The 1860 election led to Civil War, but it was decided fairly

Here is historian Ted Widmer at The New York Times:

On Nov. 6, Lincoln was duly elected. But his percentage of the popular vote was very small (39.8 percent) — below even Herbert Hoover’s in 1932, when Hoover lost in a landslide to Franklin Roosevelt. That led to a new kind of challenge, to build legitimacy, as Washington seethed over the result and pro-slavery thugs promised to prevent Lincoln’s arrival. Some threatened to turn the Capitol into “a heap of ashes.” In Southern cities, gun-toting militias quickly formed, some parading under the Gadsden Flag and its motto, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Many feared that the District of Columbia would be overrun by private armies, as a former Virginia governor, Henry Wise, threatened. It was whispered that James Buchanan might be kidnapped, so that his vice president, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, could be installed — a clean way to reverse the election result. Breckinridge had run as the South’s candidate, coming in second, with 72 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 180. (Two other candidates, Stephen Douglas and John Bell, had divided the vote further.)

Another plot feared by Lincoln supporters was a disruption of the electoral vote count, in Congress, on Feb. 13, 1861. Remarkably, the electoral certificates were delivered to Breckinridge, as the president of the Senate. He might easily have “lost” them, but to his eternal credit, this future Confederate presided over an honest count. Another brave Southerner, Winfield Scott, organized the military defense of the capital, just so Lincoln could have a chance.

It still took some doing to launch the Lincoln administration, and the president-elect had to survive a serious assassination conspiracy on his way to Washington. Even on the day of his inauguration, there were government sharpshooters positioned on top of buildings near the Capitol, with rumors sweeping the crowd that a last attempt would be made to nip his presidency in the bud. But he stood up to his full height as he took the oath of office, and a fever seemed to pass.

Lincoln will remain our greatest president, for his own reasons — the bold actions and the calming words. But he also sits atop our pantheon because this champion of democracy came along at the exact moment when it was most endangered and reminded Americans that a higher standard was possible. That survival, in a moment even more fraught than our own, helped democracy spread far and wide in the 20th century, as Lincoln hoped it would.

It all began with the simplest of democratic ideas: a legitimate election and a fair count.

Read the entire piece here.

What if Trump refuses to give up power?

Election of 1860

Clarkson University political scientist Alexander Cohen says that “American democracy will survive” if Trump decides to contest the election of 2020. He points to five previous contested elections: 1800, 1824, 1876, 1960, and 2000. In all five cases, democracy survived. But the contested election of 1860 was different. Here is a taste of Cohen’s piece at The Conversation:

The election of 1860 was a different story. 

After Abraham Lincoln defeated three other candidates, Southern states simply refused to accept the results. They viewed the selection of a president who would not protect slavery as illegitimate and ignored the election’s results.

It was only through the profoundly bloody Civil War that the United States remained intact. The dispute over the legitimacy of this election, based in fundamental differences between the North and South, cost 600,000 American lives.

What is the difference between the political collapse of 1860 and the continuity of other contested elections? In all cases, citizens were politically divided and elections were hotly contested.

What makes 1860 stand out so clearly is that the country was divided over the moral question of slavery, and this division followed geographic lines that enabled a revolution to form. Further, the Confederacy was reasonably unified across class lines.

While the America of today is certainly divided, the distribution of political beliefs is far more dispersed and complex than the ideological cohesion of the Confederacy.

Read the entire piece here.

If history is any indication, we will all make it through a potential Trump refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election. On the other hand, Americans have never seen a president quite like Trump. Stay tuned.

“The Atlantic” Endorses Hillary Clinton

am-18601860. 1964. 2016.

These are the only years in which The Atlantic (previously known as the Atlantic Monthly), the historic American magazine of politics and commentary, endorsed a candidate for President of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln.  Lyndon B. Johnson. Hillary Clinton.  The Atlantic endorsed these candidates.

The editors of The Atlantic explain their decision to endorse Clinton.  Interestingly enough, the title of the article is “Against Trump” with the phrase “The Case for Hillary Clinton” in the subtitle.

A taste:

But The Atlantic’s endorsement of Johnson was focused less on his positive attributes than on the flaws of his opponent, Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona. Of Goldwater, Weeks wrote, “His proposal to let field commanders have their choice of the smaller nuclear weapons would rupture a fundamental belief that has existed from Abraham Lincoln to today: the belief that in times of crisis the civilian authority must have control over the military.” And the magazine noted that Goldwater’s “preference to let states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia enforce civil rights within their own borders has attracted the allegiance of Governor George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, and the John Birchers.” Goldwater’s limited capacity for prudence and reasonableness was what particularly worried The Atlantic.

We think it unfortunate that Barry Goldwater takes criticism as a personal affront; we think it poisonous when his anger betrays him into denouncing what he calls the “radical” press by bracketing the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Izvestia. There speaks not the reason of the Southwest but the voice of Joseph McCarthy. We do not impugn Senator Goldwater’s honesty. We sincerely distrust his factionalism and his capacity for judgment.

Today, our position is similar to the one in which The Atlantic’s editors found themselves in 1964. We are impressed by many of the qualities of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, even as we are exasperated by others, but we are mainly concerned with the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.

These concerns compel us, for the third time since the magazine’s founding, to endorse a candidate for president. Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than earned, through her service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of state, the right to be taken seriously as a White House contender. She has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents), but she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency. We are confident that she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt that she will apply herself assiduously to the problems confronting this country; and she has demonstrated an aptitude for analysis and hard work.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.

Read the entire piece here.  Then head over to Episode 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and listen to our interview with Yoni Appelbaum,  Washington Bureau Chief of The Atlantic.