The Election of 1860 and a Nation in Disarray


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In this section of The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz discusses the events leading up to the election of 1860, the election itself, and the consequences of the crucial election.
One theme of this week’s readings that interested me was the South or Slaveholder’s increased confidence in secession or the threat of secession as the solution to nearly all political problems. For example, a movement in the late 1850s to reopen the slave trade attracted support from many prominent southern politicians. The politicians claimed that such an action would make slavery a much more efficient and profitable industry. However, Northern politicians and abolitionists rejected the idea of reopening the slave trade in America or satisfying the demand for a “federal slave code” in the United States. Unhappy Southern leaders like Barnwell Rhett and William Yancey began to declare that the South would secede from the Union if their desired legislation failed to be approved. In addition to issues like slave trade or the federal slave code, Southern politicians like Stephen A. Douglas were able to spread the belief that the South would secede if Abraham Lincoln won the Presidential election of 1860. Although the South did not end up leaving the Union until Lincoln was elected, the constant threat of dissolving the nation posed by the South struck fear and uneasiness in Northern politicians and citizens for years.
Another aspect of the reading that grabbed my attention was the way Wilentz portrays Lincoln’s rise to political prominence and the events of the election of 1860. At first, Wilentz depicts Lincoln as a name merely thrown into the conversation for the Republican nomination in order to defeat the “tainted” Seward and his “loyal wire-puller” Weed (Wilentz, 431). However, he builds up Lincoln’s political savvy and ability as a public speaker and ultimately portrays him as a pristine presidential candidate. Wilentz also illustrated how Lincoln’s “brilliant” political strategy to win the Republican nomination had worked almost flawlessly. Also, Wilentz introduced Lincoln to the audience as a talented underdog with an outside shot of winning the nomination, but as the election heats up Wilentz frames Lincoln into an unstoppable political force destined for the White House.
Lastly, I would like to comment on the debate of whether or not the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States directly contributed to the immediate succession of the South. Although my classmate WIROBERTSON would disagree, I believe that the actions of Southern politicians (like Stephen A. Douglas) spread the fear of a Lincoln dominated White House among pro-slavery Americans and was a main cause of Southern secession. Once it became inevitable to slaveholders that Lincoln would become president, Lincoln’s political opponents worked to foster a “plot to stage a coup d’etat in November or December”, which eventually resulted in the secession of South Carolina in 1860 (Wilentz, 433).