Electing Lincoln

A look at the campaigns of the 16th American president

Lithograph Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 (1860/1867) by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg (Firm)Original Source: http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=39828


The emerging Republican Party nominated a charismatic lawyer named Abraham Lincoln as their presidential candidate. Organizers mounted a vigorous campaign, combining traditional and innovative methods to score votes against a divided opposition.

Lithograph, "Mr. Lincoln, Residence and Horse as They Appeared on His Return from the Campaign with Senator Douglas," 1858 (1865) by Kurz, Louis, 1833-1921 and Alfred Storey & CompanyOriginal Source: Digital Collections

Reputation and Nomination

Former Representative Abraham Lincoln earned a reputation through a series of popular debates with Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858 and other powerful speeches.

Lithograph Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, E.B. & E.C. Kellogg (Firm), 1860/1867, Original Source: http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=39828
Show lessRead more

This print quotes a famous address Lincoln delivered in February 1860. The speech detailed his moderate views on the question of slavery – something Republican Party leaders would recall at their May nominating convention.

Framed Photographs of Republican Presidential Nominees for President and Vice-President, 1860, Henry F. Granger & Company, 1860, Original Source: http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=85823
Show lessRead more

Leaders of the emerging Republican Party favored a moderate, geographically balanced ticket for the 1860 presidential election.

Lithograph, "National Republican Chart: Presidential Campaign, 1860", H.H. Lloyd & Co., 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

At the Republican National Convention in May 1860, the party nominated Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for president and vice president. The two men had never met, but both were strong orators who opposed extending slavery into western territories.

Political Cartoon, "'Taking the Stump' or Stephen in Search of His Mother," 1860 (1860) by Currier & IvesOriginal Source: Digital Collections

Gaining Recognition
against a Divided Opposition

At the Democratic convention, party leaders could not agree. Northerners turned to Stephen Douglas of Illinois, while southerners selected John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky. There was also a third party choice of John Bell of Tennessee.

Political Cartoon, "Progressive Democracy, Prospect of a Smash Up," 1860, Currier & Ives, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Although the Democrats were likely to split votes, Americans were deeply divided over the issues of states' rights and slavery. Lincoln could count on little support in the southern states.

Still, this cartoon considered the prospect of Republicans Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin defeating their divided opponents in the 1860 presidential election.

"Hon. Abraham Lincoln, Our Next President," 1860, Currier & Ives, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Republican organizers set out to earn national recognition for their candidate. They employed traditional campaigning methods, distributing prints, newspaper articles, and biographies countrywide, organizing speeches by prominent party orators who “stumped” (traveled around speaking) for Lincoln, and hosting mass meetings.

Political Cartoon, "Uncle Sam Making New Arrangements," 1860, Currier & Ives, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

These clever campaigners portrayed Lincoln as a rustic, humble man of the people.

Stories of his frontier upbringing and images of an axe-wielding man in plain clothes reinforced Lincoln’s “Honest Old Abe” reputation.

Wood Engraving "Procession of the Wide-Awake Club of Hartford, Conn.," July 26, 1860 (1860) by Leslie, Frank, 1821-1880Original Source: Digital Collections

Campaign Innovations

Organized picnics, barbecues, pole raisings, and parades had been common in previous election years, but structured, military-style campaigning achieved unprecedented popularity during the 1860 presidential campaign.

Political Club, "Wide Awake," Clothing Buttons, 1860, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

A group known as the Wide Awakes assembled in huge numbers throughout the northern states. They marched in support of the Republican Party, wearing elaborate uniforms and carrying flaming torches. The Wide Awakes also helped preserve order at political gatherings.

Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin Presidential Campaign Lantern, 1860, New England Glass Company, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Republican organizers capitalized on this fervor by holding torchlight parades. They raised banners, decorated wagons and sought out bands, uniformed precision marchers and groups of local supporters to take part in these hours-long events. Manufacturers also cashed in, patenting and marketing thousands of campaign torches, lamps, and lanterns.

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1860, Hesler, Alexander, 1823-1895, Ayres, George B., 1892/1902, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

A new process for reproducing tintypes inexpensively gave Republicans another campaign tool – photographs of the candidates.

