United States Elections: Presidential Elections (1864)


Figure 1.--While the Democrats and McClellen offered a program of compromise with the South, the Republican platform stressed both union and an end to slavery. Famed illustrator Thomas Nast drew a two page spread comparing the Reoublican and Democratic platform. In the pannel here published in "Harpers Illustrated Weekly" he powerfully illustrates what the Democrats meant when they offered in their platform to maintain "the rights of the states unimpaired".

The 1864 presidential election settled the fate of the Union. The Republican renominated President Lincoln. He ran on the Union ticket with a Democrat, Andrew Johnson as his vice president. The platform stressed union and an end to slavery. The Democrats nominated former General George B. McClellan, who Linclon relieved after Antitem. The Democrats offered an end to the War by compromising with the South. Their platform offered to return to a Union with the "rights of the states unimpaired". This meant reinstituting slavery. McClelan would have ended the War and would have rescended the Emancipation Proclamation, believing that this would bring the Southern states back in the Union. Battlefield losses and the success of the Federal naval blockade had by 1864 reached a level that the Confederacy could no longer hope to win the War militarily. That was not as apparent to the northern public as it is to us today armed with the benefits of hinesight. The terrible war losses were telling. Anti-war feeling grew in the north. There were draft riots in New York in which the rioters attacked Blacks, including orphans. The Confederacy's only hope was to draw out the War hoping that the northern public would not have the stmoache to sustain the War. The Democratic candidate, General George McClellan was clearly willing to come to terms with the Confederacy. It looked like Lincoln would lose the election.

Civil War (1861-65)

The Civil War was the seminal event in American history. American entered the War as New Yorkers and Vriginians, but by tghe end if the war were Americans. It was first military conflict in which America was involved that a devisive pesidential elction was conducted. The election of 1864 was especially important. Important Constituional issues wre settled including states' rights nd slavry. Slavery was an issue that in the end could not be resolved politically. It was eventually ended by the war, but at huge cost both in vlood and tresure. The Civil War was the most costly war in American history, especially when considered in percapita ternsnd damage suffered by the country. By the time of the election campaign the issue was still in doubt, but by the time of the actual election with the fall of Atlanta, the defeat of the Confederacy was no longer in doubt. The consequences both for the United stares and world history are in calcable.

Political Parties

Three parties were involved in the 1864 election. The Republicans were unified. The Democrats bady divided. There was also the Constituionalost Union Party which supported Lincoln and the War, but was divided on slavery.

Republican Convention

The Republicans were stronglu united, but nervous abot the outcome of the coming ekection. Thet renominated President Lincoln. He ran on the Union ticket with a Democrat, Andrew Johnson as his vice president. Hanibal Hamlin was replaced by War Democrat Senator Andrew Johnson of Tenessee--the only southern senator not to resign his office and remained loyal with the Union. The political calculation was that Johnson would appeal more to Democrats and in the birder states than Hamlkin. Here social class and secional politics were involved. Johnso has his own log cbin story-line. Confederate sympathies were the weakest in the hill country of East Tennessee, western Vurgibia, and Kentucky. Lincoln's frole is this change are not entirely clear. Most Republicans would come to regret their nomination of Johnson. The platform stressed union and an end to slavery.

Democratic Convention (August 1864)

