How New Jersey Split Its Electoral Votes in 1860

I saw a mention of Nebraska splitting its 2008 electoral votes today, and I somehow remembered that Stephen Douglas “won” New Jersey’s 1860 popular vote yet he only got 3 of 7 electoral votes. I also realized that I didn’t have the faintest idea how or why this happened. After a little “googling” and a lot of time in the 19th Century New Times Times archives, I think I understand now, and I think you might find the story interesting.

Of course, Abraham Lincoln was the nominee of the Republican Party and ended up winning a majority of the 1860 electoral college despite not even being on the ballot in many southern states. The Democrats had split and supported multiple nominees. Their national convention in Charleston deadlocked and adjourned. The subsequent convention in Baltimore chose Stephen Douglas as the candidate, but only after southern delegates walked out. They met in Richmond and chose John Breckenridge as their candidate. John Bell ran as an independent “Constitutional Union” candidate.

Remember that then and now American voters are really choosing actual people to be an Elector rather than directly voting for President. (Think too of the election of delegates in the 200 Democratic Primaries.) Let’s look at the New Jersey election results as printed in the October 16, 1860 New York Times:

REPUBLICAN.               FUSION.

J.C. Hornblower..58,345  Wm. Cook………62,801

Andrew K. Hay…..58,315 Joel Parker……..62,387

Chas. E. Elmer….58,334 Theo. Runyon…..62,309

Edward W. Ivins..58,341 Peter D. Vroom…..58,210

Geo. H. Brown….58,335 Alexander Wurts…56,182

David Thompson…58,322 Edmund Brewer …57,801

Isaac W. Scudder..58,323 Silas Condit………57,553

I have bolded the seven winners. In those days, voters actually got to vote for seven names and ticket splitting was possible. It’s rather like our New Jersey county freeholder election today. But ticket splitting is NOT what was going on. After all, you can see that the Republicans vary by no more than 30 votes, so 99.95% of Republican voters supported all of their seven men. The Democrats, which are labeled “Fusion” here, have a big gap of four thousand votes (6%) between Cook/Parker/Runyan and the other four. That’s what gave four Republican electors the victory.

So here’s the story as I understand, warning you that there are three slightly different versions in the 19th century NYT.  The short version goes over the break, a longer version below.  

You might think of New Jersey as a “northern state” but many Democrats supported the “southern candidate” Breckinridge, and other supported the “border state candidate” Bell. Obviously if they split their vote three ways Lincoln would have won easily. Party bosses hit on the idea of a “fusion” ticket, in which electors from each camp would be included. In early July the party bosses recommended a slate of four Douglas names and three Breckinridge names, but were denounced by Douglas supporters. Many Douglas supporters held their own state convention on 25th July, but the “official” state convention made a deal for two Breckinridge, three Bell, and two Douglas names. This was still not accepted by many, but sometime in October 1860, the final fusion ticket was reached with three Douglas, two Brekinridge, and two Bell electors. Once those seven men won, they hoped, they’d unite in the electoral college to pick one of three over Lincoln, or at least throw the election to the House.

Douglas supporters, however, wanted to run their own ticket of seven Douglas men. For the ardent Douglas supporters, the other Democrats were “seceders” and “traitors”.

The key to what happened was that in those days no one saw a neutral, government-supplied ballot with every candidate’s name. No, parties would print up their own ballots — Republicans, say, would print a sheet with the seven names above — supply them to their voters. An really independent person, could, I suppose, just write whatever seven names they liked on a piece of paper, but as I said before, you can see over 99.9% of people voted this way.

Dissident Douglas supporters distributed ballots with only Douglas candidates on it. About five thousand of these ballots were used, leaving the Cook, Parker and Runyan getting votes from both the fusion ballots and the Douglas ballots, while other Douglas candidates got the votes that could have put the Breckinridge and Bell men into the electoral college. On the other hand, if those men had been on separate ballots, Douglas would certainly have gotten many fewer votes than the fusion ticket, and the united Republicans would have won all seven electoral vote without reaching 50%. It’s not quite fair to say “Douglas” won New Jersey’s popular vote because of this fusion ballot.

Next: Long discussion with details.

The first internet sources I found pointed to an 1892 New York Times article, and explained that government-printed ballots were not yet used in America. That 1892 article claims that the Douglas-only ballots were the result of a lone Douglas man egged on by a Republican:

Some time before the election, he [an ardent Douglas man] had the Douglas tickets printed for his section of the state. A few days before the vote the State Committee sent him a batch of fusion tickets to distribute, instead of the straight Douglas ballots. Meeting an old friend of his in whose judgment he had great confidence, although his friend was an ardent Republican, he told him the situation and frankly expressed his reluctance to circulate the fusion tickets in preference to the straight Douglas ticket. His Republican friend gave him the advice that he evidently wished, and what ninety-nine out of a hundred partisans would have given in the circumstances. He told him by all means keep the fusion tickets and sent out only the Douglas ballots. He did so.

