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1860–Republican Cartoon–Sarah Moran

The Election of 1860 has gone down in history as the election that ultimately caused the Civil War.  At the outset of this election the country was divided and the results of the election just pinned the two sides against each other even more.  For my first piece of rhetoric, I thought it was important to highlight the divisive nature of the election and the state of the country at this point in history.

My piece of rhetoric ran in “The Wide Awake Pictorial,” a Republican publication in the North.  To understand the rhetoric you must understand the background and the history at play during this election. 

At the beginning of the election, the formerly dominant Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern factions.  John C. Breckenridge, a Democrat from Kentucky headed the South with running mate Joseph Lane.  Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois headed the North with running mate Herschel V. Johnson (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”). 

While the Democratic Party was in turmoil, the Republicans were strategically planning their attack.  At the convention, the leading Republican candidate was Senator Henry Seward of New York.  With the weakened Democratic Party, the Republicans knew they could pull out the victory.  Seward had an avid anti-slavery agenda and the Republicans did not think they would win with a candidate so extreme on the hot topic of the election.  With this in mind, they chose a more moderate candidate in Abraham Lincoln from Illinois.  Lincoln’s running mate was Hannibal Hamlin (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).  The Republicans had to be strategic when it came to choosing their candidate in this divisive election and they chose the right one in Lincoln.

Although the election was mainly a contest between the Democrats and the Republicans there was a third party candidate in 1860, John Bell, who ran as a Constitutional Union candidate with Edward Everett on his ticket (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”). 

Slavery was the hot topic of the election and served as the major difference in the party platforms.  The Republicans favored “free soil” in Western territories, discontinuing the expansion of slavery.  The issue of slavery proved so strong that it ultimately divided and weakened the Democratic Party.  As common with the party at the time, the Democrats in general were in agreement with the expansion of slavery into new territories.  However, Southern Democrats wanted a Federal Slave Code for all new territories and the Northern Democrats wanted the new territories to decide (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”). 

Now back to the piece of rhetoric at hand.  In this pro-Republican cartoon, the state of the country is depicted by the rough and stormy sea.   The nation was already on the brink of the Civil War with this election serving as the tipping point. There are three boats pictured in the cartoon, each with a different party label.  The Democrats are featured in complete chaos, losing their oars and looking for help symbolizing the divided Democrats who had previously been so dominant.  The Know-Nothing Party capsized in the storm symbolizing that they were essentially extinct at this point in history.  Men are depicted in the water climbing into the Republican boat symbolizing the trend in which the Know-Nothings jumped ship to the Republicans’ boat because of their avid non-slavery stance (“The Boat that Rides in Safety”).  The forefront of the cartoon features the Republicans, with Lincoln commanding the ship and taking the waves in stride.   

The placement of this cartoon is also important in fully understanding its rhetorical power.  The cartoon was featured in “The Wide Awake Pictorial” a Republican publication in the North.  The cartoon was also interestingly featured on November 1, 1860, right before Election Day.  When taking those two factors into account, the purpose of the cartoon was to rally the party faithful by reminding them about the weakened state of the Democratic Party, encouraging them to get out and vote for Lincoln.  It is also important to know who the Wide Awakes were.  The Wide Awakes were a group of Republicans who garnered support for Republican candidates during this time period by noisily marching, singing and dancing in parades.  These men wore glazed helmets and capes during their demonstrations and served as police at polling locations to discourage voting fraud (“The Boat that Rides in Safety”).  During this election, the Wide Awakes proved to be an influential factor in the North with Lincoln taking the majority of the North.    

This cartoon creatively explains the political state of the country during this time period.  The nation was divided by party and essentially by the sole issue of slavery.  The election was so divisive that Lincoln did not even run on the ticket in most Southern states (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).  After the votes had been counted, Lincoln took the presidency for the Republicans without carrying a single Southern state however.  The Republicans victory was made possible with the two Democratic candidates splitting Democratic votes and essentially defeating each other.  Many Southern states stayed true to their word following the election and South Carolina seceded less than a month after Lincoln took office.  The election of 1860 will always be seen as a pivotal point in American history. 

Works Cited

“The Boat That Rides in Safety.” Harp Week. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-Medium.asp?UniqueID=18&gt;.

“United States Presidential Election of 1860.” Encyclopedia Virginia. 28 May 2009. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://encyclopediavirginia.org/United_States_Presidential_Election_of_1860&gt;.

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