Frederick Douglass was skeptical. Like Lincoln, the former slave turned passionate civil rights pioneer was self-educated, a brilliant writer and a captivating orator. And while both men rejected the idea that the Constitution gave Americans the right to own slaves, Douglass did not agree that the Constitution protected slavery in states where it had existed before the founding of the Republic or in Southern states that had joined the Union since. And while Douglass decried "threats of violence" against Republicans in Kentucky and other states "and the threats of dissolution of the Union in case of the election of Lincoln," he could not bring himself to praise Lincoln directly. Their warm personal acquaintance would not begin for several more years.
Springfield's actual polling place, set up in a courtroom two flights upstairs at the oblong-shaped Sangamon County Court House at Sixth and Washington streets, consisted of two partially enclosed "voting windows close beside each other," one for Democrats, one for Republicans. It was "a peculiar arrangement" in the view of the correspondent from St. Louis, but one that had been "practiced in Springfield for several years." A voter had only to pick up the preprinted ballot of his choice outside, and then ascend the stairs to announce his own name to an election clerk and deposit the ballot in a clear glass bowl. This was secret in name only: voters openly clutching their distinctly tinted, ornately designed forms while waiting in line signaled precisely how they intended to vote. The system all but guaranteed bickering and ill feelings.
In this roiling atmosphere, it was hardly surprising that Lincoln had replied almost defensively to a neighbor about how he planned to vote. "For Yates," he said—Richard Yates, the Republican candidate for governor of Illinois. But "How vote" on "the presidential question?" the bystander persisted. To which Lincoln replied: "Well...by ballot," leaving onlookers "all laughing." Until Election Day afternoon, Lincoln's law partner William Herndon was convinced that Lincoln would bow to the "feeling that the candidate for a Presidential office ought not to vote for his own electors" and cast no ballot whatsoever.
But around 3:30 p.m., he peered out the window toward the crowd surrounding the courthouse, slipped out of the Governor's Room, headed downstairs and "walked leisurely over to deposit his vote," accompanied by a small group of friends and protectors to "see him safely through the mass of men at the voting place."
As Lincoln reached the courthouse to cheers and shouts from surprised Republicans, "friends almost lifted him off the ground and would have carried him to the polls [but] for interference." The "dense crowd," Lincoln's future assistant secretary John M. Hay recalled, "began to shout with...wild abandon" even as they "respectfully opened a passage for him from the street to the polls." People shouted out "Old Abe!" "Uncle Abe!" "Honest Abe!" and "The Giant Killer!" Even Democratic supporters, Herndon marveled, "acted politely—civilly & respectfully, raising their hats to him as he passed on through them."
A New York Tribune reporter on the scene confirmed that "all party feelings seemed to be forgotten, and even the distributors of opposition tickets joined in the overwhelming demonstrations of greeting." Every Republican agent in the street fought for "the privilege of handing Lincoln his ballot." A throng followed him inside, John Nicolay reported, pursuing him "in dense numbers along the hall and up the stairs into the court room which was also crowded." The cheering that greeted him there was even more deafening than in the street, and once again came from both sides of the political spectrum.
After he "urged his way" to the voting table, Lincoln followed ritual by formally identifying himself in a subdued tone: "Abraham Lincoln." Then he "deposited the straight Republican ticket" after first cutting his own name, and those of the electors pledged to him, from the top of his preprinted ballot so he could vote for other Republicans without immodestly voting for himself.
Making his way back to the door, the candidate smiled broadly at well-wishers, doffing the black top hat that made him appear, in the words of a popular campaign song, "in h[e]ight somewhat less than a steeple," and bowed with as much grace as he could summon. Though the "crush was too great for comfortable conversation," a number of excited neighbors grabbed Lincoln by the hand or tried offering a word or two as he inched forward.
Somehow, he eventually made his way through this gantlet and back downstairs, where he encountered yet another throng of frenzied well-wishers. Now they shed all remaining inhibitions, "seizing his hands, and throwing their arms around his neck, body or legs and grasping his coat or anything they could lay hands on, and yelling and acting like madmen." Lincoln made his way back to the Capitol. By 4 p.m. he was safely back inside "his more quiet quarters," where he again "turned to the entertainment of his visitors as unconcernedly as if he had not just received a demonstration which anybody might well take a little time to think of and be proud over."
Even with the people's decision only hours away, Lincoln still managed to look relaxed as he exchanged stories with his intimates, perhaps keeping busy in order to remain calm himself. Samuel Weed thought it remarkable that "Mr. Lincoln had a lively interest in the election, but...scarcely ever alluded to himself." To hear him, noted Weed, "one would have concluded that the District Attorneyship of a county in Illinois was of far more importance than the Presidency itself." Lincoln's "good nature never deserted him, and yet underneath I saw an air of seriousness, which in reality dominated the man."