Crucial to the immigrant vote for Lincoln in the 1860 election was Republican Party support for a Homestead bill, the transcontinental railroad, and not allowing black people into western lands — thus reserving those lands for white immigrants. The foreign-born who had already filled up Middle West States were eager for western lands to settle where government property was still available, which also meant clearing those lands of Indians. Future Republican administrations would accomplish that task. With a bare 39% percent of the popular vote, a lower foreign-born vote could have put Stephen Douglas in the White House and avoided war.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Foreign-Born Tip the 1860 Election
“Scholars, particularly those interested in the impact of ethnic groups on key national elections, have long been intrigued by Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860. Ever since Professor William E. Dodd’s classic article [The Fight for the Northwest, 1860, American Historical Review, XVI, (1910), 786)] it has been axiomatic in the works of historians that the foreign-born of the Old Northwest, voting in solid blocs according to the dictates of their leaders, cast the decisive ballots.
Lincoln could not have won the presidency, Dodd suggested, “but for the loyal support of the Germans and other foreign citizens led by Carl Shurz, Gustav Keorner, and the editors of the Staatzeitung of Chicago.”
A decade later . . . Donnal V. Smith scrutinized the immigrant vote in 1860 and confidently declared that “without the vote of the foreign-born, Lincoln could not have carried the Northwest, and without the Northwest . . . he would have been defeated.”
Smith’s statistics also confirmed the premise that the social solidarity characteristic of ethnic groups invariably translated itself into political solidarity, and that because of the language barrier the immigrants needed leaders to formulate the political issues for them.
“The leaders who were so trusted,” Smith maintained, “were in a splendid to control the political strength of the foreign-born.” And in the election of 1860, he continued, even to the “casual observer” the ethnic leaders of the Middle West were solidly Republican . . . [and] except for isolated, insignificant minorities, the foreign-born of the Old Northwest voted Republican.
Foreign language newspapers generally carried the Lincoln-Hamlin banner of their mastheads; prominent immigrants campaigned actively for Old Abe and played key roles at the Chicago convention.”
(The Ethnic Voter and the First Lincoln Election, Robert P. Swierenga, Civil War History, Volume 11, No. 1, March 1965, excerpts, pp. 27-28)