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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

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(Continued from page 2)

When, for example, "some rough-jacketed constituents" burst in, who, "having voted for him...expressed a wish to look at their man," Lincoln received them "kindly" until they "went away, thoroughly satisfied in every manner." To a delegation of New Yorkers, Lincoln feigned displeasure, chiding them that he would have felt better had they stayed home to vote. Similarly, when a New York reporter arrived to shadow him, he raised an eyebrow and scolded: "a vote is a vote; every vote counts."

But when a visitor asked whether he worried that Southern states would secede if he won, Lincoln turned serious. "They might make a little stir about it before," he said. "But if they waited until after the inauguration and for some overt act, they would wait all their lives." Unappreciated in the excitement of the hour was this hint at a policy of nonaggression.

On this tense day, Lincoln offered the hopeful view that "elections in this country were like 'big boils'—they caused a great deal of pain before they came to a head, but after the trouble was over the body was in better health than before." Eager as he was for the campaign to "come to a head," Lincoln delayed casting his own vote. As the clock ticked away, he remained secluded in the Governor's suite, "surrounded by friends...apparently as unconcerned as the most obscure man in the nation," occasionally glancing out the window to the crowded polling place across Capitol Square.

As Lincoln dawdled, more than four million white males began registering their choices for the presidency. In must-win New York, patrician lawyer George Templeton Strong, an ardent Lincoln supporter, sensed history in the making. "A memorable day," he wrote in his diary. "We do not know yet for what. Perhaps for the disintegration of the country, perhaps for another proof that the North is timid and mercenary, perhaps for demonstration that Southern bluster is worthless. We cannot tell yet what historical lesson the event of November 6, 1860, will teach, but the lesson cannot fail to be weighty."

The Virginia extremist Edmund Ruffin also wanted Lincoln to win—though for a different reason. Like many fellow secessionists, Ruffin hoped a Lincoln victory would embolden the South to quit the Union. Earlier that year, the agricultural theorist and political agitator had published a piece of speculative fiction entitled Anticipations of the Future, in which he flatly predicted that "the obscure and coarse Lincoln" would be "elected by the sectional Abolition Party of the North," which in turn would justify Southern resistance to "oppression and impending subjugation"—namely, a fight for "independence."

Several hundred miles to the north, in the abolitionist hotbed of Quincy, Massachusetts, Charles Francis Adams—Republican Congressional candidate, son of one American president, grandson of another and proud heir to a long family tradition of antislavery—proudly "voted the entire ticket of the Republicans," exulting: "It is a remarkable idea to reflect that all over this broad land at this moment the process of changing the rulers is peacefully going on and what a change in all probability." Even so, Adams had hoped for a different Republican—William Seward—to win the nomination.

Closer to Springfield—and perhaps truer to the divided spirit of America—a veteran of the Mexican War evinced conflicted emotions about the choices his Galena, Illinois, neighbors faced. "By no means a 'Lincoln man,' " Ulysses S. Grant nonetheless seemed resigned to the Republican's success. "The fact is I think the Democratic party want a little purifying and nothing will do it so effectually as a defeat," asserted the retired soldier, now starting life anew in the family's leather-tanning business. "The only thing is, I don't like to see a Republican beat the party."

In Stephen A. Douglas' hometown of Chicago, meanwhile, voters braved two-hour waits in lines four blocks long. But Douglas was not there to cast a vote of his own. On the southern leg of a multi-city tour, he found himself in Mobile, Alabama, where he may have taken solace that Lincoln's name did not even appear on that state's ballots—or, for that matter, on any of the nine additional Deep South states. The man who had beaten Lincoln for the Senate only two years earlier now stood to lose his home state—and with it, the biggest prize in American politics—to the very same man.

As of Election Day, Lincoln had successfully avoided not only his three opponents, but also his own running mate, Hannibal Hamlin. Republicans had nominated the Maine senator for vice president without Lincoln's knowledge or consent—true to another prevailing political custom that left such choices exclusively to the delegates—in an attempt to balance the ticket. After asking a mutual acquaintance to convey his "respects" to Hamlin a week after the convention, Lincoln waited a full two months before initiating direct communication. Even then, pointing out that both of them had served in the 30th Congress from 1847 to 1849—Lincoln as a congressman and Hamlin as a senator—Lincoln admitted, "I have no recollection that we were introduced." Almost grudgingly did he add: "It appears to me that you and I ought to be acquainted."

Now, on Election Day, the Republican Party's running mates would be voting much as they had "run": separately and silently.

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