November 6, 1860 was election day. Over 81% of the nation's eligible voters turned out for the divisive election. Depending on the winner, slavery could be stopped in its tracks or could spread across the entire country; some states could secede and form their own country; or war could start at any moment. In Springfield, Illinois, a small town lawyer went about his business, voted, and waited to see if his, and the country's, life would change by the time the sun came up on November 7th.
From the beginning of the campaign, Abraham Lincoln knew that the Republican candidate had the best chance of winning the election because the Democratic party was splitting apart over slavery. He also knew that most southern states would try to leave the union rather than have a Republican president. Before he was even inaugurated, Lincoln witnessed seven southern states seceding starting with South Carolina in December 1860.
Abraham Lincoln waited until midafternoon before voting on November 6, 1860. He walked across the street from the state Capitol to the county courthouse amid a large crowd, picked up a ballot and solemnly cut his own name off before proceeding to vote the straight Republican ticket. He spent some time at home before going to the telegraph office to await returns. Around midnight he found out he had won.
From the day after the election until February 10, 1861, when the Lincolns left for Washington, DC, Mr. Lincoln was besieged with well-wishers, office-seekers, and gift-bearing friends. He received suits of clothing, a gold-topped cane, new hats, and this very large wall clock from his brother-in-law, Clark Smith, a dry goods store owner. The Lincolns returned the clock to Mr. Smith for safe-keeping and their daughter, Minnie Smith Johnson later gave the clock back to be exhibited in the Lincoln Home.
One of the hardest things to leave behind when the Lincolns moved to Washington was their beloved dog, Fido. Mr. Lincoln decided the long train trip and life in the Executive Mansion (the name at the time for the White House) would be too difficult for the dog who was used to running around outside. Fido was left with former neighbors, the Rolls, who had sons about the same age as the youngest Lincoln boys, Willie and Tad. Perhaps as consolation, several photographs were taken of Fido for the boys to have as keepsakes.
By the time Lincoln was inaugurated on May 4, 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union and the military was making plans for all out warfare. The fate of the country rested in Lincoln's strong hands. Four years and a civil war later, the country was devastated but still united. Lincoln's goal for the country to be "all one thing" had been accomplished.
Susan M. Haake, Curator
Lincoln Home National Historic Site