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U.S. Presidential Election 1860

The election of 1860 was the nineteenth presidential election in the United States. Four major candidates competed for the presidential seat: Abraham Lincoln, John C. Breckinridge, Stephen A. Douglas, and John Bell. Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln defeated the other candidates to become the sixteenth president of the United States.

The Democratic Party had split in two over disagreements on the issue of slavery, more or less divided between north and south. Incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge ran for the Democratic nomination with the support of President James Buchanan. Breckinridge secured the nomination from the Southern Democratic Party, which splintered off from the national party.

Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas had entered the spotlight in 1854 by proposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Douglas suggested that popular sovereignty would solve the slavery issue, that is, allowing the people of each territory to decide whether slavery would be legal. Though it was quite a democratic idea, at this point in history, the public was already polarized on the issue. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln debated these issues in 1858, in what became known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. These debates resulted in Douglas defeating Lincoln in the competition for the Illinois Senate seat.

The Republican Party had formed in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, continuing during the 1860 campaign season as the anti-slavery party. The Republicans also focused on westward expansion and the Transcontinental Railroad, both of which they supported. They selected Abraham Lincoln, who had become known nationwide during the debates, and therefore had a better chance at winning. While most candidates in the 1860 presidential election actively campaigned, traveling the country to make appearances and speeches, Lincoln chose to follow the classic methods of past presidents, and the public saw little of him.

In 1859, a new political party formed consisting of conservatives from the former Whig Party and Know Nothing Party, called the Constitutional Union Party. This party was formed in an effort to prevent the disunion of the United States over the issue of slavery by focusing only on the U.S. Constitution. The party nominated John Bell from Tennessee as their presidential nominee, with Edward Everett of Massachusetts as his running mate.

The election results for the 1860 showed clearly that the United States was a country divided. The free (non-slave) states were those who elected Abraham Lincoln, while slave states voted for Democratic Party candidates. Lincoln received about 40 percent of the popular vote, but 180 electoral votes, which was more than enough to secure the presidential seat. Breckinridge came in second place in terms of electoral votes, but third in the popular vote, and did not receive much support from the north. Despite having a northern running mate, Bell was also not able to attain enough votes in the free states. The split between the Northern and Southern Democrats did work in his favor, however, allowing him to gain a substantial number of electoral votes in the election.

A short time after Lincoln was sworn in, the slavery debate came to a head and the country broke out into the Civil War. The slave-holding states in the south seceded from the Union, and the country was soon in the midst of war.