The Democrats met in Chicago to nomimate their candidate (August 29-31). The Democrats were optimistic that could defeat Lincoln and the Reoublicans. There was growing anti-War feeling in the North, especilly as the War seemed like it would go on forever with terrible casualties. Two Federal Armies seemed stopped around Atlanta and Richmomd, unable to take either city. The Democrats meaning those in the Nort and border states were divided. The Copperheads demanded an end to the War and an immediate negotiated settlement with the Confederacy. This would have theoretically meant union, but ties with the south had been so damaged that the future of the United Srates as a strong united country would have been very much in doubt. It would also mean an acceptance of slavery. Copperhead was of course a devisive term, referring to a poisonous snake. The other Democratic faction was the War Democrats who supporting the War, but varied on slavery. The Democrats thus lacked a coherent message, but the Copperheads were clearly in control of the Party when it covened in Chicago. They were in fact at the pinacle of their influence. They nominated former General George McClellan who Lincoln relieved after Antitem. McClellan was thought to enjoy great popularity with the troops and would appeal to them and their families. They then chose Geotge Pendelton as his running mate who was well known copperhead. Clement Laird Vallandiham, one of the most notable copperheads in the country, was chosen to head the platform comittee. Vallandiham, was an Ohio Congressman served two terms in Congress before he was gerrymandered out of office by the Repjublican-controlled legislature which oinly intensified his anti-War politics. Out of office he mafe more abd more anti-War speeches with scathing critism of Lincoln. The military govenor of Ohio, Gen. Ammbrose Burnside, issued orders prohniting anti-War rhetoric. Vallandiham decided to become a martyr and coninued with his speeches. Burnside ordered him arrested and a military court found him guilty of teason. Lincoln knew nothing about it until news of the trial was reported in the newspapers. The affair put Lincoln in a difficult podition. What Burnside did was clearly illegal and opened up Lincoln to charges of silencing free speech. But he also did want to undercut his generals. So his respnse was pure Lincoln--he ordeed him released, but exiled to the Confederacy. Union trrops pointed him oward Connfederate lines. He was picked up by a Confederate picket nd wound up in Richmond wih Jefferson Davis. Vallandiham wasn't impressed with Dabis nd other Confederates, finding that while they wanted an end to the War, were intent on independence. Davis wasn't impressed with Vallandiham who kept going on about union. So the Confederates put him on a blockade runner and he eventually made his way to Windor Ontrio across Lake Erie from Ohio. There he routinely meets with other copperheads and Confederate agents. He decides to run for govenor, but lost in a landslide to the Republicans (November 1863). Ohio soldiers vote against him in a landslide. He eventually sneaks back into the country (June 1864). Lincoln had him left alone. Thus Vallandiham comes to the Chicago Convention and with his credentials is placed on the platform comittee. The platform that came out of Vallandiham's committee would have a major impact on the election, but not in the way Vallandiham intended. The pltform called the War a failure and called for the cesation of hotilities and negotiations with the Confederacy to unite the country. The Democrats leaving Chicago were sure that they had crafted a winning team and platform. They were under the impression that the troops were still attached to the General. The Democrats adopted the Copperhead program, offering an end to the War by compromising with the South. Their platform offered to return to a Union with the 'rights of the states unimpaired'. This of course mean that future secessiin would have been possible. This also meant reinstituting slavery as the Confederate states would not have returned to the Union if the Emamcipation Proclamation remained in force.

National Unionist Party


War Situation

Battlefield losses and the success of the Federal naval blockade had by 1864 reached a level that the Confederacy could no longer hope to win the War militarily. That was not as apparent to the northern public as it is to us today armed with the benefits of hinesight. The terrible war losses were telling. Anti-war feeling grew in the north. There had been draft riots in New York in which the rioters attacked Blacks, including orphans (July 1863).

The Federal Army

The Democrats, especially the Copperheads, were out of touch with the men in the camps facining the enrmy. They assumed that the men were still attaccched to McClellan would vote to end the War and come home. And there was no effort to honor their service in the Democratic platform, rhetoric like Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The Federal soldiers who had liked McClellan by the time of the election had by this time become firmly attached to Presidnt Lincoln and to a Federal military victory. And they made this clear in their leters home. They also noted that there was no word in the Democratic platform honoring their servce and sacrifice. McClellan saw the political impact of Vallandiham's platform. He attempted to disawow the platform, to little avail.

Campaign

The Confederacy's only hope was to draw out the War hoping that the northern public would not have the stmoache to sustain the War. The Democratic candidate, General George McClellan was clearly willing to come to terms with the Confederacy. It looked like Lincoln would lose the election. Lincoln was sure that he and the Republicans would lose the electiion. The costly Wilderness campaihn (1864) did not help the situation. One telling incident into Lincoln's soul was in the dark days of mid 1864 when it looked like his re-election was lost, he called in Stephen Douglas to organize a secret mission behind Southern lines to encourage slaves to escape to the North while it was still possible.

