From Fledgling to Frontier: The Republican Party’s Rise and Lincoln’s Path to Victory

The election of 1860 was one of the most significant and controversial in American history. It saw the rise of the Republican Party, which was founded just six years prior, and the election of its first presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln. For students studying American history, it is important to understand the context and significance of this election, as well as its lasting impact on the nation.

The Republican Party was formed in 1854 by a group of anti-slavery activists who sought to unite disparate factions and challenge the dominant Democratic Party. The party’s platform called for limiting the expansion of slavery into new territories and states, while also supporting infrastructure development, protective tariffs, and the rights of free labor. Its first presidential candidate was John C. Fremont in 1856, who lost to Democrat James Buchanan.

By 1860, the nation was deeply divided over the issue of slavery. The Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern factions over the issue, with the Southern Democrats nominating John Breckinridge and the Northern Democrats nominating Stephen Douglas. Meanwhile, the fledgling Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln, who had risen to national prominence during his debates with Stephen Douglas over the issue of slavery in Illinois.

Lincoln’s victory in the election was a stunning upset, as he carried every Northern state and won the electoral college with 180 votes – well above the 152 needed for victory. However, he did not win a single Southern state and only won 39% of the popular vote, reflecting the deep divisions in the country. His election precipitated the secession of seven Southern states, which ultimately led to the Civil War.

Teaching students about the election of 1860, and specifically about the Republican Party’s victory in that election, can help them understand several key themes in American history. First, it highlights the importance of political parties and their role in shaping policy and ideology. Second, it underscores the deep divisions within the nation over the issue of slavery and the eventual breakdown of compromise and reconciliation. Third, it emphasizes the role of leadership in shaping national events and shaping the course of history.

Overall, the election of 1860 and the rise of the Republican Party are important topics for students of American history to understand. By exploring the context and significance of these events, students can gain a deeper appreciation for the challenges and opportunities facing the nation during this critical period of its history. 

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