The 1864 Election: A Nation Divided in War

The Election of 1864

The election of 1864 was a remarkable political event. The Republicans, having been pushed to the edge of disaster by Lincoln, climbed reluctantly aboard his bandwagon. The Copperheads and Peace Democrats, having seen their plank of war failure repudiated, grudgingly joined the McClellan campaign.

The war was getting worse and Northern voters were getting tired of it. They wanted a victory that would crush the rebellion and end slavery.

The Campaign

As the election of 1864 approached, the bloody war between North and South dominated national politics. Lincoln wished to end the conflict and his own re-election campaign held little appeal, given the widespread discontent with his war policies in the North and especially his Emancipation Proclamation. In addition, he faced an opposition from within his own party in the form of Salmon Portland Chase and the radical Republican faction that supported peace with the Confederacy.

Nevertheless, at their national convention in August the Republicans temporarily renamed themselves the National Union Party to attract War Democrats and border state Unionists. They nominated General George B. McClellan as their presidential candidate, a man who had long bristled at many of Lincoln’s war policies and insisted that any negotiations with the Confederacy must be preceded by the South laying down its arms and returning to the Union. The two men were facing off against each other in the first presidential election ever conducted during a civil war.

The Convention

The delegates to the convention were a remarkable group. They included lawyers, clergymen and even a few noblemen and royalties. They came from all corners of the nation.

A majority of the delegates believed that the Union must prevail in its struggle with slavery—a belief that was shared by nearly all the candidates. The outcome of the election would determine how the nation was to be divided, if at all, and what kind of government it would have.

A significant number of Northern Democrats, who favored a negotiated peace with the South, did not support Lincoln’s campaign and gravitated toward New York Gov. Horatio Seymour. Others, dubbed “Peace Democrats” and sometimes “Copperheads,” dissatisfied with Lincoln’s hesitancy regarding emancipation, turned to General George B. McClellan for their nominee. With the war in its final stages, McClellan worked hard to bolster his votes by appealing directly to soldiers. He circulated pamphlets urging officers to distribute his campaign literature to their men in the field, and he promoted the formation of military clubs to promote his cause.

The Electoral College

In the United States presidential election system, electors from each state meet in December to vote for a president. The procedures vary slightly from state to state, but Congress has constitutional authority to regulate the elections. [1]

The 1864 election was unique in several ways. It was the first presidential election to be held during wartime since 1812. Voters voted for more than just a candidate, however; they weighed in on issues that would shape the nation’s future: Should the war continue? What should be the role of blacks in a postwar society?

In the summer of 1864, Lincoln’s reelection prospects seemed dim. War weariness was deep, and Union armies had suffered a series of defeats—including at Mansfield (La.), Cold Harbor (Va.), and Kennesaw Mountain (Ga.). Furthermore, many Northern Democrats opposed Lincoln’s embrace of emancipation. Yet, in the face of these challenges, he decided to run for another term. He persuaded delegates to the National Union Convention to replace Hannibal Hamlin on the ticket with Andrew Johnson, a pro-war Democrat from Tennessee.

The Final Vote

The 1864 election was unprecedented in American history. No other nation had ever held a national election in the midst of a civil war, and this one would decide whether the nation remained united and whether slavery could survive.

The Democratic party was divided between those who wanted to pursue a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy and those who advocated war at all costs. At its convention, Salmon Chase was nominated as a replacement for Lincoln, but the radicals, who resented the president’s hesitancy in implementing emancipation and his use of black troops, threw their support behind John C. Fremont’s candidacy.

The mud started to fly, and the crack orators for both parties slung invective at each other like it was the last chance they had to save the Union. Many advisors suggested delaying the election, but Lincoln disagreed. He knew that if he did not win reelection, the war might never end. Moreover, he believed that the election should be held so that soldiers stationed far from their homes could participate in it.

Jump to more information

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *