A Virginian’s view of the candidates

1860 Election
1860 Candidates. Clockwise from top right: Lincoln, Douglas, Breckinridge, Bell

William L. Goggin, a former Representative from Virginia, and a recently defeated Whig candidate for the governorship, gave a speech in Petersburg, VA that was reported in the September 4, 1860 New York Times. Goggin proclaimed his support for Bell, but also said that Douglas would make a good president. He went on to consider Breckinridge:

There is another gentleman about whom I must say a few words; he is a Kentuckian — from the land of CLAY — his name is JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE. I have not the honor of knowing Mr. BRECKINRIDGE personally, but from what I do know of him, I have only to say that he can be known by the company with whom he associates, and that, however he may boast of being the friend of the Union, he occupies a bad position, from the fact that he is now in company with those who are opposed to the Union. I feel it my duty to say here now, that I would support DOUGLAS before I would support BRECKINRIDGE. [Loud cheers.]

Robert Barnwell Rhett Jr.
Robert Barnwell Rhett Jr.

Breckinridge was widely seen as the secessionist candidate, although as Goggin notes, he personally always claimed to want to preserve the Union. It certainly is true that secessionists supported him. In a January, 1860 letter, Barnwell Rhett Jr., the fire-eating editor of the Charleston Mercury, wrote1 approvingly that a division in the Democratic party would “break down the spoils Democracy and, on the election of a Black Republican, […] dissolve the Union.” It was clear that Breckinridge could not win the nomination with only Southern electors, and he was unlikely to get any others. The split in the Democratic vote virtually guaranteed a Lincoln victory. Only if no candidate got a majority of the electoral vote and the election went to the House could a Democrat become president. Goggin then talked specifically about Lincoln:

There is another candidate before you. [Laughter, and cries of “he is a smutty one.”] Oh, do not suppose that ABE shall be forgotten. I shall now come to him, and, let me give the devil his due. During the whole course of my connection with him in the House of Representatives, I must say that I ever found him a gentleman; he is not what the Breckinridge party insinuate him to be; I wish to do justice on all sides. [Cheers.] If you want to know who Mr. LINCOLN is, go and ask STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, with whom he stumped every county in the State of Illinois. Yes, go and ask Mr. DOUGLAS whether ABE LINCOLN is a rail-splitter or not. [Laughter.] Ask him whether he is a Democrat, i.e., a mauler, or not? [Renewed laughter.] It was my good fortune, while I was a member of the House of Representatives, to be a member of a Committee with him; I was Chairman, and I must say that no man on that Committee worked more industriously than he did. He was a man of a high order of talent, and when he spoke, no man was listened to by those who were in that House as visitors with more satisfaction. His private as well as his public character was free from stain or blemish.”

Mr. GOGGIN then refuted the assertion that the contest was between DOUGLAS and BRECKINRIDGE. Every vote given the latter in the North would help Mr. LINCOLN.

It is interesting that Goggin, speaking in the upper South, didn’t even feel the need to denigrate [heh] the “Black Republican” Lincoln; while Lincoln was on the ballot in Virginia (the only seceding state where this was true), anyone foolish enough to declare support for him east of the Alleghenies could expect a visit from the militia, as we’ve seen. Lincoln took just over 1% of the vote in Virginia; the actual contest in the state was between Breckinridge and Bell. Lincoln was a bogeyman in the South, thanks in part to relentless propagandizing by secessionists like the Rhetts.

1Walther, Eric H. The Fire-Eaters. Baton Rouge:LSU Pr., 1992. p. 151

This entry was posted in Abraham Lincoln, John Bell, John C. Breckinridge, R. Barnwell Rhett, Stephen A. Douglas, William L. Goggin. Bookmark the permalink.

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