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The Election Of 1864: Lincoln vs. McClellan

Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Lace ‘Em Up’s Presidential Election series today we will be going over the Election of 1864, the first U.S. election since 1812 to take place during a war and the stakes are high not just for the future of the country but for the incumbent president, Abraham Lincoln.

America’s Darkest Period

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Since Lincoln’s win back in 1860 and the assault at Fort Sumner in Charleston, South Carolina, 11 Southern states have seceded from the Union to create “The Confederate States of America” and this would lead to American forces engaging each other in full-on Civil War. This resulted in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Americans with the Union (who represented the North) struggling to beat the Confederacy (who represented the South) in the early stages of the war.

Despite a number of important victories like the Battle of Gettysburg and the Siege of Vicksburg, the Confederates weren’t slowing down in the slightest bit and many Americans were questioning the point of the war as it went on and on with no apparent end in sight.

Other acts of violence occurred outside of the battlefield such as the case of the New York City Draft Riots where middle-class white men refused to be drafted to fight in the war and rebelled against the wealthy elites. African Americans with the latter group were excluded from the war as they weren’t citizens but property as ruled by the Supreme Court in the case: Dred Scott v. Sandford.

These riots only lasted for several days, but they saw over a hundred people killed and over two thousand more injured which was small compared to those soldiers who died during the war and it became very clear that the outcomes on the battlefield would dictate the results of the next Presidential election. 

Lincoln’s Presidency

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Most of Abraham Lincoln’s time in office focused mainly on the Civil War and while he tried to remain moderate on the issue of slavery during his term. The writing was on the wall and by 1863 Honest Abe issued the Emancipation Proclamation and gave his famous Gettysburg Address before eventually supporting the idea of abolishing slavery in the Southern States which surprisingly angered some Northerners who felt that the rotten practice known as slavery would eventually die out on its own.

Lincoln’s presidency had other problems aside from the war as much of the country didn’t like him due to his suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus thus allowing people who Lincoln believed were in involved in conspiracy against the Union to be sentenced to jail without any trial.

On top of that, some Republicans questioned Lincoln’s leadership to a point where even Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury challenged him for the nomination and had a good shot at unseating the president, however, Lincoln’s political manoeuvring and his decision to appoint Chase as a new member of the Supreme Court led to ‘Honest Abe’ wiping away the competition to secure the nomination…But things were still uneasy within the Republican Party.

A Party Divided

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Despite Lincoln pushing back against a Presidential bid by Salmon Chase, the Republican Party remained divided with the more radical members of the GOP splintering off to create a new party called ‘Radical Democracy Party’ as they believed that Lincoln wasn’t doing enough to end the Slavery issue or the Civil War. These radicals nominated John C. Fremont,  who was the original Republican Party candidate for President back in 1856 with John Cochran, a Union General from New York as Fremont’s running mate this time.

Faced with all of these calamities going into the next general election, Lincoln was unsure of his chances to win which makes sense as the last President to win a second term was Andrew Jackson more than 30 years ago back in 1832. Nevertheless, Lincoln gathered as much support as he could and ran for president as part of the National Unity Party (another splintered-off faction of the Republicans).

In order to get the support needed to win the election, Lincoln needed to get those Democrats who hadn’t seceded from the Union who were known as ‘Peace Democrats’ as they wanted to end the war as quickly as possible but through compromise and negotiations. Because of this, Hannibal Hamlin (Lincoln’s Vice President) was dropped off the ticket and was instead replaced by the Military Governor of Tennessee and Democrat, Andrew Johnson as his new running mate.

The History Between Lincoln and McClellan

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In November of 1861, George Brinton McClellan was appointed the new General of the Union Army. Problems would soon arise between McClellan and Lincoln as the General’s habit of hesitating spurred Lincoln to humorously remark that if the General wasn’t going to be using the army then he’d like to borrow it.

One day, Lincoln attempted to meet with McClellan at his house only to wait for hours until the General arrived and even then he snubbed Lincoln before going to bed which is a very bold move by any person towards the President of the United States.

While most were getting tired of McClellan’s reluctance and slow pace to beat back the South, Lincoln tolerated it if meant that the General could lead the North to victory, but even the stoic Lincoln had his limits. During The Battle of Antietam, Confederate General Robert E. Lee retreated but McClellan and his army didn’t pursue him which led to Lincoln demanding an answer and he got one…in the form of a letter that basically said that Lincoln wouldn’t emancipate the slaves and that he had the utmost trust in McClellan and his abilities as General.

Naturally, Lincoln read this letter and decided soon afterwards that he would be going forward with the emancipation of the slaves and he also informed McClellan that his been fired from his position as Major General of the Army effective immediately.

Fast forward to October of 1863, McClellan decides to run for President under the Democratic Party with Ohio Representative, George Pendleton as his running mate, however, any hopes of a balanced ticket would soon go up in flames as McClellan and Pendleton ran under a peace platform. This was approved by the party but McClellan was a ‘War Democrat’ aka someone who wanted to finish the war and he rejected the party platform which led to an inconsistent and dysfunctional ticket.

By September of 1864, John Fremont realised that the Democrats were attempting to run a “balance ticket” so he dropped out of the race to endorse Lincoln with Fremont out of the race, plus the success of General William T. Sherman in what was The Battle of Atlanta, helped to increase Lincoln’s chances of winning…but will it be enough for him to win a second term?

Election of 1864: The Results and Aftermath

Results of the Election of 1864

By 1864 the states of Kansas, Nevada and West Virginia were added to the Union and were allowed to vote. This combined with the fact that eleven states had seceded from the country made the electoral vote total to win in this election 118 or higher.

As you can see from this map, Abraham Lincoln crushed George McClellan in a landslide victory with Lincoln receiving 212 electoral votes and 55% of the popular vote while McClellan got 45% of the popular vote and 21 electoral votes (which were just the states of Kentucky, his home state of New Jersey and Delaware).

Lincoln became the first President since Andrew Jackson to be re-elected and the first Republican president to get a second term, sadly Honest Abe wouldn’t get the opportunity to do much during his second term never mind see the end of the Civil War following the events on April 14th, 1865.

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On that day actor and Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth entered the Ford’s Theatre where he snuck into President Lincoln’s box inside the theatre and shot him in the back of the head before messing up his leg and making his getaway.

While Booth and some of his conspirators would end up dead or sentenced to prison following their roles in the plot to kill the president, Abraham Lincoln would tragically die the next day at just the age of 56, making him the first president to die from an assassination attempt and thus making Andrew Johnson the 17th President of the United States for the next several years.

Be sure to come back for the next Presidential Election, as will be talking about the Election of 1868, but If you are interested in learning more about U.S. political history on this site be sure to leave your thoughts down below in the comment section and be sure to follow Lace ‘Em Up on Twitter @laceemupoffice you can follow me also on Twitter @hakeemfullerton and I’ll see you in the next article.

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