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The Presidential Contest in America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1289, p. 543.

November 26, 1864

(From a Correspondent.)
New York, Nov. 3.

The struggle for the presidency increases in interest as well as in bitterness. The passions of both parties have been excited, and accusations of fraud and falsification of balloting papers, committed, attempted, and planned, have been as thick as

Iron sleet of arrowy shower.
On the side of the Republican, or Lincoln, party, nothing is heard but a daily din of "Treason! treason!" while on that of the Democratic, or M'Clellan, party, as vehement a cry is continually raised of "Tyranny!" and "Usurpation!" The partizans of Mr. Lincoln have the advantage of possession, and unwisely threaten to employ the military force at their disposal to keep the peace on the day of election, to prevent the reception of illegal and fictitious votes, and to arrest all "traitors" and other "disloyal" or "suspected" persons who shall present themselves at the polls. The opposing party, scandalised at the accusation either of "treason" or "disloyalty" directed against them by a faction that misuses the accident of its being the faction of the "ins" and not of the "outs," declares, in the plainest English, its determination to resist by force of arms any attempt on the part of the Federal Government or its military officials to coerce the people, or interfere with the freest exercise of the constitutional right. They assert that the presence of soldiers at the polls, except as citizens, to cast in their votes like the rest, is an outrage upon public liberty which cannot be tolerated, unless the Americans are prepared to accept a military despotism and to allow Mr. Lincoln to perpetuate his power by the bayonet. It must be remembered, however, that the Americans of both parties in the North are more in the habit of "speaking daggers" at each other than of using them; and that, perhaps, all this loud talking is but the bark of a dog that will not bite--mere "buncombe," intended for present effect.

The great bones of contention are--in the first place, the vote of the army; in the second, the vote of the Border States held by military occupancy, and in which so-called "disloyal" people, who will not take a test oath, are to be excluded from the polls. The second difficulty is by far the greater of the two, and threatens, if Mr. Lincoln manage it in the mode proposed by his faithful lieutenant, Mr. Andrew Johnson, in Tennessee, the gravest complications both now and hereafter.

As regards the soldiers, there appears every reason to believe that they are as three to one in favour of General M'Clellan. Although the original army of the Potomac, as it existed under his leadership during the great but indecisive series of battles which ended at Antietam no longer exists; though it has been decimated and re-decimated by fire and sword; though malaria and the camp-fever have stricken down thousands and tens of thousands; though many of the survivors of its earliest combats limp about the streets of Northern cities, the maimed and mutilated veterans of a war in which they can no longer take a part; and though the term of service of vast numbers of the men has expired, and scarcely a tenth of M'Clellan's original soldiers remain in the field, yet the whole army retains the traditions of his command, and the great majority, if not tampered with by their officers in favour of Mr. Lincoln, will cast their votes for their former General. The same feeling, as far as is known, prevails in the other armies of the Republic. The men desire to place a soldier in the presidential chair--more, perhaps, for professional than for political reasons, and possibly because they share with the country at large the impression that Mr. Lincoln has been, is, and must continue to be, a failure, from inherent defect of character and want of ability, and that any change made must be a change for the better.

But, as this result is past hoping for, the vote of the soldiers, however it may happen to fall, is not of vital importance to either candidate. The men are not to vote en masse, as soldiers, but separately, as citizens--the vote being counted to the State in which the soldier had his habitation before entering the service. The decision of the issue, not falling directly to the people, rests ultimately with the States as represented by the electors chosen on the 8th inst. Hence it is that so much importance attaches to the action of the Government in Louisiana, where the Federal authority extends no further than the range of its guns; and in Maryland, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee, where the population is divided in allegiance between the South and the North, and where, if the Federal armies were withdrawn, the Northern party would subside into very small dimensions or wholly disappear. As in these States no one will be allowed to vote who will not take an oath of "loyalty" and approval of the acts of Mr. Lincoln's Government, it follows that the Democratic party and the friends and supporters of General M'Clellan will be disfranchised by military pressure, and that in the electoral college these States will be counted for Mr. Lincoln. This is the great and paramount peril before the country. It would be much better and safer if Mr. Lincoln's advisers would, for the purposes of the election, consider Louisiana as much excluded from the electoral contest as Georgia or the Carolinas, and meddle no further with the polls in the Border States than to preserve the peace between hostile factions. In this case Mr. Lincoln might be defeated, but he would retire from the presidency with honour, and render it impossible for the future historian to say of him, that he preferred the risk of new and endless civil commotions to the peaceful relinquishment of a power which he was incompetent to wield and which the people had made up their minds to confer upon another.

At a meeting, held on Tuesday night last, of a section of the Democratic party--which has broken loose from its old associates and connections and determines to support the vigorous prosecution of the war, and, consequently, Mr. Lincoln as more likely than General M'Clellan to carry out the views of its members--it was proposed, as a future solution of a difficulty which threatens to be chronic, that a convention of the whole people of the States should be called for the amendment of the Constitution. The first amendment proposes the abolition of the Electoral Colleges, with the intention of delegating directly to the people the election of the President and Vice-President; and the second prohibits the re-election of a President or Vice-President for a second term. Were this the law and the Constitution at the present moment, there can be no doubt that a very imminent danger would be averted. But, however admirably the plan might work in the future, it is totally inapplicable in the present. Even General Dix, its proposer, will not carry out his own principle to the extent of voting against Mr. Lincoln. On the contrary, he will not only support him, but will go, and has gone, out of his way, as Military Commander in the district of New York, to support him by extraneous and unconstitutional means. On the pretext that Southern refugees from Canada will cross over into the United States on Tuesday next to offer their votes at the polls, he has declared by military proclamation that he will take possession of all the polling-places on the Canadian frontier in order to preserve the peace. Such an interference as this is wholly gratuitous, and is a gross invasion of the rights and prerogative of Governor Seymour in New York and of the other local Governors in Vermont and Maine, who alone are charged with the duty of maintaining order and tranquillity in the States under their jurisdiction, and have militiamen at their command more than sufficient to meet any such danger as General Dix anticipates, even if it were as real as it is imaginary. The proclamation is one of many that has caused ill feeling, and done far more to diminish the chances of Mr. Lincoln than any act of Mr. Lincoln's opponents. In fact, Mr. Lincoln suffers far more from his friends than from his foes, and has not the courage--perhaps not the wish--to extricate himself from the net of judicious counsel which they have woven and coiled around him.

Whatever may be the aggregate result of the vote in the Electoral Colleges--and it seems all but certain that Mr. Lincoln will be elected by a large majority--it is as clear as a mathematical calculation that the great State of New York will elect a college in favour of M'Clellan and most probable that all the most wealthy and populous States of the Union, except the New England States, will do likewise. Mr. Lincoln's strength lies in New England (except in Connecticut), in the Western, North-Western, and Pacific States; in the new State of Nevada, admitted into the Union on the 1st instant; and in the Southern and Border States of which, or of a portion of which, the Federal troops hold temporary possession.

P.S. General Din's proclamation was doing so much harm to Mr. Lincoln that it has been withdrawn; it is asserted by express orders from Washington.

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