If ever the United States required a president capable of working on the bright side of the force it was in early 1861, at a time when internal tensions were tearing apart the Northern from the Southern states.
The Northern states were eager to hide behind trade protection as a means of growing their industrial base in a non-competitive environment. The Southern states were eager for free trade in order further to expand their markets overseas for agricicultural produce and for cotton and tobacco.
The Northern states were anxious about the perceived economic advantage of their Southern compatriots stemming from the use of slave labor and enraged by the perceived immorality of slavery. The Southern states were heavily dependent on such labor and had invested large sums of capital in developing slave labor forces.
An uneasy compromise had carried the nation forward for a decade prior to 1860. The country was divided between slave and non-slave states and the allocation of additional states to slave and non-slave status was determined by the Missouri Compromise. The Electoral College was carefully balanced in this manner, with Democratic Party victories securing the South from political attack on the ‘peculiar institution’.
In 1860, this delicate political balance fractured. The Democrats, meeting in Charleston, South Carolina in April 1860 split on North-South lines. The Northern Democrats supported Stephen Douglas, as their best chance to defeat anti-slavery Republicans. However, despite Douglas’s ardent support for slavery, the Southern Democrats considered Douglas a traitor, because he supported popular sovereignty, permitting the territories to choose not to have slavery. The Southern Democrats stormed out of the convention without choosing a candidate. Six weeks later, the Northern Democrats chose Douglas, while the Southern Democrats chose Vice President John C. Breckenridge.
With the Democratic Party vote split between two candidates, the Republicans sensed a break-through opportunity. Meeting in Chicago in May 1860, they sought a candidate capable of delivering four marginal Northern states – New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Lincoln had made a name for himself in the Douglas -Lincoln debates. Although personally Lincoln had no time for blacks – later advocating a policy of repatriating them all back to their African origins – politically he had debated in favor of ending the ‘peculiar institution’. So the scene was set for a head-on collision.
Fearing for the Union, a group of aging politicians and distinguished citizens, calling themselves the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John Bell of Tennessee, a wealthy slaveholder, as their candidate for president. John Bell promoted moderation with a platform that took no stand on the slavery issue.
With four candidates in the field, Abraham Lincoln took the Electoral College with just 39.8 per cent of the popular vote, 18 out of 33 states and 180 out of 303 electoral college votes. John Breckenridge was the runner-up with 18.1 per cent of the popular vote, 11 states and 72 electoral college votes. John Bell ran third with 12.6 per cent of the popular vote, 3 states and 39 electoral college votes. Stephen Douglas trailed the pack with 29.5 per cent of the popular vote but with only 1 state and 12 electoral college votes.
The division was worse even that these statistics suggest. In the eleven states that would later declare for secession from the Union, ballots for Lincoln were cast only in Virginia where he scraped up a meager 1.1 per cent of the popular vote. In the four slave states that did not ( or were not allowed) to secede – Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware - Lincoln ran fourth in the first three and third in the last-named. So almost all Lincoln’s votes were concentrated in the free states. He won every free state except New Jersey, where the electoral college vote was split.
In such a situation, high quality leadership from a president enthused with the bright side of the force would be essential to preserve the Union. There was, after all, a deal to be struck, if the will was fired up.
Slave-holders had invested in their slaves under the existing rule of law. Dispossession without recompense would breach the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. If those who objected to slavery had been urged to put their money where their mouths were, through a tax to free the slaves, thus enabling the federal government to buy out all slaves from their owners at fair market prices, a potential deal might have been sealed.
The price would have been high for the North, but far less than the ensuing War of Northern Aggression. To sweeten the pot, Lincoln might have offered to soften Northern industrial protection in order to allow the reorganizing South to expand its international markets in agricultural products, cotton and tobacco
Instead, a rigid and narrow-minded president prepared for an uncompromising campaign of Southern dispossession. By the time Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office in March 1861, seven Southern states had already seceded from the Union. Lincoln delivered his inaugural address shielded behind a military cordon, with streets lined with soldiers and with riflemen watching from the rooftops and from the windows in the wings of the Capitol.
The harm inflicted on the Constitution of the United States by Lincoln’s unremitting application of the dark side of the force following his electoral victory, will be briefly outlined in tomorrow’s column. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Abraham Lincoln would not be allowed sufficient time on Earth to slip through the narrow window of opportunity provided by the dark side of the force, once he had won the War, in order to leave a legacy of goodwill and good cheer to a badly scarred nation.