15. A House Divided
15. A House Divided

“Stephen Douglas knew he had alienated the powerful southern faction. First, he had pushed for a homestead act and Kansas-Minnesota. Then, he sanctioned a free-soil legislature and dissolved the pro-slavery one. And worst of all to the south, he had endorsed admitting Kansas as a free state. In April 1860, just weeks before the Democratic convention in Cincinnati, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis resigned in protest of US soldiers forcing the Lecompton legislature to disband. “I can see no difference between the President and the Whig abolitionist radicals,” he wrote. The day after leaving Douglas’s cabinet, Davis declared his candidacy for President.

Alexander Stephens, who had left the Whigs to become a Democrat in 1857, immediately endorsed Davis. Stephens had been instrumental in building southern support for Kansas-Minnesota but had been dismayed by Douglas’s support for the free-soil legislature. “He has forsaken the Democratic principles that he claims to cherish,” Stephens declared. “He has cast his lot in with the radical abolitionists in the Whigs to stamp out the rightful legislature in Lecompton.” Within days, Preston Brooks, Robert Rhett, James Buchanan, and Franklin Pierce all supported Davis. Pierce wrote that Douglas had failed to put unity and sectional harmony first, and that he was too beholden to northern interests to govern properly. Vice President Fitzpatrick announced his refusal to run on a ticket with Douglas a second time and endorsed Davis as well.

Douglas had expected this sort of revolt. In a speech the day before the convention, he defended himself from Davis, Stephens, and Pierce. “The real dereliction would be to allow the ratification of that fraudulent submission from Lecompton. The assembly in Lawrence was bestowed with the people’s legitimacy, and to oppose the popular mandate would be to take aim at our whole republican system of government.”

Meanwhile, free-soil Democrats mounted a challenge of their own. David Wilmot, one of the authors of the Appeal of the Independent Democrats, denounced the President as insufficiently friendly to the north. Douglas criticized Wilmot for supposedly supporting full equality for blacks, saying “this government was made by our fathers on the white basis… it is dangerous for men of high office to insinuate otherwise.”

The first battle between Douglas and Davis was fought over the platform. Davis knew that Douglas would refuse the nomination if the platform was too pro-slavery and sought to take control of the committee in charge of drafting it. Davis successfully placed his allies on the platform committee, and they did indeed produce a pro-slavery draft. However, northern delegates narrowly adopted a platform of their own design over the southern backed one. Davis had to plead with the more radical pro-slavery delegates to stay at the convention, although he could not prevent the South Carolina and Alabama delegations from walking out [1].

The President led on the first ballot, but he fell short of a majority. His allies defeated an effort by Davis to instate a 2/3 rule before the second ballot, an important victory for Douglas. However, the convention ruled that Douglas needed a majority of all the delegates, not just those present, to win. On the second ballot, David Wilmot lost most of his western supporters to Douglas, who in turn came just short of a majority. Despite Jefferson Davis’s warnings of a southern defection, most northern delegates remained behind Douglas. On the third ballot, the President narrowly secured his renomination as Wilmot’s campaign collapsed completely. In protest, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens led a walkout of the rest of the southern delegates to join the South Carolina and Alabama delegations at a splinter convention in Charleston. There, Davis was nominated for President with Stephens as his running mate, and the pro-slavery platform was adopted without any northerners to object.

The Cincinnati convention proceeded without Davis and the south. In a play for Seward’s home state of New York, Douglas arranged for Secretary of State Seymour to be nominated for Vice President. Seymour had run the State department cautiously, preventing any filibusters from disturbing Douglas’s plans and negotiating trade deals with Hawaii and Nicaragua. With no southern delegates to oppose him, Seymour defeated token free-soil resistance to win the nomination on the first ballot.


Presidential vote123Vice-Presidential vote1
S. Douglas126144161H. Seymour204
J. Davis1009896Absent63
Absent171717D. Wilmot26
D. Wilmot393321
Other663Other5



Douglas understood that the southern walkout effectively doomed his chances of reelection. He was nevertheless determined to “contest this election to [his] utmost,” because he viewed William Seward, the likely Whig nominee, as a radical and the National Union party as too southern dominated for its own good. The rump Democratic convention convened with an air of foreboding…”

-From IN THE SHADOW OF JACKSON by Michelle Watts, published 2012

“The violence in Kansas had energized the Whigs, while Douglas’s steadfast support for popular sovereignty had badly wounded the Democrats. For the first time, free-soil Whigs were confident in victory. They held their convention in Chicago, in President Douglas’s home state of Illinois. Previously a solidly Democratic state, the Whigs had enjoyed high-profile electoral successes there, like winning the Governorship and Lincoln’s victory in the 1858 Senate election.

