One Election Can Matter a Great Deal

On this very day in 1860, Abraham Lincoln is elected the 16th president of the United States over a deeply divided Democratic Party, becoming the first Republican to win the presidency. Lincoln won only 40 percent of the popular vote but with 180 electoral votes handily defeated the three other candidates: Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge (72), Constitutional Union candidate John Bell (39), and Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas (12), a U.S. senator for Illinois.

The homespun Kentucky-born lawyer from Illinois led the United States through the Civil War–its bloodiest war and perhaps its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, paved the way to the abolition of slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy. He is generally revered by historians as the greatest president to have held the office.

Also on this day in 1861, Jefferson Davis is elected to a six-year term as President of the Confederate States of America, the 11 treasonous bodies which bolted the Union after Lincoln’s ascension. Lincoln and Davis shared the state of their birth and service in the Black Hawk War, but here the comparisons cease abruptly. Davis married well twice, was a genteel climber, and had a deep cavity in his chest where his heart was supposed to be.

Losing the war, his “country” and his job, Davis was captured in 1865, accused of treason, and imprisoned at Fort Monroe. He was never tried and was released after two years. Ex-Confederates came to exalt his role in the war, seeing him as a Southern patriot, and he became a hero of the Lost Cause, state’s rights, nullification, “heritage,” and many fine people. Utter nonsense the rest of us still put up with to this day.

And here endeth the lesson.

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