Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864

In the summer of 1864, the chances of Abraham Lincoln’s reelection looked dim, and he knew it. The election was critical – a Lincoln loss could very well have changed the course of history as the alternative platform was peace at the price of revoking emancipation. The very fact that an election was being held as the country was tearing itself apart was historic.

But Lincoln did win the election. The reasons are many, and the Lincoln Group of DC explored them all on November 8, 2014 – the 150th anniversary to the day – in a full-day symposium “The Election of 1864.”

Thomas Horrocks

An impressive assemblage of Lincoln historians came together to discuss the election. Starting off the day was Thomas Horrocks, Director of the John Hay Library at Brown University. Horrocks recounted the many campaign biographies that helped create a new image for the incumbent president in “The Rail-Splitter as Father Abraham: Campaign Biographies.”

Elizabeth VaronElizabeth Varon, Professor of History at the University of Virginia, then provided some insights on the election from the South in her talk “Catastrophe or Setback? The Election of 1864 in Confederate Eyes.”


Jennifer Weber“The Summer of ’64” was a critical time period that significantly impacted the election, said University of Kansas Professor Jennifer Weber, author of Copperheads. Grant’s overland campaign had even die-hard Unionists war weary; Weber explored many reasons how military disasters turned into Union – and Lincoln’s – victories.


Jonathan W. WhiteSpeaking of the military, the soldier vote was crucial to Lincoln’s electoral victory in November. Christopher Newport University Professor and historian Jonathan W. White examined voting dynamics that possibly changed the outcome of the election in “Emancipation and the Soldier Vote of 1864.”


Michael BurlingameFollowing these great talks was our keynote speaker, noted historian Michael Burlingame, author and editor of numerous books on Abraham Lincoln. In a wide-ranging talk, Burlingame brought us into the opposition Lincoln faced in reelection, including many in his own party. His “Radicals, Abolitionists, and Lincoln’s Reelection” explored the fickleness not just of the public, but of the lawmakers and generals who worked for and against Lincoln.

White, Burlingame, Varon, Weber, Horrocks

But wait, there’s more. All five speakers sat en banc for a panel discussion and took questions from the audience packed into the benches of the E. Barrett Prettyman US District Courthouse. Participation was active and informed, and the panelists were challenged to provide additional information expanding on their topics.

If you missed this historic event, you’re in luck. The entire symposium was captured by C-SPAN and will be airing in its entirety on Friday, November 28, 2014 beginning at 8:00 am (and repeated beginning at 8:00 pm). For more information go to www.c-span.org/history.

I’ll post more about the symposium soon, and be sure to check out the Lincoln Group of DC website for more information on upcoming events. Follow us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook, and Link with us on LinkedIn to keep up to date on events and fast facts about Abraham Lincoln.

David J. Kent is a lifelong Lincolnophile and is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. His most recent article, “Lincoln and the Rule of Three,” was published in the September 2014 issue of The Lincolnian. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and an ebook Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time

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  1. Pingback: Shaken, Stirred, Abraham Lincoln, and the Climate Crisis | Science Traveler

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