the biggest rally of the campaign passes before Lincoln's house
in Springfield, Illinois.
The leader of the Lincoln forces was Judge David Davis, who had presided
over the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and who had for years debated points of
law, shared rooms, and traded stories with Lincoln. He later became like a
second father to Lincoln's son, Robert Todd. Judge Davis was a huge man,
over 300 pounds, and devoted to "Honest Abe."
The real problem facing the Lincoln men was not stopping Seward—the
other candidates were already exerting enormous effort to do that. Henry
Lane, candidate for governor in Indiana, and Henry Curtin, candidate for
governor in Pennsylvania, were almost desperate to do anything to keep
Seward from being nominated, swearing that they could never carry their
states with Seward at the head of the ticket. Lincoln had ordered, before his
supporters left for Chicago, "I want that big Pennsylvania foot set down on
the scale!" Davis adopted the strategy of antagonizing no one, but securing
pledges of support for Lincoln as the second choice of each state.
The convention began at noon on May 16. David Wilmot, the Congressman
from Pennsylvania who had proposed in 1848 that all territories acquired
from Mexico be kept free from slavery, declared in his opening address:
"We oppose the new dogma by which the Constitution carries slavery into
our Territories. We will read the Constitution as our fathers read it. They
went to the grave, hoping earnestly that the stigma of slavery would soon
vanish. Shall we leave our Constitution to our children and our children's
children as one which carries freedom, or as one which carries slavery into
the countries which we may acquire? That is the question. And we
Republicans have but one answer to it: Freedom follows our flag, not
Consideration of the party platform began on the second day. Of the 17
planks presented for consideration and quickly adopted, fully eight dealt
with the various facets of the slavery issue. The eighth plank insisted that
"the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of
freedom." The remaining planks dealt with political economy, reflecting the
Hamiltonian orientation of the new party. The 12th plank called for a protective tariff "to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the
whole country." The 15th plank called for "appropriations by Congress for
River and Harbor improvements of a National Character," while the next
plank demanded that the federal government "render immediate and efficient
aid" to the construction of a railroad to the Pacific Ocean.
Three years after the war began, its strain showed clearly on Lincoln's face—
and so did his great character. This photograph was made in November 1863
by Alexander Gardner, a few days before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg
When the platform was voted up the evening of May 16, the throng burst
into roars of approval. The Seward men, flushed with confidence, moved
that nominating and balloting for the presidential candidate begin immediately—the hour was theirs, and they knew it. The Lincoln men had other
plans—but they would not be mature until the next day. So George Ashmun,
the chairman of the convention, was informed by the clerks (who supported
Lincoln) that they were unable to proceed to general balloting because they
had not yet been provided with the tally sheets. The Seward men, sensing
that victory was in their grasp, were insistent: Find the sheets, and let us
ballot now! Now the clerks told Chairman Ashmun that the tally sheets had
yet to be printed. Reluctantly, the disgusted New Yorkers allowed the
convention to be adjourned; they were confident of their ultimate victory.
The "Irrepressibles," as the Seward men called themselves, had arranged to
hold a huge rally inside the Wigwam that evening, but again the Lincoln
forces intervened. Congressman William D. ("Pig Iron") Kelley, of Pennsylvania, who was a proponent of American System political economy, and
who secretly supported Lincoln, gained the floor, ostensibly to make a small,
technical motion. Instead, as the Irrepressibles fumed, Kelley began a long,
laborious speech which dragged on until midnight.
As thousands of Irrepressibles drifted out of the Wigwam, to join one of
many loud parties celebrating Seward's imminent nomination, Judge Davis
and his pro-Lincoln crew worked feverishly to swing delegates their way.
Intelligence came that the crucial Pennsylvania delegation, along with the
Indiana delegation, had gathered at the court house, and was being
harangued by the Bates men. Davis dispatched Gustav Koerner, a leader of
Illinois' German community, and Illinois politician Orville Browning to the
meeting. Koerner later recalled that Browning's "most beautiful and
eloquent eulogy on Lincoln . . . electrified the meeting."
Addison G. Proctor, a delegate from the embattled Territory of Kansas,
described how his delegation was visited by "a group of about 30 of as
resolute a looking body of men as I had ever seen" from the border states,
led by Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky. Clay dramatically told the Kansans,
"Gentlemen, we are on the brink of a great Civil War. . . . We are from the
South and we want you to know that the South is preparing for war. If the
man that you nominate should be elected on the platform you have already
adopted the South will attempt the destruction of this Union. On your
southern border stretching from the east coast of Maryland to the Ozarks of
Missouri there stand today a body of resolute men who are determined that
this Union shall not be dissolved except at the end of a terrible struggle in
resistance." Noting that "Our homes and all we possess are in peril, we
realize just what is before us," Clay demanded that the Kansans support the
nomination of a man "who will inspire our confidence and our courage," and
in "a half-suppressed whisper" named Abraham Lincoln.
"You give us Lincoln," Clay continued, "and we will push back your battle
lines from the Ohio—right at your doors—back across the Tennessee into
the regions where it belongs. . . . Do this for us and let us go home and
prepare for the conflict."
