The 1864 Campaign

The election was a contentious one. President Lincoln, a Republican who had served during the first four years of the Civil War, was running against Democrat George McClellan, who had served as a Major General in the war. The biggest issue in 1864, of course, was how to end the bloody war that had consumed the nation. The "Copperheads," also called "Peace Democrats," supported a peace agreement between the Union and the Confederacy at all costs, even if this meant breaking up the Union or compromising with the Southern states.

Lincoln's issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 helped set the tone of the presidential campaign. McClellan believed that the proclamation was a radical step that didn't address the problems inherent in freeing thousands of slaves, and that Lincoln was a social tyrant whose actions would facilitate political upheaval and would sustain the division of the Union.

Lincoln's campaign material emphasized images of peace and the maintenance of one unified Nation. His political strategy descended from that of William Henry Harrison. Harrison's "log cabin and hard cider" campaign image, and his unprecedented "hurrah" and "hullabaloo" rallies won the 1840 election. In Lincoln's 1860 campaign, the presidential hopeful used similar images, portraying himself as a rugged clean-shaven rail splitter from Macon County, Illinois. Many illustrated images showed him engaged in physical labor, although by profession Lincoln was a lawyer.

Lincoln won the 1860 election, despite the fact that competitor Stephen Douglas circulated a great deal of material making use of the relatively new process of photography. The images were placed on pins, and "songsters" were distributed containing songs that glee clubs and other musical groups could perform to support their candidate.

Shortly after Lincoln's inauguration in 1861, the Civil War began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. The challenges Lincoln faced as president allowed the public to see his leadership skills and earned him respect in the Northern states.

The strong facial features of Lincoln became well-known as he faced the tribulations of the Civil War and presidential affairs. His deep-set eyes, highly pitched cheek bones, and robust nose became noble features that came to represent his leadership skills in office. His beard added the aura of a respected sage. When preparations began for the 1864 campaign, Lincoln's rail splitter image had evolved to its mature counterpart, the noble and concerned father of the Union. Supporters wore small pins with Lincoln's photograph and sang songs from widely-circulated songsters.

This exhibit features songs from an Abraham Lincoln Songster circulated during the 1864 presidential campaign. The songs borrow melodies from old-time favorites such as Yankee Doodle, changing the lyrics to praise Lincoln or ridicule McClellan. "Yankee Doodle went to town," became "How are you, Mister Little 'Mac?'" as sloganeers worked to garner support for Lincoln. Slogans, brass pins, shiny tokens, colorful flags, and inspiring songs gave Lincoln's second campaign a good deal of popular appeal, and approximately 55 percent of the popular vote.

The items shown on these pages give a glimpse the patriotic spirit of Lincoln's day through the images and songs.

Above left, title page of the Lincoln Campaign Songster from the Carl E. and Amelia Dorr Collection of the Syracuse University Library. Philadelphia: Mason & Co., No. 58 North Sixth Street, 1864.

Lower right, last page of the Lincoln Campaign Songster with a price list of campaign pins.

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