Official Presidential portrait of Abraham Lincoln
Official Presidential portrait of Abraham Lincoln
G.P.A. Healy - Source
License: Public Domain

Abraham Lincoln Elected 16th President of the United States

Lincoln was 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. 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. On May 9-10, 1860, the Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur. At this convention, Lincoln received his first endorsement to run for the presidency.

Lincoln did not campaign on the road. Despite this, he had gained the majority of the popular vote due to the work of the local Republican Party offices throughout the north. They produced tons of campaign posters and leaflets, and thousands of newspaper editorials. There were thousands of Republican speakers who focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln's life story, making an emphasis on his childhood poverty. 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. In the South, Lincoln did not appear on a majority of the ballots come the time of the election.

1860 presidential election results
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 all of the Southern states. 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. Lincoln was the first U. S. President elected from Illinois.

In February 1860, Lincoln made his first major political appearance in the Northeast when he addressed a rally at the Cooper Union in New York. He was now sufficiently well known to be a presidential candidate. At the Republican national convention in Chicago in May, William H. Seward was the leading candidate. Seward, however, had qualities that made him undesirable in the critical states the Republicans had lost in 1856: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey. As a result Lincoln won the nomination by being the second choice of the majority.

He went on to win the presidential election, defeating the Northern Democrat Douglas, the Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and the Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. Lincoln selected a strong cabinet that included all of his major rivals for the Republican nomination: Seward as secretary of state, Salmon P. Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Edward Bates as attorney general.

By the time of Lincoln's inauguration in March 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union. His conciliatory inaugural address had no effect on the South, and, against the advice of a majority of his cabinet, Lincoln decided to send provisions to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The fort was a symbol of federal authority--conspicuous in the state that had led secession, South Carolina--and it would soon have had to be evacuated for lack of supplies. On Apr. 12, 1861, South Carolina fired on the fort, and the Civil War began.