"Here was a new issue," Proctor recalled 40 years later, "just at a psychological moment, when everyone realized that something unusual had to
happen. Up to this time it had been 'how shall we keep slavery out of the
territories?' Now it was the question 'how shall we make sure to preserve
this Union?' "
The Lincoln men slept scarcely at all that night. They were determined to be
well organized for the third day of the convention—the day of decision,
when the nominating and balloting would begin. Judd, the Rock Island
Railroad attorney, had arranged with other railroad companies to give cutrate fares to the Lincoln supporters, who were instructed to be in Chicago
early on the third day. Lincoln organizer Leonard Swett later recalled that
they brought in "fully 10,000 men from Illinois and Indiana, ready to march,
shout, or fight for Lincoln, as the case required." Jesse Fell had secretly
printed thousands of extra admission tickets to the convention; these were
now distributed. Men already inside handed their tickets over the railings
and out the windows. When the Seward Irrepressibles and other delegates
reached the Wigwam the morning of the third day, they found it already
packed with screaming, howling Lincoln enthusiasts.
The beginning of Lincoln's presidency and the beginning of the Civil War
coincided. Here, the U.S. flag that had flown over Ft. Sumter in South
Carolina. It was shot up by Southern troops who were firing on the federal
fort at the outset of the war.
The Lincoln men had carefully made the seating arrangements. At one end
of the great hall was seated the New York delegation, surrounded by other
state delegations considered to be hopelessly for Seward. "At the other
extreme," according to an 1895 Chicago Tribune account based on the
recollections of Medill, "was placed Pennsylvania, at so long a remove that
the voices of the Seward orators of New York could barely be heard by the
doubtful delegates of Pennsylvania. Close about the Keystone State, on the
side toward New York, were packed the faithful Lincoln delegates of Illinois
and Indiana, and also the New Jersey delegation, which was accounted but a
tail to the Keystone dog. There were convenient passages leading from the
Pennsylvania seats to the anterooms which were also directly in communication with Illinois, so that when delegates from Pennsylvania betook themselves from the hall for anteroom consultation they were reasonably certain
to meet delegates from Illinois or Indiana primed with an argument for
Lincoln." Medill concluded that "It was the meanest political trick I ever
had a hand in, in my life."
Finally, the nominations began. William M. Evarts of New York arose, and
with a baleful glare at the thousands of Lincoln supporters who packed the
hall, nominated Seward in a one-sentence speech. The Seward men let loose
with "a deafening shout which," said Leonard Swett, "I confess, appalled us
But Davis was prepared: from lakefront to prairie, the Lincoln men had
rounded up every man they could find with a reputation for a loud, carrying
voice, and placed each at a strategic location in the hall. Moreover, signals
had been devised to instruct a man stationed on the roof of the Wigwam of
the precise moment at which a yell from the 20,000 people thronging outside
the building might influence those within. Now Judd arose, and nominated
Lincoln. The thousands of "Wide Awakes" inside and outside shrieked a
response that, according to Murat Halstead, reporter for the Cincinnati
Commercial, "was absolutely terrific."
"It now became the Seward men to make another effort," Halstead
continues, and when Seward's nomination was seconded, "The effect was
startling. Hundreds of people stopped their ears in pain. The shouting was
absolutely frantic, shrill, and wild. . . . Now the Lincoln men had to try it
"The idea of us Hoosiers and Suckers being outscreamed," said Swett,
"would have been as bad to them as the loss of their man." When Lincoln's
nomination was seconded, "Five thousand people at once leaped to their
seats, women not wanting in the number, and the wild yell made soft vesper
breathings of all that had preceded. No language can describe it. A thousand steam whistles, ten acres of hotel gongs, a tribe of Comanches, headed
by a choice vanguard from pandemonium, might have mingled in the scene
unnoticed." Halstead wrote that "I thought the Seward yell could not be
surpassed; but the Lincoln boys were clearly ahead, and feeling their
victory, as there was a lull in the storm, took deep breaths all round, and
gave a concentrated shriek that was positively awful, and accompanied it
with stamping that made every plank and pillar in the building quiver."
'Let Us Ballot!'
As the tumult subsided, a voice cried out "Abe Lincoln has it by the sound
now; let us ballot!" The New England states were called first, and it was
immediately clear that Seward had not the firm grasp on them which the
pundits had attributed to him. And Virginia, which was expected to go
solidly for Seward, gave Seward only eight votes, to Lincoln's 14. The
startled New Yorkers looked at each other with apprehension. Even more
startling, Indiana gave all her 26 votes to Lincoln. At the end of the first
ballot, Seward led with 173.5 votes, but Lincoln was second with 102, twice
as many as any of the other contenders. Chase had 49, and Bates 48.
Pennsylvania's favorite son, Cameron, had 50.5.
The Pennsylvania delegates now rose as one, and pounded into one of the
anterooms to confer. The anxious Lincoln men could only wonder whether
or not Pennsylvania would go for Lincoln as its second choice, or for
McLean, as the delegation had been instructed.
