Teaching Students About the Candidates of the 1860 Election

As educators, it is our responsibility to teach students about the history of our country, including the important elections that have shaped our nation. One of the most significant presidential elections in American history was the 1860 election, which took place just before the outbreak of the Civil War. This election saw four major candidates vying for the presidency: Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell.

Teaching students about the candidates and issues surrounding the 1860 election can provide valuable lessons in democracy, political campaigning, and the impact of elections on society. Here are a few ways to engage students in learning about this pivotal moment in American history.

1. Provide background information on each candidate. Begin by introducing students to each of the four major candidates and providing some basic information about their backgrounds and platforms. For example, students can learn that Abraham Lincoln was a former Whig who had served in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, and that he supported ending the expansion of slavery into new territories. John C. Breckinridge, on the other hand, was the sitting vice president and a Democrat who advocated for the protection of slavery and states’ rights.

2. Examine campaign materials. The 1860 election saw a variety of campaign materials produced by each candidate, including speeches, pamphlets, and posters. Bring these materials into the classroom and encourage students to analyze them. What messages are being conveyed? What tactics are being used to sway voters? How do these materials compare to modern-day campaign materials?

3. Discuss the major issues of the election. Slavery was the most significant issue of the 1860 election, but there were other important issues at play as well, such as tariffs, secession, and the role of the federal government. Encourage students to research these issues and explore how they impacted the election and its outcome.

4. Consider the impact of the election on American history. The 1860 election had a profound impact on American history, leading directly to the outbreak of the Civil War and the eventual abolition of slavery. Encourage students to reflect on this impact and consider how different outcomes of the election could have altered the course of history.

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