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Good Old Fashioned Conventions >Page 1, 2

1860 Democratic Convention Number 1 - Charleston, South Carolina

It sounded like a good idea to Democratic leaders of 1860 who decided to hold the party's convention in a Southern state. They felt this symbolic act of "healing" would not only help win the region in the election, but solidify the Union, as well. They were wrong, twice.

Shortly after the convention began on April 23, the Southern Democratic delegations began to press their long-rumored plan to walk out unless a plank calling for passage of a federal slave code for the territories was included in the party platform. Such a code, they hoped, would secure the practice of slavery not only in the North, but in the largely unsettled areas of the expanding nation.

Southern delegates were already opposed to the party's leading candidate, Stephen A. Douglas, over his Freeport Doctrine -- a concept Douglas put forth during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 that a territory's failure to pass laws enforcing slavery would, by default, outlaw slavery in that territory.

Then, there were the "fire-eaters," a group of Southern Democrats who actually wanted the Republican candidate to win the election, thus hastening the secession of the slave states.

As you might imagine, Northern Democrats in Charleston felt a bit insecure -- politically, if not physically.

When Douglas' anti-slavery plank was finally voted into the platform over a previous vote in favor of a pro-slavery plank, 50 Southern delegates made good their promise and dramatically walked out of the convention.

Loss of those 50 left the convention without enough delegates to give Douglas the nomination, although a staggering 57 ballots had been taken.

Left with few alternatives, the remaining Northern Democrats voted to adjourn and try again six weeks later -- this time in the much more friendly confines of Baltimore, Maryland.

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1860 Democratic Convention Number 2 - Baltimore, Maryland - June, 1860

When the mainly Northern Democrats gathered again in Baltimore, guess who showed up? The same Southern delegates who had walked out on the Charleston convention were back demanding to be seated.

In a major credentials battle, some of the Southern delegates were readmitted to the convention floor while others were not. The rancor of this debate led to yet another walkout -- this time by 110 delegates.

This time, the walkouts decided to hold their own "Southern Rights Convention," at which they nominated Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge and adopted a platform supporting passage of federal slave codes.

Meanwhile, back at their "real" convention, "loyal" Democrats nominated Stephen A. Douglas and adopted a platform in support of the Constitution and the Supreme Court, and opposed to slavery. So much for the "united we stand."

The 1860 Election - No Contest
Once the conventional smoke cleared, the presidential election of 1860 boiled down to a three-way race of one Republican - Lincoln, against two Democrats - Douglas and Breckinridge.

With their party hopelessly split, the Northern states solidly behind Lincoln and Democratic newspapers pushing ever harder for secession, neither Democrat stood a chance.

Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th President of the Unites States by a wide margin.


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Free States (18)

Slave States (15)


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