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Like the Republican party, the Democratic party also cracked beneath the weight of the issues at hand. States that favored slavery in the territories walked out of the Democratic convention at Charleston, preventing nominee Stephen Douglas from winning the party endorsement. A reconvened convention eventually nominated Douglas, but kept territory slavery out of the platform altogether.

As a result of disagreements over the issue of slavery, splinter parties formed. The Southern Democratic Party spun off from traditional Democrats to nominate John Breckenridge, an advocate of slavery in the West. Republican breakaways formed the Constitutional Union Party. They nominated John Bell who would not address the issue of slavery at all, but rather spoke of upholding the Constitution.

With four candidates in the race, Lincoln won the 1860 election. But by the time he took office in March of 1861, seven southern states had already seceded from the Union. When the first shot rang out at Fort Sumter, just one month after Lincoln took office, the Civil War began. Lincoln's hopes for peacefully preserving the union were dashed. In 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He also promoted a Constitutional Amendment to permanently abolish slavery. These bold steps marked a shift from Lincoln's more moderate campaign position on slavery issues. They also shifted the focus of the war from preserving the union to freeing the slaves.

Remarkably, the election of 1864 was not suspended during the bloody Civil War. Union soldiers were given absentee ballots or furloughed to permit them to vote. With mounting Union victories, the votes of soldiers and the campaign slogan, "Don't switch horses in mid-stream," Lincoln won the election. Sadly, as this 1864 campaign song strangely foreshadows, Lincoln did not live to see passage of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery forever. He was assassinated just five days after Ulysses S. Grant celebrated victory over Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

Lincoln's presidency causes one to wonder:

  • Why he changed his position on the issue of abolition during his presidency?
  • Whether these changes might affect the way we view his original platform?
  • What were Lincoln's priorities when he created his original platform? How did the advent and progress of the war affect these priorities?
  • To what extent did Lincoln's original platform represent his personal views? To what extent did it reflect a desire and strategy to win the presidency?
  • If YOU were running for president, how would you balance your own opinions with the need to appeal to party and popular opinion?
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