Untitled - Losing Democratic presidential candidates

May 5, 1860

artist unknown

Untitled - Losing Democratic presidential candidates

Civil War, Prelude; Presidential Election 1860; Wars, American Civil War (1861-1865);

Breckinridge, John C.; Pierce, Franklin; Stephens, Alexander;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

These Gentlemen are not in the least disappointed at having been passed over by the Convention, and are going to support the Candidate with the greatest enthusiasm.

This cartoon pictures candidates who were "passed over" for the 1860 presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.  They are (left to right):  Alexander Stephens of Georgia, a former congressman; Senator Robert Hunter of Virginia; Franklin Pierce, the former president; Governor Samuel Houston of Texas; James Guthrie of Kentucky, treasury secretary under Pierce; Senator John Slidell of Louisiana; and Vice President John Breckinridge of Kentucky.  While the text avows their allegiance to the eventual nominee, they appear dejected and tearful.  The five candidates in the middle have placed their hands on their hearts as a gesture of loyalty, but it is an act that may signify sorrow as well.  The actual situation of the Democratic presidential nomination was more complicated than the cartoon conveys, but the artist's failure to depict Breckinridge swearing support was, intended or not, accurate.  

The (post-dated) issue of Harper's Weekly carrying this cartoon was published on April 25, two days after the Democratic National Convention convened in Charleston, South Carolina, but before its outcome was known.  The Southern Democratic delegates had arrived at the convention determined to have their party endorse in its platform a federal slave code for the territories.  They believed that if Congress did not enact a federal slave code, then most Western territories would enter the Union as free states, thus allowing the eventual passage of a Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery everywhere.  Northern Democrats, led by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, opposed endorsing a federal slave code.  They wanted the territories to remain free from federal interference, with territorial voters able to judge the slavery issue for themselves on the basis of popular sovereignty.

Douglas was the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he faced competition primarily from Senator Robert Hunter, former treasury secretary James Guthrie of Kentucky, and Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee (not pictured).  Douglas had been weakened politically by his bitter and public struggle with President James Buchanan over the issue of slavery in the Kansas Territory.  Douglasís stance on slavery in the territories had undermined much of his support in the South, and he faced well-organized opposition to his nomination.  

After rancorous debate, the convention narrowly adopted Douglas's resolution that endorsed Congressional non-interference, rather than a federal slave code.  That provoked most of the Southern delegates to leave the convention.  The remaining delegates attempted to nominate a presidential candidate.  Although Douglas held a clear majority over Hunter and Guthrie, he was not able to reach the two-thirds requirement.  On May 3, after 57 ballots, delegates decided to adjourn and reconvene in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 18, at which time they nominated Douglas for president.  Meanwhile, the splinter group of Southern Democrats nominated Vice President John Breckinridge for president.

Consequently, in the general election in November 1860, the Democratic Party was divided into regional factions that had split over the issue of slavery in the territories.  This allowed the nominee of the Northern-based Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, to win a majority in the Electoral College (although only a plurality in the popular vote) and become president-elect.

For more information on the historically important presidential election of 1860, visit HarpWeek's Website on Presidential Elections.

Robert C. Kennedy

Untitled - Losing Democratic presidential candidates
October 27, 2021

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