Election of 1860
The presidential election of 1860 was a turning point in the struggle between northern and southern states over the slavery issue.
The events of the previous ten years had increased tensions between the North and the South.
With the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and the struggle over “bleeding” Kansas, calm debate over slavery had turned into violence.
Arguments became more heated over the fugitive slave laws. The raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 by Northern abolitionist John Brown gave rise to fears in Tennessee and the South that there would be a slave insurrection or uprising.
In the election of 1860, there were four political parties who proposed candidates for president. See the candidates and their platforms.
Abraham Lincoln was elected president. He did not receive a single vote from Tennessee.
In February 1861, Governor Isham Harris, an avid secessionist, called a special election that would have set a convention to consider seceding from the Union. This would have been a big step towards secession.
It was rejected by 55 percent of voters. At this time, Tennesseans wanted to stay in the Union. However 74 percent of West Tennessee voters approved. Many Tennesseans disagreed about secession.
After the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter and Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for the Union Army, Gov. Harris and the General Assembly successfully passed a resolution in May 1861 calling for secession.
This resolution had to be approved by voters first. In June 1861, Tennesseans voted for secession with 69 percent of voters approving. They were the last southern state to leave the Union.
- Photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken during presidential years. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 4.161
- Photograph of John Bell. Matthew Brady Collecion, Library of Congress
- Painting of John Breckinridge, New York Public Library, Digital Gallery
- Photograph of Stephen Douglas. Matthew Brady Collection, Library of Congress
- Painting of John Bell by William Cooper. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 1.836
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