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The Nomination of Old Abe Lincoln.


May/June 1860

From The Missouri Democrat, Wednesday, May 23, 1860.



[Correspondence of the Missouri Democrat.]

CHICAGO, May 18.

The attempt to detail to you the entire proceedings of the Convention, with their many striking and exciting occurrences, would exhaust the patience of both writer and reader. Let me, therefore, ask your attention only to the description of the half day’s session in which occurred the grand central event of the Convention, the nomination of “Old Abe,” and the minor details of which resemble very nearly the proceedings at other times.

Wednesday, the first day, had been spent in preliminary matters—Thursday in committee work, resulting in a permanent organization, and the discussion and adoption of a platform. The motion to proceed to nominations was pending when the Convention adjourned on Thursday evening, and was, therefore, known by everybody to be the first business for next day.

Friday morning came, and between breakfast and ten o’clock, (which was the hour for convening,) the final caucusing and button-holing at the hotels grew very earnest and exciting. The Briggs House held the Pennsylvanians, whose talk, without being decidedly for anybody but Cameron, and that only for a ballot or two, was decidedly against Mr. Seward in all contingencies. The Richmond House was the Seward garrison, where the New York delegation, by turns, argued, coaxed, entreated, threatened, defied and exulted in behalf of their “irrepressible” favorite, and fought for him the battle of words with an admirable tact and skill, and a gallant and unremitting zeal; while the Tremont House was the great political “Change,”-a common battle-ground for all the candidates, and particularly the head-quarters of the Illinois delegation, whose standard bearer, Lincoln, had by this time left all the other competitors in the distance, and now contested the chances for nomination only with the great New Yorker, Mr. Seward. The Tremont House was literally packed full, and there was not a man who was not eagerly interested, either as a talker or a listener, in the almost fierce debates carried on in knots and groups, by the respective partisans of Seward and Lincoln.

The talking, however, is nearly over. The hour for convening approaches, and the human tide begins pouring out of the hotels and setting toward the Great Republican Wigwam. Bad luck to the pedestrian whose business calls him the wrong way, for he is impeded, and jostled, and pushed back by the crowds that are rushing wigwamward, filling up both sidewalks on Lake street.

Reaching the wigwam, there is such a crowd around the doors as to require a ten or fifteen minutes scramble to get in. It is yet an hour until the Convention meets, but the wigwam is already crowded with ten thousand eager, expectant spectators, the ladies with their gentlemen escorts being comfortably seated in the vast galleries, while on the floor the men are standing packed in one dense mass, leaving only a great sea of heads visible. The crowd is somewhat noisy, but though unrestrained in any manner, very orderly. There is the hum of ordinary conversation, broken in upon here and there by a peal of boisterous laughter, or the loud discussion of a heated partisan, while occasionally fifty or a hundred voices join in a shout of applause or derision at some particularly conspicuous, generous or selfish action.

But now it is nearly ten o’clock, and the delegates begin to enter and occupy the platform. The bulk of them are of course unknown to the crowd, but the entrance of the more distinguished characters does not for a moment even escape the notice of the thousands of eyes bent upon them. “There’s Greeley!” “There’s Cassius M. Clay!” and similar expressions begin to be frequent, while the entrance of Giddings, Corwin, and Carl Schurz are followed by loud hurrahs and demonstrations of applause by the whole audience.

While we have been busy in our observation of distinguished men, the President of the Convention, Mr. Ashman, of Mass., has entered and taken his seat, and now calls the delegates to order. Fifteen minutes more are spent in silencing and seating the Convention, when the President announces that the proceedings will be opened with prayer. The clergyman rises, and while he stands with extended hands, the busy hum of the many small voices begins to cease and die off, as if passing away in the distance, until in, perhaps, five seconds, perfect and complete silence reigns over the immense audience. So marked is the change that you might shut your eyes and fancy that the vast crowd had by magic disappeared, and that the hall was empty of all save yourself and the clergyman. As the tremulous tones of the supplicant for divine protection and wisdom thrill the assembly, the noises of the city, and distant shouts of the eager thousands who have filled the streets outside of the building, come floating in at the open doors and windows, blending strangely with the hushed solemnities within.

No sooner is the prayer closed than the multitudinous hum again breaks forth, and the crowd can scarcely wait to hear the President read two or three communications which he finds on his table. Of what importance are invitations to railroad excursions, and addresses from associations when the country is listening to hear the names of its chief ruler announced? From yonder window, near the roof of this wigwam, you see four little wires, brought in and trained along and down the beams and pillars of the edifice, converging towards each other until they meet among several little shining brass machines on a table near the center of the platform. That is the telegraph. That is the ear of the nation, listening-intently listening, right here in the very center of the assemblage of its representatives.

The question being taken, it is unanimously decided to begin voting for candidates, at which there is a murmur of applause from the impatient audience. A painful suspense is created as a debate springs up about the rules of voting, which for a moment threatens to become stormy and to delay action. Happily it is brought to a quiet termination, and the audience again expresses its relief in a plauditory response. The Chair announces that nominations, without debate, are in order.

By a sort of common impulse, the other States wait for New York, and Mr. Evarts, Chairman of the delegation, rises and in a clear voice nominates for candidate for President of the United States, Wm. H. Seward, of New York. The audience have already forgotten the admonition given them by the Chairman only a little while before, not to indulge in any demonstrations of applause during the balloting, and scarcely has the name been spoken before there breaks out such a storm of hurrahs, such a waving of hats and handkerchiefs, as can only be called forth by such a name before such an audience. The New York delegation themselves, seventy men, stripling and sire alike, with feelings already wrought up to their highest intensity, catch the contagion of the popular enthusiasm, and rise in a body in their seats swinging their hats, and again lead the crowd in a fresh volley of repeated hurrahs.