Just after Lincoln received the Republican nomination, Party officials sent Chicago photographer Alexander Hesler to make several election campaign photographs, including this one.

Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin Campaign Button, 1860, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Campaign items featuring portraits of Lincoln helped him gain nationwide recognition.

Presidential Campaign Medallion, "Abraham Lincoln: Republican Candidate," 1860 (1860)Original Source: Digital Collections

Showing Support

A variety of campaign paraphernalia was produced for the 1860 presidential election. For Republicans, distributing small, symbolic items was key to reinforcing the imagery at the center of their campaign.

Abraham Lincoln Ambrotype Portrait and Presidential Election Campaign Badge, 1860, Clark, George, Jr., Clough, A. F., S. Peck & Company, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

These trinkets could be personal reminders of a citizen’s commitment to the Republican candidate.

Presidential Campaign Medallion, "For President: Abraham Lincoln of Illinois," 1860, 1860, Original Source: http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=324529
Show lessRead more

Or, they could be worn or displayed as a public declaration of support for Lincoln.

Lincoln Campaign Flag, 1860-1865, McGrath, John H., Mrs., 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Some enthusiastic Americans who felt a special connection to the candidate created their own campaign items.

This flag was handmade by Lucinda McGrath of Fayette County, Indiana. Her husband, John, carried it in parades supporting Lincoln and Hamlin.

Abraham Lincoln Campaign Hat, 1860, Boyd & Company, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Whether they dressed up to march in support of Lincoln or pocketed small tokens bearing his image, many fans of the Republican candidate became personally involved in his campaign.

Republican Ballot from Massachusetts for the 1860 Presidential Election (1860)Original Source: Digital Collections

Election and

In 1860, individual political parties printed ballots listing only candidates from that party. The voter obtained a ballot for the party of his choice. Throughout most of the South, Lincoln's name was not even on the ballot -- but with the vote split among so many candidates, he carried all eighteen Free states to win the November 6th election.

Election Ballot for Georgia Secession Convention Delegates, Freeman's Ticket, 1861, 1860, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Southerners feared Lincoln would end slavery everywhere. Soon after he was elected, southern states seceded from the Union one by one—forming their own government. The first Republican president in U.S. history would face endless crises and constant criticism.

This ballot was used during the convention that voted to secede the state of Georgia from the Union in 1861.

"Grand National Union Party for 1864" (1864) by Currier & IvesOriginal Source: Digital Collections


Lincoln's re-election hopes in the midst of a gloomy civil war seemed slim, but he was determined to remain President for another term and his supporters campaigned fervently to keep him in the White House. 

National Union Party Presidential Election Campaign Card, 1864 (1864)Original Source: Digital Collections


Despite the raging Civil War, no question of postponing the presidential election was seriously considered. Americans respected the democratic process and paid eager attention to the 1864 nominating conventions.

"Grand National Union Party for 1864", Currier & Ives, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Republican leaders adopted a temporary name – the National Union Party – to gain the support of unionists and Democratic dissidents who would not vote for a Republican ticket.

Lantern Insert for the 1864 Republican Presidential Campaign, "Lincoln and Johnson", Oakley & Tompson Lith., 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Incumbent President Lincoln won his party’s 1864 nomination fairly easily. To attract wider support, the convention nominated former Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate.

Photomechanical Print, "October 3, 1862--Lincoln and McClellan after Antietam--McClellan's Last Battle" (1910) by Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882 and Patriot Publishing CompanyOriginal Source: Digital Collections

A Familiar Opponent

In 1860, the Democratic Party had been split, unable to compromise. In 1864, Democrats were united – at least in their opposition to President Lincoln, his Emancipation Proclamation, and Union wartime policies.

At the Democratic National Convention, Major General George B. McClellan was nominated to run against his commander-in-chief.

"Photograph of President Lincoln Meeting General McClellan and Staff at Antietam in October 1862", Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, 1862, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

McClellan had served as general-in-chief of the Union Army, but President Lincoln grew frustrated by what he considered to be slow and ineffective leadership. In November 1862, shortly after the meeting pictured here, Lincoln removed McClellan as general-in-chief.

