Presidential election year parallels situation in 1864 (2-6-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 7, 1944)


History repeating itself –
Presidential election year parallels situation in 1864

Demand for ‘military man’ and soldier vote were issues when Lincoln ran 80 years ago
By Homer D. Place

For the first time in 80 years, a presidential election will be held while America is at war.

Mr. Roosevelt cannot continue as President after Jan. 20, 1945, unless he is reelected and the election cannot be put off because of the war.

The Constitution of the United States calls for the election of a President every four years. It does not take into account whether there is war or peace.

The previous presidential election in wartime in American history was that of Abraham Lincoln who was reelected on Nov. 8, 1864, during the critical period of the Civil War.

Army morale low

Early in June of that year, reports of the Union disaster at Cold Harbor began to filter into Washington.

Against a backdrop of this and other military defeats, the National Union Convention was staged in Baltimore June 7, and Lincoln was nominated for a second term.

As a gesture to the South, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee was picked as Lincoln’s running mate, no doubt, with little expectation that Mr. Johnson would ever become the Chief Executive. He had been military governor of his home state for two years and was an ardent Unionist.

Democrats name McClellan

The Democratic Party belatedly held its national convention at Chicago Aug. 29, 1864, and nominated as its standard bearer, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, “the idol of the Army of the Potomac” and successor to the aged Gen. Winfield Scott as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army.

One of the key planks in the Democratic platform declared “the war has been a failure.” This clause in the platform put Gen. McClellan in a difficult position. He had been the popular commander of an important segment of the Union Army which his party declared had failed. He repudiated the platform and took the stump depending largely for success on his personal popularity.

Open season for snipers

The bitter campaign was marked by flagrant disloyalty. It was an open season for snipers. They fired on the administration from the vantage points of high office and from the muffled corners of Congressional cloakrooms. Some high officials publicly denounced the administration and called for new leadership.

One of the most outspoken critics of the President was a member of his Cabinet, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who openly announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President. Another was Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, whose radical tendencies became so evident that President Lincoln asked for his resignation.

‘Military man’ urged

Members of Lincoln’s party demanded the President withdraw as the nominee on the ground that a military man was needed in the White House.

The President told a delegation from the Union League which came to serenade him after his nomination:

I have never permitted myself to conclude that I am the best man in America. I am reminded in this connection of a story of an old Dutch farmer who remarked, “It is not best to swap horses while crossing the stream.”

President Roosevelt recently demanded of Congress passage of the Green-Lucas-Worley soldier-vote bill.

It’s an old story

This program has irked the Republican leaders now as it did the Democrats 80 years ago.

The October elections of 1864 in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana were watched as indicative of the drift of political sentiment. Soldiers from the first of these states were enabled by law to vote in the field. From barracks and the hospitals of the Capital district, ballots were collected.

The Republican majority was swelled by shipping home about 10,000 Pennsylvania soldier from Sheridan’s Army, because Pennsylvania was a doubtful state.

Army backs President

Even with the help of soldiers rushed home at the last minute to vote, the administration carried Pennsylvania by only a small majority.

The whole power of the War Department was thrown behind the President. Officers known to the admirers of Gen. McClellan were declined promotion. Furloughs were granted soldiers known to be Republicans and thousands jammed the Northbound trains which carried them to doubtful districts. Democratic ballots were seized by administration workers and never reached New York to be counted.

Lincoln reelected

The election was held Nov. 8. On Nov. 10, when the reelection of President Lincoln seemed assured, he told a delegation which came to serenade him:

A presidential election, occurring in regular course during the Rebellion, added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people. United, were put to the utmost of their strength by the Rebellion, must they not fail when divided and partially paralyzed by a political war among themselves?

But the election was a necessity. We cannot have a free government without elections; and if the Rebellion could force us to forego or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The election, along with its incidental and undesirable strife… has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election in the midst of a great civil war.