NOTE: This reprint of my column from Gazette Newspapers on Lincoln's birthday this year seems especially relevant now, when the role of political party delegates in Presidential nominations is under high discussion. Apparently the topic is far from a new one.---Rose Moore
MAY OF 1860--Republicans were gathered in Chicago in a brand new convention hall, built by the Republican party and for the Republican party. It housed this second annual Republican Presidential Convention to nominate the party's Presidential candidate.
That hall--nicknamed "The Wigwam"-- accommodated more than 10,000 people. Up to that point in our country, that was an unprecedented number of people to be gathered under one roof, .
New York's William H. Seward was seen by most as the apparent front-runner. He sent his political team and his political manager Thurlow Weed in his stead, because in those days it wasn't proper for the candidate to attend the convention himself.
A train carried Weed from New York with 70 of his state's delegates, along with a sizable crowd of Seward supporters. It would take 233 votes to win the nomination, and Weed was going forward with the firm conviction that those votes were virtually assured for Seward.
Other candidates included Pennsylvania's Simon Cameron; Ohio's Salmon P. Chase; and Missouri's Edwin Bate. Bate was convinced he had clear advantage, having won the full and powerful support of Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune.
AND THEN THERE WAS a "country bumpkin" lawyer Abraham Lincoln. It was Lincoln that Weed, on behalf of Seward, intended to offer the Vice Presidential spot in an effort to disarm the factor of "the Illinois vote."
But Lincoln had some aces up his own sleeve. His state's delegation had been united into one large Lincoln voting bloc. Representing Lincoln at the convention were his friends David Davis and Norman Judd. Lincoln would stay behind in Springfield to await the results. Davis and Judd had been instructed by Lincoln to "make no deals that bind me."
It seems that Lincoln and his group had more savvy than Seward had presumed. Convinced that Seward would not win the nomination on the first ballot, Lincoln had ordered his managers to work hard to line up additional votes for the second ballot. He had also suggested that Davis and Judd intimidate Seward's delegates by some sort of visible show of ever-increasing strength, such as stirring his Lincoln people into a sustained and loud enthusiasm.
Like today's "everyone loves a winner" strategy, Lincoln was firmly convinced that any such outward show could help to bring people to his side.
DAVIS AND JUDD MADE CERTAIN that Seward's delegates were isolated from each other and away from other delegations with whom they might unite. This was accomplished with a great number of counterfeit tickets distributed to Lincoln's delegates beforehand, with orders to arrive early and displace the Seward groups. Whether Lincoln himself knew about that plan has never been determined.
Men with booming voices were put in charge to lead "STOP SEWARD!" cheering groups, scattered in good numbers throughout the hall, in hopes of establishing the appearance of great Lincoln support. Throughout the goings-on, Seward's managers were holding court, passing out champagne and promising "oceans of money" for the future.
At the same time, Lincoln's men were busy lining up votes from delegates of other states that might not want a Seward win. Indiana committed 26 first ballot votes to Lincoln. Several of the New England states, including New Hampshire and Maine, provided Lincoln with many first ballot votes on which Seward had been planning.
In the second ballot votes, Vermont and several other states began to see the strong, united "STOP SEWARD!" forces growing ever stronger and moving toward Lincoln. And so they too committed most of their subsequent votes to Lincoln.
Pennsylvania had seemed to be a problem, but that important delegation boarded the pro-Lincoln bandwagon after Davis offered a cabinet position to Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania (even though Lincoln had been firm that his representatives make no pledge on his behalf). With this carrot dangled before them, Cameron's delegations threw their full support to Lincoln.
ON THE FINAL DAY, Seward's handlers hired a large brass marching band and, followed by at least a thousand Seward supporters, marched the pro-Seward message throughout the streets of the city. But that strategy backfired. Arriving at the hall, they found themselves unable to enter. Lincoln's men had entered early with their fake tickets and had taken all their seats!
Seward still had his supporters, and when his name was offered in nomination, a great applause went up from the audience. But when Lincoln's name was offered, it was followed by a louder and much rowdier applause. It was then that the conventioneers began to see Lincoln as the clear front-runner who could win success for the party in the actual election.
WHEN SEWARD'S NAME was seconded in the final ballots, the reaction remained undeniably strong. But he was foiled when the second to Lincoln's nomination was followed by five thousand cheering, stomping people leaping from their seats, with a shocking depth of sound and fury which was intensified with steam whistles and hotel gongs.
With each ballot, Lincoln continued to pick up votes until he possessed 231 and a half votes--one and a half short of nomination. The hall was suddenly silent; you could feel the tension; you could hear the breathing...
D. K. Carter of Ohio arose from his place in the audience. In suppressed excitement, he stammered: "I-I arise, Mr. Chairman, to a-announce the ch-change of four votes, from Mr. Chase to Abraham Lincoln!"
It took a moment to process what had happened, and then the hall erupted into a deafening roar, louder even than the sound of cannons being fired outside.
Ohio had carried the day! Lincoln had the nomination, and America would later choose him as our nation's 16th president.
In a spirit of reconciliation, Lincoln appointed Seward as Secretary of State; Cameron as Secretary of War; Chase as Secretary of the Treasury; and Bate as Attorney General.
All these men were former Lincoln foes, and bringing them into the fold was a deliberate move on Lincoln's part, to unify his party.