Lincoln: The vote that saved America

At the start of what promises to be a tumultuous election year, the BBC looks back at the 1864 campaign; one of the most important votes in American history.

On 22 August 1864, with just two and a half months to go before election day, President Lincoln received a stark warning from the chairman of his campaign committee: “The tide is strongly against us,” reported Henry J Raymond. The country was facing the prospect of falling “into hostile hands”.

For the president’s supporters, winning re-election was every bit as vital as securing success on the battlefield. Elections were the manifestation of the ‘government by the people’ for which the war was being fought. But at the same time, the ‘right’ side had to triumph. “For four summers the loyal North has been firing bullets at the rebellion,” ran a typical editorial. “The time has now come to fire ballots.” Support for Lincoln was made inseparable from national loyalty; to oppose him was tantamount to treason. Never in American history has there been a presidential election with such high stakes.

When Abraham Lincoln stood for re-election in November 1864 he knew that defeat could bring the civil war to a premature end and shatter his dreams of abolishing slavery. And, as Adam IP Smith reveals

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