The Election of Old “Abe” Lincoln

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Kansas City Public Library

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Whereas today the Lincoln Memorial immortalizes the 16th president of the United States in stone, the adoration was far from universal in his own lifetime, particularly in the Southern and border states such as Missouri. After years of growing tensions between North and South and of violence along the Missouri-Kansas border, the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, on November 6, 1860, threatened to tear the nation apart.

James Montgomery. Photograph courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.

This letter from a Missouri citizen, David M. Fox, to Governor Robert M. Stewart expressed his fears of what the election of Lincoln would mean for the future of slavery or, as he saw it, the continuation of his property rights, the “property too recognized by the highest law in the land.” Running on the Republican ticket, candidate Lincoln had claimed to oppose the expansion of slavery into the Western territories, but he did not advocate the forced abolition of slavery in the South. Nonetheless, slaveholders viewed his campaign platform with deep suspicion, and the Southern states began seceding from the Union in the months between his election and his inauguration as president.

In his letter to the governor of Missouri, dated November 27, 1860, David M. Fox complained of the “Election of Old ‘Abe’ Lincoln . . . by a fanatical section of the Country” and urged the governor to defend Missouri slaveholders against abolitionist “jayhawkers” from Kansas. Fox especially denounced “the great nigger thief,” James Montgomery, who in 1858 had become notorious for his raid on the proslavery Western Hotel in Fort Scott, Kansas, and then again for his jayhawking raids against Missouri slaveholdings in 1860.

Fox continued to encourage Governor Stewart to raise arms against Montgomery’s jayhawkers, writing that they could not afford to wait for Lincoln to take office and move against slavery. Fox mocked men who would complain that they lacked the weapons and manpower to defend themselves, adding that,

The meanest insect in the world when trodden upon makes a show of resistance, and repels the injury with all the power at its command, but for the want of sufficient power. . . . How unlike some other beings bearing and wearing the name of men who when they are attacked, and their property taken from them yield at once, give up the ghost and say we will wait until we see what Lincoln does.

The letter from David M. Fox probably arrived too late to influence the governor’s decision, but in November 1860 Stewart deployed a 600-strong state militia force, known as the “Southwest Expedition,” to Missouri’s western counties to oppose Montgomery’s jayhawkers. Federal forces under the command of Captain Nathaniel Lyon joined in the pursuit of Montgomery, who in turn managed to escape – allegedly with Lyon’s sympathetic assistance.


Additional Resources

Earle, Jonathan. "Kansas Territory, the Election of 1860, and the Coming of the Civil War: A National Perspective." Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library.

Phillips, Christopher. "Montgomery, James." Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library.

Comments

Lincoln was elected and re

Lincoln was elected and re-elected my a Republican machine voter. Both parties did this at the time. How honest were these elections I question. Old machine politics did a lot of good things. My Great farther gota job during the depression from the Democratic machine in Illinois.

Chris
Owner CEL Financial Services

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