Monday, November 28, 2011

The 1860 Presidential Election in Adams County, Pennsylvania

Since it is the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War, it is appropriate that we take a look back in time at Adams County during this period. The purpose is to find out how our predecessors in the county felt about current events.

The county had three weekly newspapers at the outbreak of the war. All three were published in Gettysburg the county seat. Two of the publications are examined here. The Adams Sentinel supported the election of Abraham Lincoln and The Compiler which supported a fusion ticket (The Reading Ticket) for John C. Breckenridge and Stephen A. Douglas. This essentially meant it was anti-Lincoln.

In the 1860 presidential election, Lincoln got the majority of the popular vote in Pennsylvania and all 27 electoral votes. The result in Adams County was somewhat different. In the four-way presidential race Lincoln and the fusion ticket received from 97% to 99% of the popular vote cast in the county, depending on what newspaper numbers you were trusting. Lincoln carried Adams County over the fusion ticket by a slim margin. According to The Compiler Lincoln won by 48 votes whereas The Adams Sentinel reported the winning margin was 80 votes.

The Compiler begrudgingly gave the victory to Lincoln but predicted, "The reign of Black Republicanism in the country will be short - and it will be a glorious privilege to assist in wiping it out, with all its nefarious principles."

Southern states wasted no time in expressing their objection to the elections and beginning on December 20, 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union.

The Adams Sentinel published an article that stated, "Taking possession of Government fortresses, of the Custom House, and the Post Office at Charleston, is an overt act of war upon the Federal authority, and is therefore treason." The Compiler took a somewhat different stance and thought that war could be averted if the Congressional Republicans were, "...disposed to favor just and harmonizing measures, the trouble might be healed. But they will not. Rather than abate their anti-slavery war-cry, they will let the country go to the wall."

On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces began shelling the United States forces that garrisoned Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, thereby signaling the beginning of the American Civil War.

Both papers carried the news of President Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops to suppress the rebellion. In Pennsylvania, Governor Curtin called on the state legislature to improve the state militia in terms of manpower and equipment necessary to meet the president's demand.

In The Compiler there was a report of a "Great Stampede of Fugitive Slaves for Canada" in the Detroit and Chicago areas due to the uncertainty of coming events. Reports were published in both papers soon after the secession of Virginia, that the Capitol was in danger of being taken over by southern forces owing to the fact it was surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The movement of Union troops to secure the city was widely reported.

The Compiler also stated that although it was firmly against President Lincoln's policies since his inauguration, the editor declared, "...we will stand by the old flag." in this time of national crisis. In 1861, it seemed that about fifty percent of the people in Adams County may have been sympathetic to the Southern way of life but once war was declared, they were one hundred percent in support of the Union.


  1. This post is very helpful. I'm researching an essay on the Gettysburg Address. On the evening before Lincoln delivered the Address, William Seward gave a speech that was pretty defensive: "This is the first time that ever any people or community so near to the border of Maryland was found willing to listen to my voice..." Adams County and Franklin County to the west were both about 50-50 Republican/Democrat, and flanked by counties that voted Fusion Democrat. So you can see why he took that tone.

    1. See the following

  2. Yes, in south central PA at the time a political majority was a thin edge. I am glad you found this useful and actually in 1864, Adams county voted for McClellan! Image that, even after the battle and cemetery dedication of 1863.