Abraham Lincoln and the 1864 Election That Saved America

Christopher Newport University

Jonathan W. White is associate professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University.  He is the author or editor of twelve books, including Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War, and Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln, which was a finalist for both the Lincoln Prize and Jefferson Davis Prize, and the winner of the Abraham Lincoln Institute’s book prize. He serves as vice chair of The Lincoln Forum, and on the boards of the Abraham Lincoln Association, the Abraham Lincoln Institute, and the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia, as well as the Ford’s Theatre Advisory Council.

 

Overview

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.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How were political campaigns different in the 1860s than they are today?
  1. How was Lincoln’s reputation during his presidency different from how he is remembered today?
  1. What impact did the military situation have on politics in 1864?
  1. Why did Lincoln win?

 

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