William Seward was widely expected to run. He had been instrumental in denying Fillmore the nomination four years prior, and he had spent the intervening time building up a political war chest and networking with Whig party leaders. His longtime backer, Thurlow Weed, had skimmed from canal tolls to fund campaign operations and was an influential newspaper publisher. And Seward had kept his rhetoric moderate, even during Bleeding Kansas [2]. Few Whigs wanted to oppose him – Charles Sumner endorsed him, as did Abraham Lincoln, who was widely seen as a potential challenger. Two other serious candidates did step forward to challenge Seward – Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio and former Attorney General Edward Bates of Missouri.

Wade was seen as too radical, and radicals who might have supported him, like Thaddeus Stevens, had already declared for Senator Seward. Bates was, conversely, too conservative for the dominant free-soilers. He had enforced the detested Fugitive Slave Act, though he had also helped slaves gain their freedom in a series of high-profile lawsuits during the late 1850s. his initial supporter, newspaperman Horace Greeley, would later defect to Seward. There was some doubt that Seward could win the nomination, but he had cleared the field of his most formidable challengers and the other two candidates were generally unacceptable to the convention.

Many southern states refused to send delegates to the Whigs [3], instead treating the National Union party as the Whigs’ successor. Thus, the convention was much smaller, and the nominee was guaranteed to be a free-soiler. Edward Bates received the support of the few southern states present at the convention, while Benjamin Wade was backed by his home state of Ohio and neighboring midwestern states. However, his decidedly radical views prevented him from gaining much traction.

With limited opposition, William Seward was nominated by a comfortable margin on the first ballot. By the motion of Benjamin Wade, this was amended to a unanimous nomination by acclamation in a show of party unity. For Vice President, the party nominated Congressman Joshua Giddings of Ohio. Giddings was a leading abolitionist, which appeased the Wade camp. He was also from a western state, which would help Seward challenge Douglas on his home turf.


Presidential vote1Vice-Presidential vote1
W. Seward146J. Giddings153
E. Bates50A. Lincoln81
B. Wade46
Other5Other23



The party platform included standard Whig fare – an increase in the tariff and funding for internal improvements. Prominently, this plank included a call for the construction of a transcontinental railroad. What dominated the headlines, however, where the platform planks that concerned slavery and Kansas. The “right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions” was affirmed. On Kansas, the platform declared: “the decision made by the lawful citizens of Kansas Territory to prohibit slavery must be respected and Kansas admitted as a state with all due speed.” The rest of the territories, however, “must be incorporated as free territories for settlement by free men.” The platform was toned down from the more radical and hastier 1856 document, and the announcement of the tariff and western planks sparked cheers and jubilant chants from the assembled delegates [4].”

-From THE EVOLUTION OF THE WHIGS by James Welter, published 1997

“Douglas warned that the nation was teetering on the brink of civil war and that electing Seward would only worsen the situation. He also cautioned the south against secession, calling it “a treasonous folly.” He defied the precedent that candidates let others campaign for them by going on a speaking tour of the north and the upper south (Douglas did not even appear on the Democratic ballot in the south – there, for all intents and purposes Jefferson Davis was the Democratic nominee, and efforts by Douglas's supporters were hindered by violent mobs harassing organizers). Even as he was mocked as desperate, newspapermen observed that Douglas looked ill – decades of energetic politicking and his recent reversal of fortunes had left his voice hoarse and his face gaunt.

The Whigs turned their campaign into a spectacle – parades, banners, and endless propagandizing in the Whig presses. Seward made only a few speeches, the most notable of which was in response to the claim that his election would spark a civil war. “The slave power, with muttering voice and feeble gestures,” he declared. “Nobody’s afraid. Nobody can be bought.” Privately, Seward believed that talk of secession was merely a bluff and thought that it would blow over once he refused to back down. Despite the declarations of Douglas, Bell, and Davis that Seward stood for abolition, the Whigs refused to engage. They were not abolitionists, Abraham Lincoln said in Peoria. The Whigs stood simply “for the principle of Free Soil in the west.”

Seward also made a play for the immigrant vote. As Governor of New York, he had pushed education reforms to improve English literacy among the children of immigrants. As a Presidential candidate, Seward tacitly approved of the Wide Awakes, a youth organization that held parades, voter registration drives, and campaign events for the Whigs. Seward quietly brought immigrant children into the organization, in order to convince immigrant communities to support the Whigs. While nativist Whigs opposed this, Seward reasoned that improving relations with immigrants would make all the difference in New York and western states like Ohio and Wisconsin [5]. While Seward also tried to court the catholic German vote [6], little effort was made to appeal to Irish immigrants, however, who were seen as unshakably Democratic.

