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Illinois and the 1860 Election

Daniel Patterson
Dwight Township High School, Dwight

The state of Illinois was located front and center of the national political scene in 1860. Chicago played host to the Republican National Convention that year, and the newly formed Republican Party developed the "Chicago Platform" to shape not only their campaign, but to reinforce their basic ideals. The unified effort worked and resulted in Abraham Lincoln, the Republican presidential nominee, being elected to the presidency. The policies of the anti-slaveholders and the completion of the transcontinental railroad were enthusiastically embraced as the Republican Party started a long-time hold on central Illinois.

Republicans faced tremendous challenges in the elections of 1860. Strategists carefully began to revise the party platform in order to carry all of the Northern states that went Republican in 1854, as well as the three pivotal states of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New Jersey. This successful revision won Lincoln the presidency since it was designed to express the beliefs of the abolitionist in such a manner that it would also appeal to the northerners. The "Chicago Platform" was written to explain the position of the party on such issues as states' rights, personal liberties, and slavery. Specifically, the document called for the following:

1. The perpetuation of the Republican Party.

2. The maintenance of the rights of the states, especially their right to order and control their own domestic institutions according to their own judgment.

3. Assurance that "no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," and no legislature or anyone else give legal existence to slavery in any territory to the United States.

Other provisions explain the party's stand on economic issues and criticize the Democratic administration.

As the Republicans gained a stronghold on the national level, they were organized in local areas. In Livingston County, for example, the locals organized to strengthen the new party for the 1860 elections. In the village of Pontiac, the young Republicans organized themselves into a "Wide-Awake" company soon after Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president. At the first meeting, there were more than forty enrollees, and at the second meeting a week later, the total numbered ninety. On July 14, 1860, the Wide-Awakes erected a Lincoln and Hamlin pole in the Pontiac courthouse yard. The pole stood 115 feet high, and the flag carried the names of Lincoln and Hamlin at the top. This being one of their first official events, it symbolized the enthusiasm for the Republican cause in the area.

Two weeks after the first meeting of the Wide-Awakes, the local Pontiac organization traveled to Bloomington to hear a discussion between Lyman Trumbull and James C. Allen. The turnout was so overwhelming that the Bloomington Pantograph congratulated the Pontiac men, saying that "this is the most spirited movement of the kind we have heard of in this country." This was surely the beginning of the long-lived Republican stronghold that has grasped the area for the past 141 years.

The Wide-Awakes were led by Edward R. Maples, Captain; Jerome P. Garner, First Lieutenant; Job E. Dye, Second Lieutenant; Seymore Bennett, Third Lieutenant; J. M. Marble, Fourth Lieutenant; and Wallace Lord, Sergeant-At-Arms. These men led their members to a Republican demonstration in Ottawa on September 6. This demonstration was the largest and most enthusiastic political gathering ever attended by the Livingston County delegates and during the entire Lincoln-Douglas campaign of 1860. In Ottawa the crowd of 20,000 to 25,000 was addressed by Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky and noted speakers from around Illinois. After this meeting, the different organizations of Wide-Awakes were in demand all over the country.

Illinois has become a major influence in the development and prosperity of the Republican Party since its birth in the mid-1800s. With the 1860 Republican Convention in Chicago, the national party set its goals for the presidential election, as well as developing the "Chicago Platform," which denounced the Democratic administration and explained the ideals of the young party. All of this contributed to the election of Abraham Lincoln, the outbreak of the Civil War, and the strength of the Republican Party.[From Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, eds., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Livingston County; Rachel Filene Siedman, ed., American Journey-Civil War.]


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