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The Election of 1860: Reconsidered

Edited by A. James Fuller, Kent State University Press 2013, $49.95

The Election of 1860: Reconsidered provides a valuable look at Abraham Lincoln’s pivotal first presidential election. Editor James Fuller has compiled nine essays by leading experts that address a number of questions and concerns surrounding the events that changed the nation during that election. How did Lincoln win? Why did Stephen Douglas lose? What caused the Democratic Party to split into Northern and Southern factions? Why did John C. Breckinridge run? What was the Constitutional Union Party? What was the abolitionist response? Does realignment theory fit the election of 1860? The essays debunk several myths, and go beyond the bare-bone descriptions typically found in history texts.

Michael S. Green, for example, reveals that, opposed to a common perception, Lincoln was not the passive candidate who allowed his advisers to do all the work. James L. Huston examines Douglas’ largely overlooked campaign, describing how the “Little Giant” broke with the tradition of candidates not campaigning on their own behalf, while also analyzing the speeches Douglas delivered to Southern audiences and his defense of popular sovereignty.

It’s worth noting that Huston misinterprets the Northern position on secession, stating, “One would have thought that Southerners…would have readjusted their political calculations to recognize that the Southern idea of secession…by which an elected state convention could sever participation in the Union—was absolutely rejected by the vast majority of Northerners.” Not true. There was a lot of Northern support for Southern secession, before and after Fort Sumter.

The Election of 1860: Reconsidered belongs on the reading list of any serious student of the Civil War.


Originally published in the January 2014 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.