From 3,000 to 6,000 votes were thus diverted…

This is oral history three decades later and while it may have happened, I don’t think one man was responsible for most of the Douglas ballots. An article written days after the election, but by an obvious Republican who called Douglas’s New Jersey victory “Nothing to brag about”, pointed out the confusing situation:

One result of this confusion, is, that no idea of the real relation of parties can be derived from the vote on the Presidential ticket. We are obliged to appeal to the Congressional vote for information upon this point. The entire Fusion vote upon Congress was 61,883; the entire Republican vote, 60,376; the Fusion majority, 1,507.

For, in this confused melee there was a third ticket, known as the straight Douglas ticket, which drew the votes of the Anti-Lecompton Party; a party which in New-Jersey has on all critical occasions identified itself with the Republicans

This Republican seems to argue that the straight Douglas voters really supported Lincoln over Breckinridge, which may have some truth to it but certainly doesn’t let you claim Douglas’s votes were meant to support Lincoln. So that interpretation is not very compelling, but it does show that this was not the work of one man. Finally, there was this October 31, 1860 article where a group of Douglas supporters (meeting in New York!) declared:

Resolved, That whereas, the State Central Committee have recently, in violation of the express instructions given them by the State Convention of New-Jersey, held on the 25th day of July last, at which Electors of the regular Democracy were nominated, contrary to repeated pledges ignoring such power, and to the wishes and expectations of the true friends of STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS, attempted to defeat the regular organization thereof, by forming an Electoral ticket on which are embraced elements antagonistic to the principles of “non-intervention.” Now, therefore,

Resolved, That, adhering to the principles enunciated in past Conventions of the Democratic Party, we reestablish and confirm the electoral ticket formed by the State Convention aforesaid; and, utterly ignoring and repudiating affiliation with the spurious offshoot of Democracy known as the Seceders, pledge ourselves to support none other than electors favorable to the election of STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS and HERSCHEL V. JOHNSON; and call upon the honest voters of New-Jersey not to succumb to the treachery by which their rights are sought to be invaded, but to stand firm by their time-honored principles and platforms.

Whereas, It appears that one of the electors on the regular ticket, by reason of holding an office is, by the provision of the Constitution, disqualified from holding that position, we nominate THOMAS N. MCCARTER, of Sussex County, in the stead of DANIEL S. ANDERSON, as such elector.

The following is the straight DOUGLAS ticket for New Jersey: Joel Parker, William Cook, Abraham W. Nash, Joseph Vliet. Moses Wills, Thomas N. McCarter, Theodore Runyon. Which we earnestly recommend to the support of the people of New-Jersey

In the opening, these Douglas supporters ignored the existence of the rival convention of July 25th which was really the official one.  In the end, Anderson got 1,862 votes, McCarter 3,430, Nash 6,105, Vliet 4,891, and Wills 4,856 (according to the 1892 article, which also notes there were about 1,150 straight Bell voters too.) Plainly older versions of the Douglas ballots circulated, but this Douglas proclamation has the four who got the most votes.  

Democratic Party Intrigue in 1860

If you don’t mind, the quotes from the rival groups in July 1860 were so interesting to me that I’d like to put some here.

On July 2, 1860, the Democratic State Executive Committee hatched a plot:

The Democratic State Executive Committee of New-Jersey held a meeting at Jersey City yesterday afternoon, and voted to issue a call for a State Convention to be held at Trenton, 25th July, to nominate an electoral ticket. The Committee recommend that the ticket be composed of four Douglas and three Breckinridge men, to be supported by the friends of each candidate, and respectively headed “Douglas ticket” and “Breckinridge ticket.” If this is successful, the ticket having the majority is to receive the electoral vote of the State, except in case the whole vote will elect either candidate, he is to have it. This plan appears to meet the sanction of the most influential Democrats of the State.

As I read this, they wanted to tell the Douglas voters that the ballot was a Douglas slate but put Breckinridge names on it, while passing the same deceit on Breckinridge voters, while the electors would promise to put either candidate over the top if possible. The “influential” may have approved this deal but the base(s) of the party didn’t. Supporters of the various Democratic candidates were prepared to go forward with their own slates in the summer of 1860. Here’s a July 21, 1960 article: that has the Douglas people denouncing the elites:

The line of division between the two sections of the Democracy in New-Jersey is becoming more sharply drawn. SILAS A. KITCHELL O.H. PERRY, J.H. SNYDEX, and other prominent Douglas Democrats of Newark, N.J., have issued a formal “Protest against the Disorganizing State Central Committee.” It is addressed to the “friends of regular organization.” They Claim that the Democratic Party is more devoted to principles than to men, and that no doctrine has been more frequently reaffirmed than than of non-intervention by Congress with Slavery in the Territories. No valid excuse has ever been offered by which any delegate from New-Jersey to the National Convention could be absolved from obligation to support the nominee of the Baltimore Convention, and they have witnessed with surprise a recommendation signed by the Chairman of the Central Committee that they should join hands with the Seceders. They “deny the right of the Committee to make any such recommendation, and repudiate all such attempts to seduce them from their allegiance to their principles which are National, and their candidates, who coming from the North and South, and joining hands cordially upon the platform, prove to us that their hearts beat to the only national sentiment, ‘Non-intervention.'” They ask their Democratic friends in New-Jersey and the Union to stand fast to their National Platform, and their gallant standard bearers, DOUGLAS and JOHNSON, and repel all efforts, come from what source they may, to induce a combination with BRECKINRIDGE and LANE, as they would with LINCOLN and HAMLIN, viewing them alike as sectional.

