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Decision 1864

Originally published on Published Online: September 13, 2009 
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As the war-weary Union anticipated the upcoming presidential election, beleaguered incumbent Abraham Lincoln faced the prospect of losing his office to the man he had fired as commander of the Army of the Potomac less than two years before.

Lincoln's reelection wasn't the only thing at stake. The president was convinced that the Union was in even greater danger than it had been before. His own party was divided between mainline Republicans like himself and the Radical Republicans, who didn't think Lincoln's abolition policy went far enough.

The Democrats were split as well. "War Democrats," including nominee and former Army of the Potomac commander George McClellan, sup­ported the military but not necessarily abolition, and the more conservative "Peace Democrats" opposed the war and wanted an immediate settlement with the South. Republican opponents nicknamed the latter group "Copperheads" after the venomous snake known to strike without warning.

With ominous reports from the battlefront and voters tired of war, Lincoln had a long, difficult campaign ahead—and by the summer of 1864 the president had all but conceded electoral defeat come November.

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