PARKERSBURG - The 1864 election, in many respects, was the same as many others up through the modern day, with mud-slinging, political party in-fighting, rumors and political maneuvering.
However, there were some stark differences between the election of that year and now, including the platforms of the two major parties at the time, little or no campaigning by the two actual candidates, and the literal fate of a nation at war hanging in the balance.
The final popular vote was Abraham Lincoln, 2,218,388, to George McClellan's 1,812,807. Lincoln was the Republican candidate and George B. McClellan was the Democratic nominee.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Wood County Administrator Marty Seufer has been a student of Lincoln lore for the past 25 years. His collection of Lincoln memorabilia includes numerous vintage newspapers including Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Illustrated and the New York Tribune.
McClellan ran as the "peace candidate" but refused to give campaign speeches or make appearances saying he did not personally back his own party's platform. The Democratic party's platform at that time included demands for an immediate end to the Civil War, and allowing slavery.
Interest in the election now and during Civil War times prompted the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society to invite Wood County Administrator Marty Seufer, a student of Lincoln history for the past 25 years and an ardent collector of Lincoln memorabilia, to give a presentation on the 1864 election.
That presentation will be at 7 p.m. today at the Parkersburg/Wood County Public Library. The presentation is free and open to the public.
There were some firsts from the election 148 years ago.
"The 1864 election was the first time soldiers in the field were permitted to vote absentee, at least in 22 states. Other states required the soldiers go back to their polling place in order to vote," Seufer said.
Now, military personnel, even those stationed overseas, can vote, in some cases, by computer.
Seufer has spent the past 25 years collecting pieces of Lincoln lore and memorabilia including a number of national newspapers. One of those publications contains a report of Lincoln's reaction to his nomination.
According to the Chicago Courier at the time, Lincoln looked at the scrap of paper with the note on it saying he'd been nominated, rose and put the paper in his vest pocket quietly remarking, "There's a little woman down at our house would like to hear this, I'll go down and tell her."
"When the war was going badly, the public wanted to take it out on the administration," Seufer said. "Many, including many in Lincoln's own party, and Lincoln himself at times felt he was going to lose."
There were splinter groups of the Republican Party including one called The Radicals.
"Lincoln was not anti-slavery enough for them," Seufer noted. "They wanted harsh policies for the rebels, and all the slaves freed immediately."
There were splits in the Democrats as well, with some members of that party supporting Lincoln and others opposed to the war and Lincoln. The Copperheads was another name for those known as the Peace Democrats.
"They actually took Indian Head copper pennies, cut out Lady Liberty and wore them on their lapels. The Peace Democrats opposed the war, wanting an immediate settlement with the Confederacy," Seufer said.
The 1864 National Union Party convention, as it was called, convened in June in Baltimore, Md., in the midst of the Civil War. The "National Union" party name was an acknowledgment by the Republicans of the Democrats who had supported President Abraham Lincoln's war policy. Democrats were also urged to attend the convention.
All northern states sent delegates to the convention, along with a limited number of southern slave states. The credentials committee recommended all the southern states except South Carolina be admitted, but denied the right to vote. Ultimately, the recommendation was that some states be denied voting rights and that South Carolina, as the "birthplace of the rebellion," be excluded entirely.
The National Union Party platform called for a forceful campaign to win the war, unconditional surrender by the south and elimination of slavery ratified in a constitutional amendment.
The Democratic National Convention was held in the Amphitheater in Chicago, Ill., and nominated McClellan from New Jersey for president and Representative George H. Pendleton of Ohio for vice president. McClellan, 37 at the time of the convention, and Pendleton, 39, were the youngest presidential ticket ever nominated as of 2012.