Lincoln’s reelection was won by those around him, and with Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana testifying that “the whole power of the War Department was used to secure Lincoln’s reelection in 1864.” After 1862, it was common for Federal troops to patrol polling places, inspect the ballots of voters, arrest Democratic candidates for office on treason charges, seized groups of opposition voters just before elections, as well as furlough soldiers at election time to encourage Republican victory. At election time, Republican newspaper headlines trumpeted that “tens of thousands of national soldiers . . . were deliberately shot to death, as at Fort Pillow, or frozen to death at Belle Isle, or starved to death at Andersonville, or sickened to death by swamp malaria in South Carolina.” All did service for Lincoln’s reelection.
Historian William Hesseltine wrote: “Although the election of 1864 gave no decision on the methods of reconstruction, it proved again Lincoln’s power to control elections. The system of arbitrary arrests, military control of the polling places, and soldier voting, first applied to the Border States and then extended into the North, had saved the Republican party in 1862 and 1863. The election of 1864 saw a new extension of the system and demonstrated its continuing value in winning elections.” (Lincoln’s Plan of Reconstruction, pg. 124)
Grant Impressed with Free Institutions
“Lincoln’s friends saw danger in every quarter. No doubt a large minority of the North was tired of war; no doubt many who had a sentimental regard for the Union thought that the emancipation of the slaves had been wrongly given prominence. Every discontented officer – every disgruntled politician – every merchant whose business was bad – every civilian who dreaded the draft – the ambitious leader like [Salmon P.] Chase – the party boss – the army of unappeased office-seekers – the jealous – the vindictive – all these, and everyone else with a greed or grievance, would unite to defeat Lincoln. Thus at least, it appeared to his foreboding lieutenants.
Even [Lincoln secretary John] Hay, who was no alarmist, felt little confidence. “There is a diseased restlessness about men in these times,” he wrote [John G.] Nicolay on August 25, 1864, “that unfits them for steady support of an administration. It seems as if there were appearing in the Republican Party the elements of disorganization that destroyed the Whigs. If the dumb cattle of the North are not worthy of another term of Lincoln, then let the will of God be done, and the murrain of McClellan fall on them.”
The October returns went far to relieve anxiety. The President, with Hay, heard the returns at the War Department. Early news from Indiana and Ohio was cheering, but that from Pennsylvania was “streaked with lean” . . . [though] The Ohio troops voted about ten to one for the Union . . .
At the Cabinet meeting on the 11th . . . “[he reminded the officers that it seemed last August] entirely probable that this Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”
Lincoln went on to say . . . that he had resolved, if McClellan were elected, to talk matters over with him.” On November 12, 1864, Hay, with a large party, went down to Grant’s headquarters at City Point. Grant was “deeply impressed with the vast importance and significance of the late [November 8th] Presidential election.” The orderliness of it “proves our worthiness of free institutions, and our capability of preserving them without running into anarchy and despotism.”
(Life and Letters of John Hay, Volume I, William Roscoe Thayer, 1908, Houghton Mifflin Company, excerpts pp. 212-214; 216-218)