Thursday, November 10, 2016

Commentary on Election Results, 1860 Style

Unhappiness with the results of a Presidential election is nothing new - far from it, in fact - and current discussions of divisiveness and how the country will face the consequences of electoral results are also not recent creations.

Here is an article from the Covington (Ky) Journal about the 1860 Presidential election, this time with commentary about the results of that contest. This story is from November 10, 1860.

I find it interesting, even disappointing, that this story associated Abraham Lincoln with the famous "irrepressible conflict" statement, since that comment was from William Henry Seward, not Lincoln. Lincoln's most controversial prewar statement was his 1858 declaration that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" and that the nation could not long maintain a split of slave and free states, but the writer apparently did not realize that.

Lincoln also served multiple terms in the Illinois legislature, not just one as this story suggests. (Also, his "spot resolutions" in Congress were somewhat memorable, though not in a good way for him.)

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The Result
Tuesday last witnessed for the first time in a contest for the Presidency a triumph of a purely sectional party.

Lincoln and Hamlin, the Republican nominees, are elected  President and Vice-President of the United States. They are Northern men; they represent Northern principles, and they are elected by Northern votes exclusively.

Neither in Mr. Lincoln nor the party he represents do we see anything to alley the fears created by this sectional triumph.

Lincoln was made known to the people outside his own State by a contest with Douglas for a seat in the Senate of the U.S. The content just closed has brought to light these facts: That he has split rails; and that he is regarded as an honest man by his neighbors. Upon these barren considerations his election to the Presidency has been urged. If he possesses any other merit or claim his friends have failed to inform the country of it. He has served a session in the Legislature of his State and a term in Congress. It is his misfortune that as a Legislator he never said or did anything worth remembering.

He had, however, as an individual, given countenance to the infamous sentiment that there is an irrepressible sectional conflict. There is of necessity no such conflict; but a fearful conflict may be created by a President who believes there is or ought to be such a conflict.

If we look at the party that has placed "Old Abe" in power, the prospect is not less discouraging. It is composed of men holding all shades of opinion but bound together by a common feeling of hostility to the institutions of the South. This feeling, we fear, is not only spreading but becoming more intense. In this feeling the John Brown raid had its origin; this feeling leads to disregard of the Constitution and the nullification of laws of Congress. This feeling is the more dangerous because it is based upon prejudice and thrives by misrepresentation. Thousands of demagogues scattered over the North have an interest in keeping this feeling alive. It is the hobby upon which they hope to ride into office.

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It is ironic that the writer claimed the feelings of the North were based in prejudice and that they practiced "nullification" disregarding of Constitutional laws (and it does fit in with recent debates about  prejudices or criminal accusations.) It was, of course, in South Carolina where the concept of "nullification" became popular in the early 1800s and it is difficult to imagine supporters of slavery referring to the "prejudice"'of others without pondering their own views. The suspicion of ulterior motives on the part of the winning candidate is another similarity to the current situation, though I also must wonder if modern political commentators are any more accurate than this writer.  (I do admit a hint of presentism may have influenced my comments on the idea of prejudice.)

Many people on the losing side in this race went on to support secession and the attempt to create a new nation based on their disappointment in the election's outcome, leading, of course, to the long, costly and bloody Civil War. What, if anything, will current protests and dissatisfaction bring to this nation? Will time see things settle down? 

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