The second ballot began. Lincoln's first gains came from New England.
Particularly significant was the ballot cast by Vermont, which switched all
10 votes to Lincoln, "a blighting blow upon the Seward interest," Halstead
Just before their state's name was called, the Pennsylvanians filed back into
the hall, and the whole Wigwam now learned what had been decided in the
anteroom: "Pennsylvania casts her 52 votes for Abraham Lincoln!" The big
break to Lincoln had begun, and the New Yorkers sat stupefied, as cheer
followed cheer, inside and outside the hall. Lincoln had gained 79 votes,
and now had 181, while Seward had climbed only to 184.5. Two hundred
thirty-three votes were needed to win.
Medill now walked over to the Ohio delegation. Many of these men were
his friends, and he sat down next to David Cartter, chairman of the delegation, to do what missionary work he could. Ohio had given only 14 votes to
Lincoln on the second ballot; she still clung to her favorite son, Chase, on
whom, in Medill's eyes, she had squandered 29 votes.
The third roll call began. The fatal defection from Seward in New England
became clearer still. When Ohio's name was called, it was apparent Medill
had been persuasive enough. Without bothering to poll his fellow delegates,
Cartter threw 29 votes to Lincoln.
Hundreds of men had added up the votes as they were announced, and now
it was whispered about: "Lincoln has 231.5; just one and a half more, and
he has it!" About 10 seconds ticked by, as the convention considered the
idea. Medill leaned over to Cartter, and whispered, "Now is your chance. If
you can throw the Ohio vote for Lincoln, Chase can have anything he
wants." Cartter, suspicious, stuttered "H-how do you kn-know?" Medill
replied "I know, and you know I wouldn't say so if I didn't know. Ask Judge
Davis; he holds the authority from Lincoln."
In a flash, Cartter was standing on his chair, wildly waving for recognition.
"Every eye was on Cartter," Halstead reported, "and everybody who understood the matter at all, knew what he was about to do. . . . He had been quite
noisy during the sessions of the convention, but had never commanded,
when mounting his chair, such attention as now. He said, 'I rise (eh), Mr.
Chairman (eh), to announce the change of four votes from Mr. Chase to Mr.
Lincoln.' The deed was done. There was a moment's silence. The nerves of
the thousands, which through the hours of suspense had been subjected to
terrible tension, relaxed, and as deep breaths of relief were taken, there was a
noise in the Wigwam like the rush of a great wind, in the van of a storm—
and in another breath, the storm was there. There were thousands cheering
with the energy of insanity.
"A man who had been on the roof, and was engaged in communicating the
results of the balloting to the mighty mass of outsiders, now demanded by
gestures at the sky-light over the stage, to know what had happened. One of
the secretaries, with a tally sheet in his hands, shouted—'Fire the Salute!
Abe Lincoln is nominated!' As the cheering inside the Wigwam subsided,
we could hear that outside, where the news of the nomination had just been
announced. And the roar, like the breaking up of the fountains of the great
deep that was heard, gave new impulse to the enthusiasm inside. Then the
thunder of the salute rose above the din, and the shouting was repeated with
such tremendous fury that some discharges of the cannon were absolutely
not heard by those on the stage. Puffs of smoke, drifting by the open doors,
and the smell of gunpowder, told what was going on." The Lincoln men
screamed with the rest as they clung to each other and wept on each other's
As soon as the cannon had boomed the news to the thousands gathered
outside, Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell writes, "Twenty thousand throats
took up the cry. The city heard it, and one hundred guns on the Tremont
House, innumerable whistles on the river and lake front, on locomotives and
factories, and the bells in all the steeples, broke forth. For 24 hours the
clamor never ceased. It spread to the prairies, and before morning they were
afire with pride and excitement." The working men of Chicago knew who
had promoted the policies that had built their city, who had pushed the
Illinois-Michigan Canal through to completion, who had championed the
rapid construction of the railroads over the prairies. Now they cheered
wildly for Honest Abe.
Halstead reported that the next day, as he traveled east on the Fort Wayne
and Chicago railroad, "At every station where there was a village, until after
two o'clock, there were tar barrels burning, drums beating, boys carrying
rails; and guns, great and small, banging away. The weary passengers were
allowed no rest, but plagued by the thundering jar of cannon, the clamor of
drums, the glare of bonfires, and the whooping of the boys, who were
delighted with the idea of a candidate for the presidency, who 30 years ago
split rails on the Sangamon River—classic stream now and forever more—
and whose neighbors named him 'honest.' "
A few days after Lincoln's election to the presidency, Medill traveled by
train to Springfield, to congratulate him. Lincoln asked him, "Do you
recollect the argument we had on the way up to Freeport two years ago over
the question I was going to ask Judge Douglas?"
"Yes," said Medill, "I recollect it very well."
"Well, don't you think I was right?" pressed Lincoln.
"We were both right," Medill replied. "The question hurt Douglas for the
presidency, but it lost you the senatorship."
"Yes, and I have won the place he was really playing for," Lincoln
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