Lincoln took only a perfunctory part in the presidential campaign of
1852, and was rapidly losing interest in politics. Two years later, however, an event occurred that roused him, he declared, as never before.
The status of slavery in the national territories, which had been virtually settled by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, now came to the fore. In 1854, Stephen A. Douglas, whom Lincoln had known as a young lawyer and legislator and who was now a Democratic leader in the U.
S. SENATE, brought about the repeal of a crucial section of the Missouri
Compromise that had prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Purchase north of the line of 36degrees 30&;. Douglas substituted for it a provision that the people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska could admit or exclude slavery as they chose.
The congressional campaign of 1854 found Lincoln back onthe stump in behalf of the antislavery cause, speaking with a new authority gained from self- imposed intellectual discipline. Henceforth, he was a different Lincoln-- ambitious, as before, but purged of partisan pettiness and moved instead by moral earnestness.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act so disrupted old party lines that when the Illinois legislature met to elect a U.S. senator to succeed Douglas' colleague,
James Shields, it was evident that the Anti-Nebraska group drawn from both parties had the votes to win, if the antislavery Whigs and antislavery
Democrats could united on a candidate. However, the Whigs backed Lincoln, and the Democrats supported Lyman Trumbull. though Lincoln commanded far more strength than Trumbull, the latter's supporters were resolved never to desert him for a Whig. As their stubbornness threatened to result in the election of a proslavery Democrat, Lincoln instructed his own backers to vote for Trumbull, thus assuring the latter's election.
Campaigns of 1856 and 1858
With old party lines sundered, the antislavery factions in the North gradually coalesced to form a new party, which took the name REPUBLICAN.
Lincoln stayed aloof at the beginning, fearing that it would be dominated by the radical rather than the moderate antislavery element. Also, he hoped for a resurgence of the Whig party, in which he had attained a position of state leadership. But as the presidential campaign of 1856 approached, he cast his lot with the new party. In the national convention, which nominated John C. Frйmont for president, Lincoln received 110 ballots for the VICE-PRESIDENTIAL nomination, which went eventually to William L.
Dayton of New Jersey. Though Lincoln had favored Justice John McLean, he worked faithfully for Frйmont, who showed surprising strength, notwithstanding his defeat by the Democratic candidate, James BUCHANAN.
With Senator Douglas running for reelection in 1858, Lincoln was recognized in Illinois as the strongest man to oppose him. Endorsed by Republican meetings all over the state and by the Republican State Convention, he opened his campaign with the famous declaration: "`A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free." Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of seven joint debates, and these became the most spectacular feature of the campaign. Douglas refused to take a position on the rightfulness or wrongfulness of slavery, and offered his "popular sovereignty" doctrine as the solution of the problem. Lincoln, on the other hand, insisted that slavery was primarily a moral issue and offered as his solution a return to the principles of the Founding Fathers, which tolerated slavery where it existed but looked to its ultimate extinction by preventing its spread. The
Republicans polled the larger number of votes in the election, but an outdated apportionment of seats in the legislature permitted Douglas to win the senatorship.
Election of 1860
Friends began to urge Lincoln to run for president. He held back, but did extend his range of speechmaking beyond Illinois. on Feb. 27, 1860, at
Cooper Union, in New York City, he delivered an address on the need for restricting slavery that put him in the forefront of Republican leadership.
The enthusiasm evoked by this speech and others overcame Lincoln's reluctance. On May 9 and 10, the Illinois Republican convention, meeting in
Decatur, instructed the state's delegates to the national convention to vote as a unit for him.
When that convention met in Chicago on May 16, Lincoln's chances were better than was generally supposed. William H. Seward, the acknowledged party leader, and other aspirants all had political liabilities of some sort. As Lincoln's managers maneuvered behind the scenes, more and more delegates lined up behind the "Illinois Rail Splitter." Seward led on the first ballot, but on the third ballot Lincoln obtained the required majority.
A split in the Democratic party, which resulted in the nomination of
Douglas by one faction and of John C. Breckinridge by the other, made
Lincoln's ELECTION a certainty. Lincoln polled 1,865,593 votes to Douglas'
1,382,713, and Breckinridge's 848,356. John Bell, candidate of the
Constitutional Union party, polled 592,906. The ELECTORAL vote was Lincoln,
180; Breckinridge, 72; Bell, 39; and Douglas, 12.
On Feb. 11, 1861, Lincoln left Springfield to take up his duties as president. Before him lay, as he recognized, "a task ... greater than that which rested upon [George] Washington." The seven states of the lower South had seceded from the Union, and Southern delegates meeting in Montgomery,
Ala., had formed a new, separate government. Before Lincoln reached the national capital, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President of the