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Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln was well known for his opposition to the expansion of slavery, and his election as president in 1860 triggered the secession of 11 southern states from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Lincoln viewed the Southern action as unconstitutional, and he was well aware that a civil war would be a very likely result of any attempt to reunite the country. When Confederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumner in April of 1861, war did break out, resulting in the four bloodiest years the United States has ever seen. In the second year of the raging war, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the Confederate states. Later that year, Lincoln gave his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, on the site of the most pitiless battle of the war.

In 1865, with Confederate resources dwindling and ever more soldiers deserting, the Union army was able to force a surrender at Appommatox court house in Virginia on April 9. Just five days later, Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC. The president died the following morning, throwing the nation into intense mourning. Lincoln had plans for bringing the country back together again, but without his leadership, the country was plunged into confusion that would take many years to resolve.


Political Campaigns

When our country began, nobody thought much of political parties or campaigns. Our first President, George Washington, was elected unanimously, the only President ever so chosen. When he was re-elected, in 1793, he was affiliated with the newly formed Federalist Party. By the time John Adams was elected in 1796, an opposition party to the Federalists--the Democratic-Republicans--had been formed under the leadership of Jefferson, who was elected after Adams.

Direct contact between the candidate and the voter began early in the 19th century at small gatherings where a party's political philosophy was the topic of discussion rather than the candidates themselves. Parlor politics required the office to seek out the candidates.

By the middle of James Monroe's second term, the Democratic-Republicans were so split on political issues that the contest of 1824 became one of individual candidates rather than of political parties. When Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams, his supporters immediately started campaigning for the next election, and in so doing formed a new party, the Democratic Party.

With Jackson's first campaign, the gaiety, excitement, and organization we know today began. The image of the candidate was etched as clearly in the minds of the voter a hundred years ago as it is today.

This new style of campaigning, an emotional appeal by going out and meeting the people, gained a victory for Jackson and later for William Henry Harrison.

The campaign of 1840 was the wildest and most exciting, colorful, and nonsensical of al political campaigns in American history. It saw the beginning of street parades for candidates and the transformation of catchy phrases and slogans into campaign music. Party rallies often turned into barbecues. Large balls bearing slogans and issues were rolled across the country from city to city--thus the origin of the slogan "keep the ball rolling." Parlor politics had completely given way to hard campaigning.

The year 1856 witnessed the appearance of a new national party--the Republican Party--campaigning on the four freedoms: "free Speech, Free Press, Free Soil and Free Man." Thus, the two major political parties familiar to us today had emerged.

Transportation and communication have played significant roles in either bringing the candidate to the people or the people to the candidate. Front-porch campaigning was used as early as 1856, when James Buchanan was running, and again in 1880 by James A. Garfield. It was made most popular, however, in 1896 by William McKinley, whose campaign manager, Mark Hanna, rounded up groups and transported them to Canton, OH, where McKinley addressed them from his front porch. There was a great contrast between McKinley and his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, both in issues and techniques. Bryan went out to sell himself to the American people by rail and traveled 18,000 miles through 29 states delivering more than 600 speeches. Bryan used an emotional appeal on the crowds, a technique successfully followed years before Jackson. His speech against the gold standard became classic; it transfixed the crowd into screaming jubilation as he uttered his memorable words: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

With the advent of the automobile, campaigning techniques changed in the 20th century, although the railroad observation car continued to be used successfully by candidates, the two most recent being Harry Truman's "whistle stop" and the "Lady Bird Special" of Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson.

Various attempts to form a strong third political party--such as the Progressive Party, which formed around Theodore Roosevelt in 1912--have failed, and the nation continues to have a system of two major parties. It was Lincoln who once said, "Almost all men in this country, and in any country where freedom of though is tolerated, attach themselves to political parties. It is but ordinary charity to attribute this to the fact that in so attaching himself to the party which his judgment prefers, the citizen believes he thereby promotes the best interests of the whole country; and when an election is passed, it is altogether befitting a free people, that until the next election, they should be as one people." [February 18, 1861.]

From "We the People: The American People and Their Government" (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) 40.


"Lincoln and Liberty Too," Abraham Lincoln campaign song

"Lincoln And Liberty Too" from the recording entitled Presidential Campaign Songs 1789-1996, Folkways 45051, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1999. Used by permission.

Words: Jesse Hutchinson; Melody: "Rosin the Beau;" arranged by Oscar Brand/TRO-Hollis Total Music Services., BMI

Partial lyrics:
"…We’ll go for the boy from Kentucky
The hero of hoosierdom through
The pride and the 'Suckers' are lucky
For Lincoln and Liberty too…"


"Excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation"

"Excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation" from the recording entitled The Glory of Negro History, Folkways FC 7752, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1955, 1960 Used by permission.

On January 1, 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed a document freeing slaves from the states that were no longer under Union control.

Partial Transcript:
"…On the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…"



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Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

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