But wait, there are anxious hearts listening for another name. The confusion is quieted by the gesticulations of the chairman, into a tolerable degree of silence, and the thousands of eyes turn instinctively to the other end of the hall, where Norman B. Judd now rises from the center of the Illinois delegation, and with his distinct and emphatic enunciation, nominates Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois. Did you hear that shout? Are you sure your senses have not deceived you? Look, if you can, over that vast ocean of heads and arms now waving in air. There are the bronzed faces of a knot of sturdy farmers, who have known “Old Abe” since he was a bare-foot stripling. They have tracked the prairie furrow with him, swung the axe beside him in the forest-perhaps made him the umpire of their first settlement footraces. Yonder is a tall swarthy figure whose mien and eye yet breathes and speaks courage and energy in spite of that whitened hair. He remembers how, when that hair was black, he carried the rifle beside “Old Abe,” over logs and through brushwood, in the Black Hawk campaign. That quaint, humorous face yonder, with the twinkling eyes, and the wide mouth, has been convulsed a hundred times with “Old Abe’s” jokes and wit. There is the now flourishing country lawyer, to whom, when a student, “Old Abe” lent his Blackstone. Yonder are a blackened face and a knotty muscular arm, that were first lured from the blacksmith shop by “Old Abe’s” eloquent defence of Free Labor. There in the gallery sits a pale intelligent youth, whose first metaphysical reflections were enkindled by “Old Abe’s” apostrophe to the Declaration of Independence. Here is a knot of Ohioans who shouted themselves hoarse at the mingled humor and logic of his Cincinnati speech. All these, however, are but the individual types of the thousands of present spectators whom they represent. Keen eyes, warm hearts, and strong lungs they all have, and they all use. They have learned to hallo on the wide prairie and in the reverberating woods. Do you wonder that the wigwam trembles? Ah! New Yorkers, they “took the measure of your shout,” and you feel that the West has worthily responded to the East.

Quiet is again restored and nominations go on.. Partial applause follows the successive names of Dayton, of Cameron, of Chase, of Bates, and of McLean. But the audience is already satisfied that Seward and Lincoln are the champions. And if there were a doubt about it, it is quickly dispelled when Indiana rises to second Lincoln’s nomination. Again you hear that rushing of the prairie storm, that anthem of the Western woods. Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas rise and second Seward’s nomination, and there comes as many responsive roars from the Atlantic. Ohio and Iowa rise to second Lincoln, and the West has the concluding shouts, and right lustily and earnestly too, are they given.

The balloting begins. Thousands of ears listen, thousands of pencils keep tally. The vast concourse of people outside the building, have stationed men in the doors and windows and on the roof, who announce to them the vote of each State as fast as it is proclaimed within, and the various partisan hurrahs from the street almost drown the voice of the Secretary.

First ballot, Seward, 173½; Lincoln, 102; scattering, 189½. No choice. Second ballot begins, and as the third State called, Vermont, wheels into line for Lincoln, there is a spontaneous burst of applause that is with difficulty checked by the Chairman. As the ballot progresses the champion of the West makes rapid strides on his competitor, and when the result is announced, is within three votes of being even-Seward 184½, Lincoln 181, scattering 99½. Seward men despairing and Lincolnites jubilant.

Still no choice, and the Chair calls for the third ballot. Ears listen more eagerly, and pencils fly more rapidly and nervously, and there is an intense suspense preceding the vote of each State. By the time the ballot is half taken, there is a unanimous feeling that Lincoln will be the choice-disappointed momentarily, however, when a rapid adding up shows that he still lacks 2½ votes, ant that there is as yet no choice. But the feeling is only momentary, for the Chairman of the Ohio delegation rises, and announces a change of four votes for Lincoln giving him a clear majority of the whole. Before the Secretaries have time to make the footings, and as if by a simultaneous impulse, the vast concourse of people rise to their feet and break out in one long continued and deafening succession of hurrahs; for “The Man of the People” has been found. The immense assemblage surges tumultuously in a perfect storm of applause. A partial cessation in one end of the wigwam is followed almost immediately by another general uprising, and a fresh outburst of shouting. Sinking and rising, alternately swelling and abating, the cheers and plaudits roll about in huge waves of sound from end to end and corner to corner of the wigwam. Massachusetts rises and corrects her vote, giving ten more to Lincoln. Maine announces that the young giant of the West has become of age, and makes her vote unanimous for Lincoln. Deafening cheers break forth anew at each announcement, and as the heavy boom of the saluting cannon in the street without makes the air vibrate, the audience again en masse rise to their feet with a responsive shout. And thus amid the cheers of this swaying, shouting multitude-amid the thunder of guns and the exhilaration of martial music, State after State and Territory after Territory, bowing cheerfully to the fair decision of the majority, wheeled into line, and joined joyfully in the general acclaim, pronouncing Abraham Lincoln the unanimous nominee of the Republican party for the grandest sovereignty of the world. And when, as a fitting finale, New York, the Empire State, she who had battled as gallantly for the success of her own beloved son, arose in the person of the chairman of her delegation, and moved to make the nomination unanimous, as his clear words fell upon the ears of the again hushed audience they could hear, between his words and sentences, the distinct and nimble “click, click-click-click, click, click,”-of the telegraph, sending the announcement along those four slender wires, which passed out of that open window and were lost to the eye in the blue of the heavens beyond, and whose electric spark woke the common-peal, and kindled the bonfire in the city and village, and hamlet, from the mighty Mississippi to the broad Atlantic.