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Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18: Presidential Losers: John Breckinridge, John Bell, Stephen Douglas

John Breckinridge, John Bell, Stephen Douglas: 1860


John Bell

John Breckinridge

In the election of 1860 tensions were high.  It was pretty evident the southern states were ready to split from the Union, and whoever was elected president would have a bloody, protracted Civil War on his hands.  Naturally, everyone wanted a piece of that.  There were not two, but four, major presidential candidates, if we count Abraham Lincoln.  You might say Lincoln was not a nationally recognized candidate because his name didn’t even appear on the southern ballots. 1  Nevertheless, it was evident that Lincoln was the man to beat, and a lively good-natured smear campaign was directed against him, particularly for his folksy ways and “slang-whanging stump speaker style.” 2 Political cartoonists with rapier-like wit made the cognoscenti ponder deeply about the consequences of a Republican White House with pictures of thick-licked black men kissing white women while Lincoln looked on, unconcerned. 3

Stephen Douglas

The most memorable of the also-rans was fourth-place finisher, Stephen Douglas – also known as “The Little Giant” 4 – who introduced a new wrinkle into presidential campaigns by actually campaigning. While Lincoln and the others stayed put, Douglas set off to “visit his mother;” the trip from New York City where Douglas lived to upstate New York where Momma lived, somehow took him through New England, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  Then he had to go see his lawyer, which took him through lengthy detours in the south.  In spite of all his efforts, the electoral votes in the more-populous free states gave Lincoln a comfortable majority.




The Result

Abraham Lincoln: 180
John Breckenridge: 72
John Bell: 39
Stephen Douglas: 12


1. He probably wouldn't have gotten many votes down there anyways.
2. For a sample of what his enemies were referring to, consider these lines from the Gettysburg Address: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." (Whang that slang, Abe!)
3. Actually the white girls in the pictures didn't seem too bothered by it either.
4. By this logic, Lincoln was a Very Tall Dwarf.

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