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The Election of 1860: Consolidation, Corporatism, and Empire

The election of 1860 featured four presidential candidates: Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, John Bell, and Abraham Lincoln.

Stephen A. Douglas – Nicknamed the Little Giant due to his 5’ 4” stature, Illinois-native Douglas was a political giant. A wealthy land speculator and lobbyist for the Illinois Central Railroad, Douglas supported the Missouri Compromise, then sponsored the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, whose popular sovereignty provision virtually negated the Missouri Compromise. He created the Freeport Doctrine that claimed, “in spite of the Dred Scott decision, slavery could be excluded from territories of the United States by local legislation.” Initially the presidential favorite, the landscape began to change during the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Southern Democrats opposed Douglas. Reflecting his Northern Democrat supporters, Douglas opposed westward slavery expansion, feeling the area should be for Whites only. Douglas and Vice-Presidential candidate Herschel Johnson received 1,380,202 votes, 29.5% of the total, and 12% of the electoral votes. He only carried Missouri.

John Cabell Breckinridge – Kentucky-born Breckinridge studied law at Transylvania University and began practicing in 1841. In 1851 he was elected to the House of Representatives and later became U.S. Vice-President under Buchanan. At thirty-six years of age, he remains the youngest Vice-President in U.S. history. A Southern Democrat from a former Whig stronghold, Breckinridge was soft on secession, preferring an intact Union. He understood that, according to the constitution, slavery could not be excluded from the territories. (The Republican Party Platform argued otherwise.) Some contend the Southern Democrats’ schism helped get Lincoln elected. The so-called “fire eaters” walked out of the May 3, 1860, Democratic Convention in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the reconvened convention in Baltimore, Maryland on June 18, 1860.

Breckinridge, with Vice President Joseph Lane, carried the Deep South States, Texas, Delaware, and Maryland. He received 848,019 votes, 72 electoral votes, with just over 18% of the total vote.

John Bell – Tennessee-born Bell graduated in 1814 from Cumberland College in Nashville, and began practicing law in 1816. He served seven consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. Bell fell out with Andrew Jackson over his refusal to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States. Bell became a member of the Whig Party. He was appointed Secretary of War in 1841 by President William H. Harrison. After Harrison died, Bell resigned due to President John Tyler’s support of States’ Rights Democrats. Initially anti-secession, Bell reversed his stance after Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s request for troops to invade the seceded States.

A Whig Party remnant “organized as the Constitutional Union party and held a national convention in Baltimore in May 1860. Delegates nominated Bell for president and Edward Everett of Massachusetts for vice president.” The Constitutional Union Party was neutral on slavery. Bell carried Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky, receiving 590,901 votes, 39 electoral votes, and 12.6% of the total vote.

Abraham Lincoln – Lincoln became the Republican candidate after “wheeling and dealing” at the Republican Convention in Chicago. Heavily supported by corporate and banking interests in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, Lincoln was not on the ballot in ten Southern States, appearing on twenty-three of the thirty-three States’ ballots in the Union at election time (Kansas became a State in January 1861). Lincoln only received 1,364 votes in Kentucky and 1,887 votes in Virginia, but carried the New England States, the Upper Midwest, California, and Oregon. He was elected with 1,866,452 votes, 180 electoral votes, and 39.8% of the total.

Lincoln’s supporters included:

• Banker Jay Cooke (Jay Cooke & Company). Salmon Chase granted Cooke’s firm monopoly status relative to the sale of U.S. government bonds. Cooke and his brother, H.C. Cooke (a Republican Party founder) supported the “corporate welfare” financing of a transcontinental railroad.

• Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill, a protectionist, steel manufacturer, and Republican founder and Henry Charles Carey, Pennsylvania economist, publicist, and steel industry lobbyist. Both vehemently supported the Morrill Tariff, which economically punished the South.

• Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens, Radical Republican owner of Caledonia Iron Works (near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania). He benefitted significantly from Lincoln’s protectionist policies and was adamant that slavery be contained in the South and Border States.

• Two of the Secret Six (Northerners who financed John Brown) stood to benefit from higher tariffs/corporate welfare. Gerrit Smith, of Peterboro, New York, owned the Great Wharves at the harbor in Oswego, New York. George Luther Stearns, from Medford, Massachusetts, was involved with ship chandlery and later in the manufacture of sheet and pipe-lead.

• Radical Republicans, e.g., newspaper editor Joseph Medill, Michigan Senator and Detroit Mayor Zachariah Chandler, Ohio Senator Ben Wade, and others.

All candidates except Lincoln were anti-war and open to peaceful negotiations. Lincoln’s election crushed federalism, planted the seeds of empire, and led to what Doug Casey describes as: “State corporatism, where corporations and the State work hand-in-glove.”

Sources: Paul M. Angle, “Freeport Doctrine,”—Dictionary of American History, The Gale Group, 2003,; Donald R. McClarey and Paul Zummo, “Breckinridge Platform 1860,” Almost Chosen People, A blog about American History, and the development of a great Nation, October 6, 2010,; “1860 Lincoln v. Douglas v. Breckinridge v. Bell,” John Bell, HarpWeek Explore History,; Mike Scruggs, “Understanding the Causes of the Civil War: A Brief Explanation of the Impact of the Morrill Tariff,” The Tribune Papers, June 4, 2005,; Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation, by John M. Taylor; and New American Dream: “You’ll Own Nothing and Be Happy,” Doug Casey, from In 1864, even J.P. Morgan noted the corrupt politicians and contractors with their hands out all over Washington, D.C. NOTE: The Morrill Tariff was named after Justin S. Morrill.


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