Whigs dismissed the southern Democratic campaign. William Seward mocked it as “hysterical, fanciful protestations.” While Davis remained at his plantation estate, his surrogates ran a furious campaign. Preston Brooks, William Yancey, and Robert Rhett in particular spoke frequently. The Whigs were outlaws, Brooks declared in a feverish address in Tennessee. “They are worse than pirates or murderers,” Yancey railed. “A pirate wants treasure; a murderer is just one man. But the Whigs want nothing less than the destruction of our economy and way of life. They want to put us to the torch.” Davis privately disapproved of these inflammatory speeches, but he recognized that they riled up voters to vote for him and not the National Unionists or Douglas. Southern Democrats formed militias that chased off Whig organizers and Douglas Democrats. A few were even killed.

The National Unionists were largely shut out of the north by the Whig’s superior organization. The National Union had inherited the infrastructure of the disorganized and weakened southern Whigs, leaving them struggling to counter Douglas and Davis in the hotly contested upper south. John Bell, the National Union nominee, criticized both Seward and Davis as extremists who would destroy the union. Only careful compromise, Bell said, could save the United States. Both Seward and Davis retorted that the other side was the real extremist who wanted disunion.

However, Douglas and Bell found themselves fighting against the tide. Years of compromise had left both the north and the south angry and frustrated, and they each were loudly indicating their preferences for sectional candidates and not the ineffectual, embattled ‘national’ or ‘compromise’ candidates that had so uninspired the voting public over the last decade. This trend was emphasized by the results of the October gubernatorial elections, where free-soil Whigs won Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election in a landslide and narrowly won in Indiana, previously a Democratic-leaning state.


William SewardJefferson DavisJohn BellStephen Douglas
Electoral Vote166615021
Popular Vote1,912,584759,077610,9011,480,233
Percentage40.215.912.831.1



…The old guard was swept aside in 1860. Jefferson Davis swept the deep south, while William Seward won every northern state except Illinois. Stephen Douglas, in fact, won just two states: his home state, and Missouri. The National Union came in third, clinging to the upper south in a rebuke of compromises that satisfied no one and angered everyone. The Whigs seized a narrow majority of the House, their first outright majority since 1846. Despite failing to win a Senate majority, the Whigs enjoyed the support of free-soil Democrats like Salmon Chase, which gave the north a Senate majority.

William Seward’s victory shocked the south. It was the first time in American history that a candidate had won without winning a single southern state (although Seward did narrowly lose Delaware). Jefferson Davis wrote to a colleague that “I fear the south’s patience is nearing its end. A compromise must be reached, but I doubt the Whigs will prove willing to negotiate.” Preston Brooks loudly warned “that Seward and his abolitionist confederates must tread carefully, or they shall pay dearly for seeking to destroy the very foundations of southern society.” The Wide Awakes were seen not as youths increasing Whig turnout, but as violent thugs who would help the Whigs enforce abolition on the south.

…In his first speech after the election, President-elect Seward, in an attempt to assuage southern concerns, declared “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I am not inclined to do so.” Most southerners, however, didn’t believe him. The sectional crisis was about to reach its boiling point.”

-UNEASY SILENCE: AMERICA IN THE ANTEBELLUM by John Erwin, published 2021

[1] OTL, the entirety of the deep south walked out.
[2] TTL, Seward doesn’t make the radical or fiery speeches that gave him his OTL reputation as a radical, so he’s seen as more electable.
[3] OTL, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, Maryland, and Delaware sent delegates to the Republican convention. TTL, Tennessee does as well.
[4] The OTL 1860 Republican convention also placed a stronger emphasis on tariffs and railroads than on slavery.
[5] OTL, Lincoln and the Republicans actively courted the (Protestant) immigrant vote. TTL, Seward makes even more of an effort, including using Wide Awakes to bring immigrant communities into the free-soil coalition (aside from the Irish).
[6] OTL, Lincoln made little effort to court Catholics at all. TTL, Seward tries a little harder at getting the German Catholic vote.
 
