Today is an election day for the ages. But there was another huge election day. It happened 152 years ago today – November 8, 1864. That was the day Abraham Lincoln was elected to a second term. Little did they know how short that term would be.
On November 8, 1864, Northern states overwhelmingly endorsed the leadership and policies of President Lincoln when they elected him once again. With his reelection, any hope for a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy vanished. At this time, Lincoln faced many challenges to his presidency.
The war was now in its fourth year, and many were questioning if the South could ever be fully conquered militarily. Union General Ulysses S. Grant mounted a massive campaign in the spring of that year to finally defeat the Confederate army of General Robert E. Lee, but after sustaining significant losses at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, the Yankees bogged down around Petersburg, Virginia.
Some of the Radical Republicans were unhappy with Lincoln’s conciliatory plan for the reconstruction of the South. Many Notherners had never been happy with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which converted the war from one of reunion to a crusade to destroy slavery. Weariness with the war fueled calls for a compromise with the seceded states. Five months after Lincoln’s reelection, the collapse of the Confederacy was complete.
The lesson of the 1864 election is that elections have consequences. Lincoln’s opponent would have likely signed a peace treaty with the South that would have sealed the permanence of the Confederate States. By this time tomorrow, we will probably know who our next President will be. And this election will have consequences.
There is another lesson from the 1864 election. Memories fade. Can you name the Democratic nominee who lost to Lincoln in 1864? I didn’t think so. His name was George B. McClellan. He was a Union General who would go on to be elected Governor of New Jersey. But he lost his race for the presidency. And today, no one remembers his name.
It’s hard to imagine ever forgetting the names of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But fast forward to the year 2168. It will have been 152 years since this dreadful election. Perhaps the nation will no longer remember the election of 2016 – or its candidates. One can only hope.