Atlanta

Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman after Grant's appoint to command all Federal forces became the commander the Federal forces in the Western Theater. Sherman and the Federal Army in Chattanooga was 100-miles away from Atlanta. This was the commerical capital of the South, the second most important city after Atlanta. The southern rail lines radiating out from Atlanta. The Confederacy already cut in two with the fall of Vicksburg could not exist without Alanta. Sherman's goal was to take Atlanta. The Federals to reach Atlanta had to take a series of mountain passes. A Confederate army commanded by General Joseph E. Johnson defended the city. Johnson was one of the most competent Confederate commanders and although commanding a much smaller force, hoped to wear Sherman down in a series of defensive engagemenrs. Sherman refused to oblige him. Rather Sherman brilliantly executed a series of flanking manuevers avoiding costly frontal assaults on prepared defensive positions. Sherman's flanking movements forced Johnson to retreat in the face of Sherman's superior force. This occurred in a series of engamements all along the railroad line south from Chattanooga. Sherman thus forced Johnson back to the outskirts of Atlanta. At this point, Jefferson Davis releaved Johnson and replaced jim with General John Bell Hood. Hood was a man of unquestioned personal courage and limited military judgement. He changed tatics and carried out a series of frontal assaults on Federal lines. Each failed with horendous Confederate casualties--losses the already depleted Confederate Army could not afford or replace. when Sherman cut Atlanta's last remaining rail link. Hood withdrew from Atlanta (September 1). Sherman after an extended, bloody campaign, finally took Atlanta (September 3), only weeks before the election. This seems to have turned the tide of public opinion in the North.

Results

The 1864 presidential election settled the fate of the Union. Lincoln was elected with a mandate he needed to achieve victory on the battlefield. Lincoln's reelection doomed the Confederacy and sealed the Federal Government's commitment to both emancipation and the pursuit of the War to final victory.

Congressional Results

Congressional elections were also held as part of the presidential election. The House of Representatives to the 39th United States Congress were elected. The Republican Party gained an impressive 50 seats, strongly increasing their majority over the Democrats. The National Union Party (Unionists) lost 7 seats, but still held 18 seats in the new Congress. The Unionists were from the border states (Maryland, Tennessee, and Kentucky, as thenew state of West Virginia). They were essentially Democrats who supported the War and union, but could not bring themselves to joining the Democrats, in part because many did not favor full emancipation. A complication in the new Congress was that the 39th Congress convened only after the President assasination. The Confederates states, with the exception of Mississippi, had accepted President Johnson's requirements for readmission to the Union and representation in Congress. These issues were of vitalmimportance because they potentially affected the fate of a constitutional amendment ending slavery--the 13th Amendment. It looked like passage had been blocked in the House because a two-thirds vote was required. The party break down was 134 Republicans, 18 Unioniss and 41 Democrts. This included 8 'vacanicies' filled by the readmission of Tennesse. The Republicans would never again so dominate the Congress. The Southern states rushed elections in 1865 so they could send Congressmnen ti the new Congress. The House of Representatives under the leadership of radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens omitted the southerners Representatives from the roll call, which had the effect of denying them admittance. The Republicans controlled Congress with veto proof majorities. With the southeners (all Democrats) admitted, they would have lost control. The Republican-controlled House then proceeded to discuss how to punish the rebellious South. Radical Republican Charles Sumner charged the southeners with committing 'state suicide'.

Impact of a McClellan Victory

The impact of a McClellan victory is not fully understood. Historians often say that McClelln would have ended the War. This is hard to believe. The Confexeracy was so totally defeated, that even McClellan would have failed to accept a Federal victory handed to him on a plate. Often not considered is the 4 months gap between the election (Novembrr 1864)and the inaguration of a new president (March 1865). There is no dobt that Lkincoln and his military commanders (Grant abd ShermanO would have used this time to complete the Federal victory. In fact Lee surrendered only 1 month after Lincoln;s inaguration. What McClellan would have done is to rescind the Emancipation Proclamation, believing that this would bring the Southern states back in the Union. This of course acted to convince Lincoln who already was seeing that only a constitutional amendment would end slavery once and for all. And a lame-duck President Lincoln would have never got the 13th Amndment ending slavery through the House of Representatives. There would have been no 14th Amendment making blacks citizens or 15th amendment guaranteeing viting rights.






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Created: 2:23 AM 4/1/2007
Last updated: 12:09 AM 11/24/2014