Eyewitness 1860: Republicans win big in Allegheny County

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The year 1860, like the year 2010, was a good one for Republicans in Pennsylvania.

On Oct. 9, the GOP's candidate for governor, Andrew Curtin, beat Democratic hopeful Henry Donnel Foster. Curtin's win was thought to be a good omen for the upcoming presidential contest on Nov. 6.

Pittsburgh's Democrats, however, were not ready to give up the fight.

"Let no Democrat neglect to cast his VOTE TO-DAY," The Daily Post urged on the morning of the election. "Up and at them, Boys!"

The newspaper's coverage included the list of presidential electors who were pledged to support Northern Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas in his contest against Republican Abraham Lincoln. Two other candidates also were in the race: Southern Democrat John Breckenridge and Constitutional-Union hopeful John Bell.

Turnout would be important, and the Post advised voters not to be disheartened by the party's defeat in the governor's race. "Empires are not lost by single battles, and we have a great Democratic empire to regain. It will be an act of cowardice to stay away from the polls now."

The newspaper was not pleased with the outcome. Lincoln was elected with strong support from Northern voters, but lost the South and border states.

In Allegheny County, Republicans had built up momentum. Lincoln's vote totals were higher than those received by GOP candidate Curtin a month earlier.

While Lincoln had a clear victory in the electoral votes, which are distributed winner-take-all in each state, he did not get a majority of all votes cast. His win was "a triumph of sectionalism," the Post concluded on Nov. 7.

"The Democracy, [meaning the Democratic Party] since the result of the State election, have been disheartened and discouraged," according to the Post. "They have not worked with their accustomed energy ... A great and useful party, through its own folly and divisions has suffered itself to be temporarily overthrown by its enemies."

While talk of secession already was widespread in the Southern states, the Post urged caution and loyalty. "Let us all hope for the best, and as Democrats and true men, stand by the Constitution and Union at all hazards."

In an 1858 speech, just after he was nominated to run for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Lincoln warned that over time the nation could not continue half slave and half free, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," he said. The Post echoed his remark the day after the election: "The house of the Democracy has been divided against itself and it could not stand."

The city's Republicans, on the other hand, were jubilant. When returns from Philadelphia and New York came in showing big majorities for Lincoln, "a scene followed which baffled all description," reported the Pittsburgh Gazette, a strong GOP supporter.

"Round after round of the most deafening cheers were given; hats were waved and some thrown into the air; there was clapping and stamping and every demonstration that could be employed to express the wild and incontrollable enthusiasms that pervaded the tremendous assemblage."

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159. Past stories in the "Eyewitness" series can be read at www.post-gazette.com/pgh250


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