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The National Unionists were largely shut out of the north by the Whig’s superior organization. The National Union had inherited the infrastructure of the disorganized and weakened southern Whigs, leaving them struggling to counter Douglas and Davis in the hotly contested upper south. John Bell, the National Union nominee, criticized both Seward and Davis as extremists who would destroy the union. Only careful compromise, Bell said, could save the United States. Both Seward and Davis retorted that the other side was the real extremist who wanted disunion.
William SewardStephen DouglasJohn CrittendenJefferson Davis
Electoral Vote166574035
Popular Vote1,912,5841,480,233610,901759,077
Percentage40.231.112.815.9
Wonderful passage and I cannot wait for the electoral map! My only note is that you clearly state John Bell is the National Union nominee, but list John Crittenden on your table.
 
How did Stephen Douglas get 57 electoral votes if he only won Illinois and Missouri? By my count, that looks like it should be about 20 electoral votes if the totals are the same as IOTL, and even with the different borders of TTL I cannot imagine how those two states could have gotten an extra 37 electoral votes between them. Even 35 (assuming you swapped Davis and Douglas in the table) seems implausible.
 
Wonderful passage and I cannot wait for the electoral map! My only note is that you clearly state John Bell is the National Union nominee, but list John Crittenden on your table.
Thanks!
And yeah, that's a mistake. Bell is the NU nominee. Thanks for pointing that out.
How did Stephen Douglas get 57 electoral votes if he only won Illinois and Missouri? By my count, that looks like it should be about 20 electoral votes if the totals are the same as IOTL, and even with the different borders of TTL I cannot imagine how those two states could have gotten an extra 37 electoral votes between them. Even 35 (assuming you swapped Davis and Douglas in the table) seems implausible.
That was an error on my part -- I accidentally used an old electoral map I made a few weeks ago. I updated the table to reflect the actual results.
 
With Seward on the horizon, I can already smell the gunpowder and hear the whistle of cannon shot into the upcoming Civil War. Always appreciate a good battle within the Democratic Party between Senators Davis and Douglas, however. It such as interesting conflict that there was even a book recently published on the topic.

By the way, I applaud your use of an excellent name for an alternate history as this chapter's title.
 
With Seward on the horizon, I can already smell the gunpowder and hear the whistle of cannon shot into the upcoming Civil War. Always appreciate a good battle within the Democratic Party between Senators Davis and Douglas, however. It such as interesting conflict that there was even a book recently published on the topic.

By the way, I applaud your use of an excellent name for an alternate history as this chapter's title.
Just one more chapter to go, in fact!
What book is that? I might check it out.
As for the chapter title, it was a coincidence, I swear! :)
Who is Bell's running mate?
Sam Houston.
 
The 1860 Presidential election:
Screenshot 2022-02-14 at 20-15-48 Danger Is My Middle Name sandbox(1).png
 
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It remains striking how starkly divided the country was along these geopolitical lines before the Civil War broke out. Maybe a bit premature, but I’m excited to see what role Lincoln will play in US politics in the future.
 
You got Crittendened again, my friend. This time his name appears next to the purple square on the bottom right of the map.
*facepalm* Just fixed it. I thought I de-Crittenden-ified everything.
It remains striking how starkly divided the country was along these geopolitical lines before the Civil War broke out. Maybe a bit premature, but I’m excited to see what role Lincoln will play in US politics in the future.
It's also interesting how quickly, both OTL and ITTL, the south and north went from competitive for both parties to the sharp polarization in 1856 and 1860.
And Lincoln will have a role to play, I won't say how big, though.
 
Finally caught up! Quite the ride! It looks like we might actually get a few months of peace in Seward's term rather than the immediate war that faced Lincoln in OTL.
 
Maybe Crittenden was there because there was a crossover between The American System and A House Divided Against Itself universes like the Jimmy-Timmy Power Hour trilogy I loved as a kid.
 
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Finally caught up! Quite the ride! It looks like we might actually get a few months of peace in Seward's term rather than the immediate war that faced Lincoln in OTL.
Indeed— the south is marginally more willing than otl to give the new northern majority a try.
Arguing Until Doomsday, I believe. I've been looking to read it for a while, but haven't found a good opportunity to get the book yet.
I looked it up — it sounds really interesting. I had no idea Douglas and Davis were such rivals.
Maybe Crittenden was there because there was a crossover between The American System and A House Divided Against Itself universes like the Jimmy-Timmy Power Hour trilogy I loved as a kid.
It’s like Into the Spiderverse, all of the John Crittendens from other timelines are just appearing!
 
Well let's see what spark ignites the Civil War ITTL.

and the announcement of the tariff and western planks sparked cheers and jubilant chants from the assembled delegates [4].”
Whigs foaming at the mouth in hysterical joy for tarriffs.
If you're black, then yeah things are definitely worse than OTL, especially in the south.
Knowing how things went... poorly in OTL, the fact its worse ITTL is rather depressing.
 
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