Read all the Civil War Sesquicentennial articles Comments and Questions to the Author

What Happened in November 1860 ©

Abraham Lincoln is Elected President by the Northern States ©

The Platforms of the Candidates

Four candidates contended for the presidency in 1860: Lincoln, Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell. The candidates’ positions on the issue of slavery were clear:

Lincoln’s position was that slavery existed only by virtue of the common law. Therefore there was no law for it in the Territories, and, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision in In Re Dred Scott (1856), Congress had no power to establish or legalize slavery in the Territories, but was bound (Lincoln did not say by what) to exclude it. Certainly, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott, nothing in the Constitution of 1860 supported Lincoln’s position.

Douglas’s position was that the issue of slavery or no slavery in the Territories was for the inhabitants of such territory to decide. His position was based on that clause of the Constitution that guarantees the states a republican form of government.

Breckinridge’s position was that the citizen of any state had a right to migrate to any territory, taking with him anything which was property by the law of his own state, and Congress was bound to render him such protection as was necessary to enforce this right. The last two points in Breckinridge’s position were as foundationless as was Lincoln’s.

Bell’s Union Party professed to be for the Union and the Constitution, but party members in the South were openly expressing their interest in secession. Bell’s popularity was limited to the Border states.

The Early State Elections of 1860

The Republicans won the state houses of New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, plus they held a majority in both houses of congress, once the representatives and senators from the Slave states left Washington...

Lincoln in 1860



1860 Presidential Election State by State Vote Count


The total popular vote for Lincoln in the Northern States was 1,831,180 votes.

The total popular vote for the other three candidates combined—Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell—was 2,801,810 votes.

The total popular vote for Lincoln in the Southern States was 26,439 votes.

The total popular vote for the other three candidates combined was 1,264,325.

The total popular vote for Lincoln in the United State s was 1,857,619 votes.

The total popular vote for Douglas in the United States was 1,296,604 votes

The total popular vote for Breckinridge in the United States was 859,082 votes

The total popular vote for Bell in the United States was 646,124 votes

The total combined popular vote for Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell in the United States was 2,801,810 vs. Lincoln’s 1,831,180.

Lincoln won from this 180 electoral votes, all the others combined won 123. Lincoln had not received a single ballot in nearly one third of the states, and had not gained a single elector in the entire South. The election was nonetheless constitutional, legally fair, and as democratic as any previous election. The tide had simply changed.





As historian Allan Nevins put it, “The nation had taken a mighty decision—the decision that slavery must be contained. Lincoln’s 1.8 million followers wished to contain slavery within the South. . . (which necessarily meant bottling the Negroes up in the South, not an acceptable situation to a state like South Carolina or Mississippi, with a majority of its population Negro)

The popular majority. . .  had asserted itself, and a people’s man, far stronger than the South supposed, stood ready to execute their will (a “will” Lincoln would manipulate to make war on the South). From that decision there was but one appeal.” (The Emergence of Lincoln, Vol. II, p. 316.)



The Slave Population of South Carolina in 1860

(Africans constituted more than 50% of the population.)




On November 5, 1860, Governor Gist of South Carolina, in his Annual Message to the State Legislature, said this:

“. . . in view of the strong probability of the election of a presidency of a sectional candidate, by a party committed to the support of measures designed to destroy our equality in the Union, and ultimately reduce the Southern States to mere provinces of a consolidated despotism, I suggest that the Legislature remain in session, and take such action as will prepare the State for any emergency. . . I recommend that. . . a convention be immediately called. . . I am constrained to say that the only alternative left is the secession of South Carolina".

If, in the exercise of arbitrary power, the Government of the United States should attempt coercion, it will become our solemn duty to meet force with force. . . With this preparation for defense, with our love of liberty, and hatred of tyranny, and with the knowledge we are contending for the safety of our homes we can safely trust our cause in the care of the Disposer of all human events.” (“God” was too simple a word to use?)



Governor Gist, of course, was correct in his estimate of the danger to his state of Lincoln’s election. The real object of the Republican Party was to effectuate the destruction of slavery.Which meant leaving South Carolina with a voting population of Africans constituting a majority of voters in the state.

Think of your state’s population today: what if more than fifty percent of the population of your state was composed of devout immigrant Muslims? What would you feel about the man in the White House, if his election meant they would ultimately take over political control of the state.?

Charles Sumner made the Republican Party’s objective clear when he said that, once the party won the Executive Office, the slave power “must die as a poisoned rat dies of rage in its hole.” Sumner declared that the Free states must become “a belt of fire about the South.”

U.S. Senator from South Carolina, James Chestnut Jr., said to a public gathering at Charleston on November 5: “The South will never submit to a Black Republican President and a Black Republican Congress, which will claim the right to construe the Constitution, not by the law of the instrument itself, but by rules drawn from their crazy brains. They call us inferiors, semi-civilized barbarians, and claim the dogmas of the Declaration of Independence as part of the Constitution, and that it is their right to so administer the government as to give full effect to them".

As soon as Lincoln took power, he would fill his administration with antislavery men and operate the government without regard to the law. He would  manufacture a crisis at Fort Sumter, using it as the catalyst for civil war; build armies and use them to invade the sovereign states of Virginia and Tennessee.



One hundred and fifty years after Lincoln's election
thirty-eight members of the South Carolina Legislature are of African descent
South Carolina Legislature African American Members  2010

Read More Current Thoughts About Lincoln

Geoffrey Perret, Lincoln’s War (Random House, 2004)

Webb Garrison, The Lincoln No One Knows (Rutledge Hill Press 1993)

Frank J. Williams, Judging Lincoln (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002)

William Marvel, Mr. Lincoln Goes to War (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006)

William Baringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power (Little, Brown & Co., 1937)

Read What His Intimate Associates Thought of Him

John G. Nicolay, Abraham Lincoln (Century Co., 1902)

John G. Nicolay, The Outbreak of the Rebellion (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1881)

John Hay, Inside the White House: The Civil War Diary of John Hay (Southern Illinois University Press, 1997)

Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln (A.C. McClurg & Co., 1895)

William H. Herndon, Life of Lincoln (World Pub. Co., 1942)

Read How Lincoln’s War Changed Sovereign States into Provinces

John Burgress, Reconstruction and the Constitution (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902)

Paul H. Buck, The Road to Reunion (Little, Brown & Co., 1937)

James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (Oxford University Press, 1991)

Bruce Ackerman, We The People: Transformations (Belknap Press, 1998)

James Schouler, Eighty Years of Union (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903)

William A. Dunning, Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction (Peter Smith, NY 1931)

For a romantic view of Lincoln’s war, read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s historical novel of Saint Abraham in the White House: Team of Rivals (Simon & Schuster, 2005)

Comments and Questions to the Author

Joe Ryan

Joe Ryan Original Works


About the author:
Joe Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg several times.

Battle of Gettysburg
General Robert E. Lee
General JEB Stuart
General Jubal Early
Confederate Commanders
General Joseph Hooker
Union Generals
American Civil War Exhibits
State Battle Maps
Civil War Timeline
Women in the Civil War