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1860–“Five Eras” Prints–Sarah Moran

With the election of 1860 looming, the weakened Democratic Party had divided into Northern and Southern factions.  The leading Democrat in the North was Stephen A. Douglas while the leading Democrat in the South was John C. Breckenridge.  The Republicans chose a more moderate candidate, Abraham Lincoln, to run on their ticket.  Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell, rounded out the list of presidential hopefuls during the election of 1860 (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).

With the nation divided over the issue of slavery, the Republicans did not even run a slate in most Southern states. The race in the South was between Democrat John C. Breckenridge and Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. The real race in the North was between Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen Douglas (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).  The two candidates had very different tactics and campaigning styles.  Douglas was the first candidate to go on a nationwide speaking tour prior to the election.  With his dark hair and piercing eyes, Douglas was known for his compelling speaking style that always commanded the attention of his audience with his intelligence and deep voice (“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union”).  In contrast, Lincoln did not campaign or give speeches of his own.  The Republicans and their supporters, such as the Wide Awakes, ran pamphlets, leaflets and editorials throughout the North (“United States Presidential Election of 1860”).   

Lincoln and Douglas, both with political roots in Illinois, had met in the political arena before.  In 1858, Lincoln and Douglas battled for control of the Illinois legislature in a series of seven debates taking place in seven of the nine districts in Illinois (“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union”).  Slavery was the main issue discussed during these debates. Both candidates’ stances on slavery were the same in 1858 as they ran on in 1860.  Lincoln opposed the abolition of slavery into new territories while Douglas supported popular sovereignty.  At the end of the debates, Douglas was re-elected to the Senate but Lincoln had established a political foothold that would carry him through to the election of 1860 (“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union”).

Experience proved to be a key aspect of the senate election and the Democrats used experience again to their advantage.  The second piece of rhetoric I chose to focus on captures just that.  This piece of rhetorical history was actually a two-part cartoon that appeared in “The Campaign Plain Dealer and Popular Sovereignty Advocate,” which was a popular Democratic campaign publication of the time.  The first piece of the cartoon titled “The Five Eras in Douglas’s Life Illustrated” pictured different periods of Douglas’s life and appeared on July 21, 1860.  The cartoon depicts Douglas’s earlier professional life as a cabinetmaker and a teacher.  The bottom corners depict Douglas as a U.S. Senator and meeting Tsar Nicholas I during a political tour of Europe in 1853.  Finally, the middle shows Douglas as President of the United States (“Five Eras in Old Abe’s Life Illustrated”).  As your eyes travel down the page, the more grand and political the experience gets for Douglas all leading up to the middle of the cartoon, him becoming President of the United States. 

One week later, on July 28, 1860, “The Campaign Plain Dealer and Popular Sovereignty Advocate” came out with part two of “The Five Eras.”  This cartoon depicted different periods of Republican candidate “Old Abe’s” life but in a condescending tone.  The left corner depicts Lincoln as a rail-splitter, an image that is a recurrent theme used by both parties during the Campaign.  The Republicans’ use it to their advantage to illustrate and draw upon Lincoln’s humble background.  One famous cartoon pictures Lincoln splitting his “last rail,” which is labeled as the Democratic Party, taking a shot at the divided party.  The Democrats’ however, use it to mock Lincoln’s lack of political experience compared to Douglas.  The top right corner depicts Lincoln as the “rear admiral” of a flat boat.  The bottom of the cartoon depicts Lincoln being strangled by an Indian during the Black Hawk War and immediately next to it is Lincoln accepting the Republican nomination for President.  The middle of the cartoon depicts Lincoln again as a rail-splitter implying that he lost the election and had to go back to his roots (“Five Eras of Old Abe’s Life Illustrated”).  Part two is a direct attack on Lincoln’s lack of political experience in relation to his main challenger in the North, Stephen Douglas.  In this cartoon, as your eyes travel down the cartoon Lincoln’s experience never grows in prestige like Douglas’ does. 

Lincoln and Douglas were not new enemies on the political scene, dating back to their political roots in Illinois during the 1858 debates.  Recurrent themes, especially that of experience, come back as dominant rhetorical strategies employed by the Democratic Party.

Works Cited

“Five Eras in Old Abe’s Life Illustrated.” Harp Week. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-Medium.asp?UniqueID=11&gt;.

“Stephen A. Douglas and the American Union.” The University of Chicago Library. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/spcl/excat/douglas1.html&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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