McClellan Presidential Campaign Lantern, 1864, K & B Mfg. Corp., 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Democratic campaign organizers targeted Lincoln, portraying him as a radicalized dictator. Referring to Lincoln as the “Old Joker,” McClellan’s supporters called the trustworthiness of “Honest Old Abe” into question.

Political Cartoon, "Abraham's Dream!," 1864, Currier & Ives, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

The Democrats denounced the Civil War as a failure and claimed that Lincoln’s administration was purposely prolonging the conflict to force emancipation.

This cartoon predicted Democratic victory over the incumbent President, who dreams of being kicked out of the White House as McClellan enters.

"Freedom to the Slave...Fight For the Stars and Stripes," 1863-1865 (1863/1865)Original Source: http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=292164

Campaign Tactics

The National Union Party stressed that abolition was key to victory in the war – and that victory was key to national stability after the war.

The campaign raised provocative questions about what would happen if the Democrats won – would old laws be reenacted? Would slavery continue?

Political Cartoon, "Your Plan and Mine," 1864, Currier & Ives, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Though Americans were increasingly becoming aware of abolitionist arguments, campaign organizers often focused on black Union soldiers rather than addressing broad racial concerns.

This striking cartoon predicts the results of each candidates’ election.

Abraham Lincoln Campaign Stickpin, 1864, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

As in 1860, the party relied heavily on Lincoln’s image and distributed trinkets bearing the candidate’s portrait.

Abraham Lincoln Campaign Badge, 1864, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Many supporters carried campaign tokens in purses or pockets. This one could also be attached to a ribbon or pin, transforming it into an outward show of support.

Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson Campaign Torch, 1864, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Campaigners distributed favorable speeches, articles, and biographies across the nation to rally support for Lincoln.

They also organized barbecues, athletic events, fireworks, speeches, and – of course – torchlight parades.

Political Cartoon, "The Old Bull Dog on the Right Track," 1864, Currier & Ives, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Despite campaign efforts, President Lincoln's re-election hopes seemed slim after a gloomy summer of Union defeats and casualty lists. But, finally, news of several Union victories boosted public support.

This cartoon compares McClellan’s past military failings with the successes of Lincoln’s new general Ulysses S. Grant – depicted as a bull dog cornering the leaders of the Confederacy.

Print, "Lincoln Addressing Soldiers," 1910 (1910) by Jerome, Stephen F., Manz Colorgravure, and S. S. PorterOriginal Source: Digital Collections

Election Day

Campaign organizers recognized the importance of the military vote and leveraged Lincoln’s presidential powers. Certain units were granted temporary leaves of absence so that soldiers could return home to vote.

National Union Party Election Day Handbill, November 8, 1864, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Campaigners had appealed to patriotic sentiment throughout the campaign. This timely call for support went out on Election Day – November 8, 1964.

Democratic Party Presidential Election Ballot, Massachusetts, 1864, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

When the votes were tallied, McClellan carried 3 states and secured 21 electoral votes.

Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson Presidential Election Ballot, 1864, 1864, Original Source: Digital Collections
Show lessRead more

Lincoln claimed 55% of the popular vote and earned 212 electoral votes to win by a landslide.

Lincoln Campaign Flag, 1860-1865 (1860) by McGrath, John H., Mrs.Original Source: Digital Collections

In his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln spoke of peace and encouraged people to approach their fellow countrymen "with malice toward none; with charity for all." Unfortunately, the first Republican President would not live to see the end of the Civil War. Just three days after the Confederate Army surrendered, Lincoln was assassinated.

Lincoln’s political supporters now mourned the president’s death. John McGrath, who’d waved this handmade flag during the 1860 campaign, carried it as he led a group of mourners to meet Lincoln's funeral train in 1865.

Credits: Story

From The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation™.

To learn more about The Henry Ford's Lincoln-related collections, please visit our blog.


Keith Melder, “Hail to the Candidate: Presidential Campaigns from Banners to Broadcasts”

Schlesinger, Israel, and Frent, “Running for President: The Candidates and their Images (1789-1896)”

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
American Democracy
Celebrate the history of the United States presidency and discover defining moments in American Democracy
View theme
Google apps