Four candidates led the presidential field in 1860, including Republican Abraham Lincoln and two from a divided Democratic Party.
The issue of slavery created political division before the Civil War. In the election of 1860, each party had a different view on the issue. The Republican Party denied “the authority of Congress, of Territorial Legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any Territory,” but allow it to remain in the South. Northern Democrats supported popular sovereignty, which allowed voters in new states to determine the legality of slavery. Southern Democrats, the strongest supporters of slavery, wanted a federal law protecting the rights of slave owners throughout the United States. Both Democratic Party platforms supported the annexation of Cuba from Spain to become a likely slave state.
The Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln hoped to win the presidency for the first time in only its second election, while the divided Democratic Party nominated two candidates, Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Breckinridge. In light of the disunity over slavery, the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell. They hoped to keep the nation together by focusing on the founding principles of the Constitution.
The divided nation elected Abraham Lincoln with 39.9% of the popular vote. Several states seceded before he took the oath of office.