Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861


Who were the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination?

James C. Buchanan, the sitting president, was so unpopular he did not even make an attempt to secure his party’s nomination. John C. Breckinridge (1821–1875), of Kentucky, the sitting vice president, announced his candidacy, as did Stephen A. Douglas. When the Democratic party convened in Charleston, South Carolina, it was apparent that the party had split into two sections: Northern and Southern Democrats. The last thing that Northern Democrats wanted was another “dough-faced” Democrat who would be perceived as too favorable to the South; the last thing that Southern Democrats would accept was a Northern candidate perceived as too responsive to the calls for abolition.

After days of bickering, the convention ended. The Northern Democrats reconvened in Baltimore a few weeks later and eventually nominated Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. The Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge. Anyone who paid careful attention could see that the road toward a Republican victory in November was being paved. The trick was to avoid any of the major potholes that might emerge.


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