In short, Douglas supporters did not want to be forced to vote for Breckinridge electors. (By the way, the general tone of the statement reminds me of things we Obama supporters said in April-June 2008 to Clinton supporters.)

So on to the state convention! Or rather three state conventions, all in Trenton! Many Douglas supporters held their own Trenton convention:

The Regular Democratic State Convention was called under the auspices of the Committee duly authorized by the party usages. The gift of prophecy, however, not having been accorded to them, they could not anticipate the workings of the political cauldron, and therefore did not provide for that perfect harmony for which the Democracy is always seeking, but which, unfortunately, seems very difficult of attainment. The Douglas wing declared that the Convention was primarily placed in the hands of the Breckinridge interest, that the plan of the Union Electoral ticket — to be cast for the wing receiving the largest number of votes could not be faithfully carried out under the Committee of Arrangements, and that they had better avoid defeat by having a connection of their own of the “straight-out” Douglasites.

Meanwhile, the official convention went on. The NYT printed a complete account of the July 25, 1960 “Union Democratic Convention” which tried to name two Douglas delegates, two Breckinridge delegates, and three Bell delegates. How’d Bell get into it? The convention voted to have a committee negotiate with the Bell supporters [also meeting in Trenton], and they made a deal to choose three “Old-Line Whigs” who supported Bell. A three-way fusion was approved, but to tell you who dominated this group, it also “adjourned sine die with cheers for the ticket, BRECKIN-RIDGE and LANE, and the regular Democracy.” So, that you understand what the thinking of these Democrats who opposed Lincoln and mainly supported the southern candidate, here’s what the NYT wrote about three of the speeches, except I have censored the “N-word.” Note the “laughter” described by the delegates.  

Judge NAAR was called upon to address the Convention, He complimented the Convention as regular, and thought there could be no greater calamity than the success of the Black Republican Party. He commended the action of the Convention as likely to effect union and the triumph of Democratic principles. He was willing to let down the bars and let in all those who repented of their errors. He was even willing to let the Lincoln split rails out of the bars [roars of laughter] and let the repentant Republicans come in. He wanted to keep Abolitionists East of the Hudson River. [Cheers.]

THOMAS DUNN ENGLISH was called upon to address the Convention, and for a quarter of an hour commanded attention. He counselled union and harmony and a due regard for State rights. He recommended the Republicans to head their address not fellow-citizens, but “fellow-n*****.” He said, in the course of his remarks, that we had had n**** like oysters at a feast, “fried, stewed, raw, roasted, and sometimes like PACE’s Venus,’ on the half shell.” [Laughter.]

Gen. DARCY, President of the New-Jersey Railroad, was next called upon, and spoke briefly. He had strong fears for the perpetuity of the Union. He related the circumstances of the stoning of a church in Newark because an Abolition sermon was about to be preached there. The crowd would have stoned the minister’s house if he had not humbled himself and said: “We’ve done enough in stoning the church.” He assured them that he had nothing to do with stoning that church. [Laughter.] He believed that union and harmony was necessary for the preservation of the Republic.

You already know many Douglas people were unhappy with the fusion arrangement. Meanwhile, some thought the group quoted above was not “conservative” enough! A July 28th article:

THE AGITATED DEMOCRACY OF NEW-JERSEY. — The Newark Mercury says it is currently reported that a large section of the Breckinridge Democracy, dissatisfied with the mongrel “Know-Nothing,” “Dark Lantern” ticket formed by the “Regular Democratic Convention,” will call a more conservative Convention to nominate a straight-out Breckinridge ticket. We should think this course would be adopted, adds the Mercury, for certainly it must be humiliating, after having begged a fusion with the Bell-Everett Party, to have their liberal proposal contemptuously rejected. Come on, gentlemen! The more the merrier.

I shoudl say that many Breckinridge supporters believed that Breckinridge, not Douglas, would carry New Jersey, though it might have been wishful thinking. (We have no public opinion polls to tell us!)

So that’s what I learned today about the divided New Jersey electoral vote and the Democratic party of 1860. Needless to say, very few progressives of today would identify with the platform or members of that Democratic party, but after 2000 and 2008 the political maneuvering seems rather familiar to me.

Comments (3)

  1. Dvd Avins

    Condit Ave., Wurtsboro, NY, Scudder Falls, and I’d guess Cook College. And was Hay related to Lincoln’s secretary who went on to greater fame? The town in NY gets its name from someone involved in the Delaware & Hudson Canal Co. This was likely his son.

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  2. NNadir

    We had slaves here for the first quarter of the 19th century, were one of the few Northern States not carried by Lincoln in 1864 and elected the cowardly Lincoln opponent George McClellan governor of our state.

    McClellan’s grave, by the way, is a prominent tombstone in a Trenton cemetary.

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