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Tue, Oct 15


The Soldier Vote in Lincoln's Critical Election of 1864

Was the soldier vote that was so vital to Lincoln's 1864 re-election enthusiastic or coerced? Recent scholars disagree and two Lincoln Group presidents argue the different perspectives. (The illustration is an 1864 sketch of soldiers voting by Alfred Waud for Harper's Weekly)

The Soldier Vote in Lincoln's Critical Election of 1864
The Soldier Vote in Lincoln's Critical Election of 1864


Oct 15, 2024, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT


About the Event

There is no doubt that the votes from active duty soldiers were decisive for Lincoln's re-election in 1864. Most historians have accepted that their votes were enthusiastically cast by men who now accepted the wisdom of the president's war policies and emancipation. The topic has recently been revisited by prominent academics in books that have proposed different hypotheses on this election phenomenon. The Lincoln Group proudly presents a program that features two of our presidents presenting the opposing views. Join us on October 15 for a Zoom only debate and discussion of this compelling issue.


In the end, the election of 1864 -- exactly 160 years ago -- wasn’t close, with President Abraham Lincoln getting 55 percent of the vote and taking the electoral college 212-21 over his Democratic rival Gen. George B. McClellan. But that easy victory came only after a year of high political drama, deep in uncertainty over Lincoln’s political fate amid a bloody stalemate in the Civil War that led even Lincoln to conclude he couldn’t win a second term. And when the voting finally came, controversy swirled over whether Union troops, who backed their commander in chief by a wide margin, did so out of patriotic fervor or because of intimidation from their Republican officers and because of the systematic purging of pro-McClellan officers and men from the ranks.

The issue of the 1864 vote among soldiers in the Army of the Potomac has heated up in recent years. Scholar Zachery A. Fry contends in his book A Republic in the Ranks, that the hundreds of thousands of men who served in the army underwent a political awakening during their service and enthusiastically voted for Lincoln. On the other hand, Jonathan W. White in Emancipation – The Union Army and the Re-election of Abraham Lincoln, tells how soldiers who expressed pro-Democratic sentiments or opposed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation were systematically rooted out of the ranks, sometimes even facing court martial.

President Ed Epstein and Immediate Past President David Kent will describe machinations that made the presidential campaign such an ongoing subject of fascination for students of Lincoln. Kent will discuss the internecine political events within the Republican Party and how the Democrats committed political suicide at their nominating convention. Epstein will examine the claims and counter-claims surrounding the disputed soldier vote. Everyone will be invited to participate in the ensuing discussion.

Join us on Tuesday, October 15 for this Zoom-only program starting at 6 p.m. eastern time. Use the short Zoom link, If required, use the password 302973. Please reply using the RSVP button to help us estimate attendance.   

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