The Election of 1860

With the parties split and compromise no longer a solution, the election of 1860was less a national election that two sectional elections. Most Southern states refused to put Lincoln’s name on the ballot or acknowledge his candidacy, and several even vowed to leave the Union if Lincoln were elected. Few people took this secession talk seriously, however, for the South had been making similar threats for decades.

The run-up to the election was intense as the four major candidates crisscrossed the country discussing the issues. On top of their traditional platform of higher tariffs and internal improvements, Lincoln and the Republicans added the promise of maintaining the Union. The Constitutional Union candidate, Bell, likewise promised to preserve the Union. Northern Democrat Douglas delivered antisecession speeches, and Southern Democrat Breckinridge defended slavery.

In the end, Lincoln won a resounding victory, with 40 percent of the popular vote. He won a total of 180 electoral votes, while the other candidates combined won 123.


A month after Lincoln’s election, legislators in South Carolina voted unanimously to secede; within several weeks, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas followed suit. Despite “Honest Abe’s” reputation in the North as a moderate, he was vilified as a radical abolitionist “Black Republican” in the South. Much to the dismay of anxious Northerners, lame-duck president James Buchanan did nothing to address the secession crisis. Lincoln also waited to take action until he had officially become president.

The Confederate States of America

Meanwhile, delegates from the seven secessionist states met in Montgomery, Alabama, in February 1861 to form the government of the new Confederate States of America. They drafted a new constitution; chose Richmond, Virginia, to be the new capital; and selected former Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis as the Confederacy’s first president. (For more information about the Confederate government, see The Confederate Side)

The Crittenden Compromise

Hoping to prevent war from breaking out after the secession, Senator John Crittenden from Kentucky proposed another compromise. He suggested adding an amendment to the Constitution to protect slavery in all territories south of 36˚ 30', and then allowing popular sovereignty to determine whether these Southern territories became free or slave when they applied for statehood. All territories north of 36˚ 30', meanwhile, would be free. Many Southerners contemplated the Crittenden Compromise, but Lincoln rejected it on the grounds that he had been elected to block the westward expansion of slavery.

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