During the election of 1860, in a very divisive election, one thing was clear; the issue of slavery was tearing the country apart. This one issue divided the Democratic Party into Northern and Southern factions and caused the leading Republican candidate, Senator Henry Seward not to receive the nomination at the Republican Convention.
This cartoon recognizes a pop culture icon of the time, Charles Blondin. Blondin, a French acrobat, earned his claim to fame when he became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tight rope in 1959. After seeing the falls for the first time, Blondin knew he had to cross one of the world’s wonders on a tight rope. He refused to give up despite the many setbacks he faced including being denied permission multiple times to string the tight rope across the falls. Finally, on June 30, 1959, Blondin accomplished his goal… but he was not done yet. He continued to perform the stunt with added variations and larger crowds. Some of these stunts included, crossing with a blindfold, crossing on stilts and performing tricks mid-way through his walks! The walk the cartoon refers to happened on August 17, 1859 when Blondin crossed the falls with his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back (“Charles Blondin Biography”).
In the cartoon, Lincoln is pictured as Charles Blondin performing the walk with a slave on his shoulders, referencing the August 1859 walk (“The Coming Man’s Presidential Career, a La Blondin”). Lincoln is also shown holding a balancing rod labeled as The Constitution. This cartoon helps shed light on how the issue of slavery played out in the election of 1860. By placing the slave on Lincoln’s shoulders the cartoon symbolizes the burden and pressure slavery had on the Republican Party during the election. With a weakened Democratic Party, the issue of slavery was really all that stood in Lincoln’s way.
The Constitution serves as Lincoln’s balancing rod in the cartoon and explains the Republican’s stance on slavery at this time and the strategy they were using to win the election.
Headed into the Republican Convention in May 1860, Senator William Henry Seward from New York was thought to have the Republican nomination wrapped up. With the issue of slavery on the table, the Republicans knew they had to be strategic in choosing their candidate in order to win the election. The Republicans were made up of mostly ex-Whigs and moderates (“The Election of 1860”). Seward was known for his avid abolitionist mindset and goals. To ensure they did not isolate any members of the Party, the Republicans strategically went with the more moderate candidate on this issue, Abraham Lincoln (“The Election of 1860”).
The balancing rod in the cartoon references Lincoln’s moderate stance on the issue of slavery and the Party’s use of the Constitution to not swing too far towards abolition. The Republicans opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories. Lincoln’s thought was that if slavery was prohibited in new territories it would eventually end in the states where it previously existed. The Republican Party even supported a Constitutional amendment disallowing further Congressional interference in slavery in the South. Lincoln also recognized the legitimacy of the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution and agreed with continued enforcement of this clause (“The Election of 1860”). The Fugitive Slave Clause guaranteed that any slave that escaped to another state must be returned to the original owner. The Constitution served as Lincoln’s balancing rod demonstrating his moderate stance on slavery keeping him from tipping towards abolitionism, which would have most likely cost him the election. This piece of rhetoric is unique in its use of a pop culture reference to explain the Republican’s stance of slavery.
“Charles Blondin Biography.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://www.notablebiographies.com/supp/Supplement-A-Bu-and-Obituaries/Blondin-Charles.html>.
“The Coming Man’s Presidential Career, a La Blondin.” Harp Week. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://elections.harpweek.com/1860/cartoon-1860-large.asp?UniqueID=12>.
“The Election of 1860.” Tulane University. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://www.tulane.edu/~latner/Background/BackgroundElection.html>.