Election Day 1860- page 2 | Smithsonian
Current Issue
November 2014 magazine cover

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

During the campaign, Lincoln confided he would have preferred a full term in the Senate "where there was more chance to make a reputation and less danger of losing it." (Bettmann / Corbis)

Election Day 1860

As soon as the returns were in, the burdens of the presidency weighed upon Abraham Lincoln

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 1)

In the last letter of his noncampaign, composed a week before Election Day, one can hear the candidate refusing to be drawn into further debate: "For the good men of the South—and I regard the majority of them as such—I have no objection to repeat seventy and seven times. But I have bad men also to deal with, both North and South—men who are eager for something new upon which to base new misrepresentations—men who would like to frighten me, or, at least, to fix upon me the character of timidity and cowardice. They would seize upon almost any letter I could write, as being an 'awful coming down.' I intend keeping my eye upon these gentlemen, and to not unnecessarily put any weapons in their hands."

So Lincoln's "campaign" for president ended as it began: in adamant silence, and in the same Illinois city to which he had so tenaciously clung since the national convention. Like the solar eclipse that had obscured the Illinois sun in July, Lincoln remained in Springfield, hidden in full view.

Inside what one visiting reporter described as the "plain, neat looking, two story" corner house where he had lived with his family for 16 years, Lincoln prepared to accept the people's verdict. In his second-floor bedroom, he no doubt dressed in his usual formal black suit, pulling his long arms into a frock coat worn over a stiff white shirt and collar and a black waistcoat. As always, he wound a black tie carelessly round his sinewy neck and pulled tight-fitting boots—how could they be otherwise?—over his gargantuan feet. He likely greeted Mary and their two younger sons, 9-year-old Willie and 7-year-old Tad, at the dining table. (The eldest, Robert, had recently begun his freshman year at Harvard.)

Lincoln probably took his usual spare breakfast with the family—an egg and toast washed down with coffee. Eventually he donned the signature stovepipe hat he kept on an iron hook in the front hall. Then, as always—unaccompanied by retinues of security men or political aides—he stepped outside, turned toward the Illinois State Capitol some five blocks to the northwest and marched on toward his headquarters.

The bracing air that greeted Lincoln may have surprised—even worried—him. The unseasonable chill could dampen voter turnout. As the morning warmed, however, reports of sun-drenched, cloudless skies from one end of the state to the other stirred Republican hearts, clement weather being crucial to the task of enticing widely scattered rural voters, predominantly Republican, to distant polling places.

Once notorious for its muddy streets and freely roaming pigs, Springfield now boasted outdoor, gas-fed lighting; a large and growing population of lawyers, doctors and merchants; and clusters of two- and three-story brick structures surmounting wood-plank sidewalks.

Looming with almost incongruous grandeur over the city was the imposing State House, its red-painted copper cupola rising twice as tall as any other structure in town. Here, since his nomination in May, Lincoln had maintained his official headquarters—and his official silence—in a second-floor corner suite customarily reserved for the state's governor. For six months, Lincoln had here welcomed visitors, told "amusing stories," posed for painters, accumulated souvenirs, worked on selected correspondence and scoured the newspapers. Now he was headed there to pass his final hours as a candidate for president.

Lincoln entered the limestone State House from the south through its oversized pine doors. He ambled past its Supreme Court chamber, where he had argued many cases during his 24-year legal career, and past the adjacent libraries where he had researched the sensational speech he had delivered at Cooper Union nine months earlier in New York City. Then he climbed the interior staircase, at the top of which stood the ornate Assembly chamber where, in 1858, he had accepted the Republican Senate nomination with his rousing "House Divided" address.

Keeping his thoughts to himself as usual, Lincoln headed to a 15-foot-by-25-foot carpeted reception room and smaller adjacent office, simply furnished with both upholstered and plain wooden chairs, a desk and a table—ceded to him these many months by the new governor, John Wood.

Here the journalists who arrived to cover Lincoln's movements this Election Day encountered the candidate, "surrounded by an abattis [sic] of disheveled newspapers and in comfortable occupancy of two chairs, one supporting his body, the other his heels." Entering the crowded room to a hearty "come in, sir," a New York newspaperman was struck by the candidate's "easy, old fashioned, off-handed manner," and was surprised to find "none of that hard, crusty, chilly look about him" that "dominated most campaign portraits." Doing his best to display his "winning manner" and "affability," Lincoln spent the early part of the day "receiving and entertaining such visitors as called upon him," respectfully rising each time a new delegation arrived. "These were both numerous and various—representing, perhaps as many tempers and as many nationalities as could easily be brought together at the West."

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus