November 8, 1864, stands out as one of the most remarkable days in American history. Never before—nor since—had the nation held a presidential election in the midst of a terrible civil war. Some observers worried that President Abraham Lincoln might postpone or cancel the election, but from Lincoln’s perspective, “if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.” Holding the election, from his perspective, was a “necessity.” In this lecture, Professor Jonathan White will explore the momentous steps that took place in the lead-up to this pivotal election, ranging from the battlefield, to the nominating conventions, to Lincoln’s office at the White House. It will also explain the origin of absentee voting in American history–an important political innovation that developed in the North during the Civil War.
- How were political campaigns different in the 1860s than they are today?
- How was Lincoln’s reputation during his presidency different from how he is remembered today?
- What impact did the military situation have on politics in 1864?
- Why did Lincoln win?