Home > 1856-1892 Campaigns, 1864 Campaign > By Justin Hammond–Reelecting Lincoln, 1864

By Justin Hammond–Reelecting Lincoln, 1864

The 1864 presidential election was distinctive because it took place during the American Civil War (the first presidential election to take place during a war since 1812), and involved one of the most famous figures of American history- the sitting president Abraham Lincoln. An incumbent candidate had not been elected for a second term since 1832. Lincoln’s opponent was George B. McClellan, a U.S. Army officer. McClellan ran on a peace platform of the Democratic party; while the Republicans formed the National Union Party. The National Union Party consisted of Republicans and War Democrats (Democrats who rejected the Peace Democrats’ policies). McClellan, representing the Peace Democrats, advocated putting the Civil War to a quick end, even if he did not necessarily agree with his party’s full platform.

One Democratic broadside (right) sums up the major differences between the two parties. The Democrats (or ‘Peace’ party) wanted a speedy end to the Civil War, and to end the notion of emancipation. The National Union Party (Republicans) wanted to pursue the war until the Confederacy completely surrendered. This election proved to ultimately determine the outcome of the Civil War, and the fate of the union.

This is a popular political cartoon (left) from the 1864 campaign; it is by Currier & Ives and is titled: “The True Issue or ‘That’s What’s the Matter.’” This cartoon portrays George McClellan as the mediator between Abraham Lincoln and the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Lincoln while grasping one side of the map is proclaiming “No peace without Abolition!” and Davis wielding the other side of the map as it tears is proclaiming “No peace without Separation!!” McClellan is portrayed as a go-between over the map of the United States. He holds the two men back and proclaims, “The Union must be preserved at all hazards!” This cartoon represents the Peace Democrats campaign, specifically illustrating the National Union Party’s mindset of wanting the war to continue. This cartoon is implying that if the war continues, it will “tear” the United States apart; McClellan acts as a “peace-maker” in the scenario, stopping the two sides from ripping the country apart.

This is another political cartoon (right) that circulated during the 1864 presidential campaign. This is from Harper’s Weekly, and portrays Abraham Lincoln with a miniature George McClellan with a tiny shovel in the palm of his hand, Lincoln is stating “this reminds me of a little joke.” In November of 1862, Lincoln relieved McClellan of his command after he showed reluctance in pursuing and defeating the Confederates. When the 1864 election rolled around, McClellan was slow to start campaigning following his nomination at the Democratic National Convention; Lincoln joked about this, comparing McClellan’s delays as like his delays in battle; this joke is the meaning behind this political cartoon.

The summer of 1864 was rough for the Union army, as they kept taking overwhelming defeats. The Union armies had a very hard time staggering the Southern forces, with two defeats in Virginia, and one in Georgia and Louisiana. Lincoln wrote a dour memorandum on August 23, 1864, asking his cabinet to accept the grim prospects for his re-election: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.” However, everything turned around for Lincoln and the Union when General William T. Sherman took Atlanta in September 1864. This remarkable military development, along with internal conflict within the Democratic Party, helped strengthen Lincoln’s chance at victory.

Although during the summer of 1864 the chances of Lincoln being re-elected looked very slim, he ended up defeating McClellan by a pretty significant margin. Lincoln won all but three states (Delaware, Kentucky, and New Jersey); more significantly, Lincoln won 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21.

In all, this was an election (and campaign) fully influenced by the American Civil War. This was the first presidential election that took place during a time with this severity of military tension within our country. Just five months after the re-election of Abraham Lincoln, though, the defeat of the Confederacy was accomplished.






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