On August 30, 1860, Abraham Lincoln wrote a reply to Alexander Kelly McClure about the upcoming presidential contest. McClure, a lawyer, newspaper editor, and chairman of the Pennsylvania State Republican Committee, kept in frequent communication with the Republican presidential nominee. Lincoln wished to clarify how his chances of victory were materializing in the Keystone State. “When you say you are organizing in every election district,” Lincoln queried, “do you mean to include the idea that you are ‘canvassing’—‘counting noses?’” McClure responded that he was counting noses to “the man” in most districts and obtaining a careful “estimate” by loyal party men in the remaining districts. All signs suggested that Pennsylvania’s 27 electoral votes would go to Lincoln.
The Electoral College, not a majority of voters, determines who occupies the White House. Having supporters and detractors over the centuries, the Electoral College was opposed early in his life by Lincoln, who then changed his mind. Writing on February 13, 1848, to Josephus Hewett, a former Springfield lawyer, Lincoln argued:
“I was once of your opinion, expressed in your letter, that presidential electors should be dispensed with; but a more thorough knowledge of the causes that first introduced them, has made me doubt. Those causes were briefly these. The convention that framed the constitution has this difficulty: the small states wished to so frame the new government as that they might be equal to the large ones regardless of the inequality of population; the large ones insisted on equality in proportion to population. They compromised it, by basing the House of Representatives on population, and the Senate on states regardless of population; and the executive on both principles, by electors in each state, equal in numbers to her senators and representatives. Now, throw away the machinery of electors, and the compromise is broken up, and the whole yielded to the principle of the large states.”
While many Jacksonian Democrats preferred to do away with the Electoral College, all political operatives had to yield to the necessity of calculating the electoral math.
A recently acquired form letter illustrates the calculations which political insiders were generating in anticipation of the 1860 election. Dr. Charles Leib, a former Pennsylvanian residing in Chicago, began to distribute form letters in late 1859 urging Republican leaders to consider Simon Cameron, a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, as the party’s presidential candidate. Arguing the electoral math, Leib states: “If we nominate Gen. Cameron and add to the vote of Col. Fremont (114) that of Pennsylvania (27,) New Jersey (7,) Kansas (3) and Minnesota (4,) we will elect him by one majority, if even the democracy [i.e., the Democratic Party] should carry the vote of Illinois (11,) Indiana (13,) California (4) and Oregon (3,) which, however, it will be impossible for them to do.” Leib warns that “should a candidate be nominated who cannot carry Pennsylvania and New Jersey, he will fail of an election by two votes, should he receive the support of every other free state.” The letter ends with an electoral breakdown based upon sections — the vote divided between free versus slave states.
|Free States No. of Electoral Votes||Slave StatesNo. of Electoral Votes|
|Rhode Island||4||South Carolina||8|
The electoral math was clear to many in both the North and the South that the new Republican party would be able to capture the White House in 1860 if it could build upon its electoral foundation of 1856. That meant running a moderate who would be appealing in such states as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, California, and Oregon. It was also clear to Southerners that unless they could run a Northern Democrat who was partial to protecting slavery, the electoral math was against them in any election based upon sectional interests.