The election of 1860

The war between the North and the South had its actual beginning in 1855, in the sanguinary struggle on the soil of Kansas between the settlers and the invading Missourians. The next step of violence in this contest was the brutal attack of Brooks on Sumner, on the floor of the Senate-chamber, on May 22, 1856. It was continued by the warlike acts of John Brown in Kansas and Missouri, and his assault upon Harper's Ferry.

These direct acts of violence were accompanied by a war of words and threats whose significance was not then properly appreciated. The debates in Congress were conducted with a bitterness of recrimination that has never been equalled before or since, while from 1850 onward the threat of secession was openly made whenever any pro-slavery measure met with strong opposition. In the Presidential election of 1856 the strength of the Republican party was shown in a vote for Fremont of 1,341,264 to 1,838,169 for Buchanan. Fillmore, the candidate of the American party,--which deprecated any interference with the right of the actual settlers of a Territory to frame their Constitution and laws,--received 874,534 votes.

On the approach of the period for the 1860 election the state of public feeling had grown far more violent, and the hot-headed leaders of Southern politics were so determined upon having all or nothing that they divided their party and insured their defeat, rather than accept the moderate views of the Northern section of the party. Stephen A. Douglas, the candidate of the Northern Democrats, was opposed by John C. Breckenridge as a candidate of the Southerners. The "Constitutional Union" (late "American") party nominated John Bell, of Tennessee, while the Republicans offered as their candidate Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, whose record on the question at issue was embraced in a sentence of a recent speech: "I believe this government cannot permanently endure half slave and half free." The issue between freedom and slavery was for the first time clearly defined in a political contest. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery were pitted against each other in the most momentous election-contest the country had ever known. Lincoln might have been elected in any case. As it was, the division of their party by the Southerners insured his election,--a result, indeed, rather desired than deprecated by the South, to judge from the spirit of rejoicing with which the news of the Republican victory was received in South Carolina.

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