1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan

1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
1860 Presidential Election- the cause of the Civil War? Lesson plan
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1860 Election

The Candidates:

Name, political party, Where they are from, and party platform


The Election of 1860 The election of 1860 was a turning point for the United States. Looking at an election map shows clearly how the country was divided.

Look at the cartoon to the right to see one viewpoint of the campaign for the presidency. Try to figure out what the cartoonist thinks of each of these candidates. Lincoln is on the left, dressed as a member of a Republican support group called the “Wide Awakes.” As he approaches the White House, the other candidates try to sneak in. John Bell tells Stephen Douglas to hurry up. Douglas, meanwhile, tries to unlock the door with different keys, but none of them works.

In the far right, the current President, Buchanan, tries to pull John

Breckinridge in through the window.

The Election of 1860

John Brown’s raid and execution were still fresh in the minds of Americans as the 1860 presidential election approached. Uncertainty about Kansas—would it be a slave state or a free state?—

added to the anxiety. In the North, loss of confidence in the Supreme Court resulting from the Dred Scott decision and rage about the Fugitive Slave Act’s intrusion into the states’ independence further

aggravated the situation.

The issue of states’ rights was on southern minds as well. Would northern radicals conspire to eliminate slavery not only in the territories but also in the original southern states? In the spring of 1860, Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis convinced Congress to adopt resolutions restricting federal control over slavery in the territories.

The resolutions also asserted that the Constitution prohibited Congress or any state from interfering with slavery in the states where it already existed. Even southerners who did not own slaves felt that their way of life and their honor were under attack.

With ill will running so deep, the upcoming elections posed a serious dilemma. It was hard to imagine that either northerners or southerners would accept a President from the other region. Could the Union survive?

Democrats Split Their Support The Democrats held their nominating convention in Charleston, North Carolina. For ten days, they argued about the issue that had plagued the nation for decades: slavery. The southern Democrats called for a platform supporting federal protection of slavery in the territories.

The northern Democrats, who backed Stephen Douglas, supported the doctrine of popular sovereignty. When the Douglas forces prevailed, the delegates from eight southern states walked out and formed a separate convention.

The Democrats were now split into two parties. The northern Democrats nominated Stephen A. Douglas. The southern Democrats nominated the Vice President, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. Breckinridge was committed to expanding slavery into the territories.

Whigs Make a Last Effort In the meantime, the few remaining Whigs teamed up with the Know-Nothings to create the Constitutional Union Party. They hoped to heal the split between North and South. Their candidate was John Bell, a little-known moderate from Tennessee. Their platform condemned

sectional parties and promised to uphold “the Constitution of the country, the Union of the States and the enforcement of the laws.”

Republicans Nominate Lincoln The Republicans, who had gained great strength since their formation, held their nominating convention in Chicago. After several ballots, they nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate. When the party convened, seasoned politician William H. Seward of New York

had been the favorite to win the nomination. But when many delegates began to worry that Seward’s antislavery views were too radical, the convention went with the more moderate Lincoln.

The Republican platform called for the end of slavery in the territories. At the same time, the Republicans defended the right of each state to control its own institutions and stipulated that there should be no interference with slavery in the states where it already existed. Abraham Lincoln—with his great debating skills, his moderate views, and his reputation for integrity—was seen as the ideal candidate to carry the Republican platform to victory.

Lincoln Wins the Election Benefiting from the fracturing among the other political parties, Lincoln won the election handily, with 40 percent of the popular vote and almost 60 percent of the electoral vote. Still, he did not receive a single southern electoral vote. In fact, he was not even on the ballot in most southern states.

Breckinridge was the clear favorite among southern voters, carrying every cotton state, along with North Carolina, Delaware, and Maryland. The border states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee—whose economic interests were not as closely tied to slavery as the cotton states were—gave their votes to Bell.

Stephen A. Douglas, although running second to Lincoln in the popular vote, won only in Missouri and New Jersey.

The election of 1860 demonstrated that Americans’ worst fears had come to pass. There were no longer any national political parties. Bell and Breckinridge competed for southern votes, while Douglas and Lincoln competed in the North and West. The North and South were now effectively two political entities, and there seemed no way to bridge the gap.


1. Which Americans would vote for each candidate and why?

2. Why was the issue of states’ rights a concern to people in both the North and the South?

3. What caused the Democratic Party to split?

4. What was the goal of the Constitutional Union Party?

5. Why did the Republican Party remain intact?

6. How did the division of the Democratic Party influence the outcome of the election

7. How did Lincoln’s election reflect the break between the North and the South?

Task: Create a political party platform pamphlet for all candidates in the 1860s

Who would vote for whom? Why?

Where was each candidate from? What was their background?

Create a catchy theme song and slogan for the candidates (ex- Obama’s was “Change”)

Total Pages
6 pages
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