President Lincoln did not win the Detroit/Wayne County vote in his 1864 re-election bid.

For the Presidential election of 1864, Abraham Lincoln lost in Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan-even though he won the national vote. In the book Michigan Remembers Lincoln there is an article on the subject entitled Detroit’s Role in the Re-Election of Abraham Lincoln written by Winfred A. Harbison. He wrote that Lincoln “won a smashing victory in the nation and state” but lost to George B. McClellan in Detroit 4,495 (McClellan) to 3,388 (Lincoln) and in Wayne County by 1,872 (a figure later reduced with the counting of the soldier vote).  

Lincoln lost in Detroit despite several factors that were favorable to his re-election. The capture of the city of Atlanta by General Sherman was huge-it signaled that war which had been dragging on for more than three years-was nearing an end. “The people of Detroit received the news with ‘great joy.’” Thousands of people gathered downtown to celebrate. Another factor was the nomination for president by the Democrats of George McClellan. This included the “peace platform.” Republicans counted that many of the voters, especially men who had worn -or were still wearing the “blue”-would never settle for a candidate that that seemed prepared to end the rebellion short of victory via the battlefield. Yet another factor was the bowing out of General John C. Fremont as a presidential candidate. This development was hoped to have the effect of moving the Radicals back into the Lincoln camp (which it did). Campaign orators, including Senator Zachariah Chandler, spoke in Detroit political meetings to some of the largest crowds seen in the city up to that time. So why did Lincoln lose Detroit/Wayne County?

President Lincoln lost the re-election vote in Detroit/Wayne County, according to Harbison, partly due to labor groups. The Democrats had “appealed increasingly” to them. Additionally, there was “strong anti-Negro and anti-emancipation sentiment among the workers, especially the Irish.” Other anti-Lincoln factors included: “high prices, high taxes, and possibilities of more draft calls and more arbitrary arrests.” Interestingly, Harbison also notes that the “Democratic campaign was much more anti-Lincoln than pro-McClellan.” Both sides, by the way, had media backers: Lincoln had the support of editor James E. Scripps and the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune. McClellan was endorsed by the Detroit Free Press (Henry N. Walker, editor). After Lincoln’s national victory for presidential re-election, the Detroit Free Press had the following to say about the election:

“The result of his election shows that in the very midst of the most gigantic revolution the world has ever witnessed the American people…can execute a freeman’s will with the same dignity and respect, with the same quiet and regard for the forms of law witnessed in the most ordinary peaceful times. This is a triumph that should redound forever to the glory of the American people.”

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3 Responses to “President Lincoln did not win the Detroit/Wayne County vote in his 1864 re-election bid.”

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Bill:

    That actually is quite a bit larger than Springfield in 1864, which had about 10,000 people (according to the 1860 census).

    The interesting thing is that Lincoln did win Cook County (which contains Chicago – fast becoming a metropolis at over 100,000 residents at the time), which was Steven A. Douglas’s home county.

  2. B. Nash says:

    Hi Chris:
    In 1864 the population of Detroit was 53,000. I imagine that was much larger what Springfield had? Amazing that Lincoln only won in Springfield by 10 votes in 1864!

  3. Chris says:

    Lincoln actually had trouble winning even his home city and county. He won the city of Springfield in both in the 1860 and 1864 elections, but in 1864 he only won by 10 votes.

    He lost Sangamon County both times.

    Some of the same factors you mentioned were also an issue here (war weariness and anti-emancipation sentiment) but I haven’t read anything about labor groups being an issue here. I think that may have been an issue in larger cities, mainly (how big was Detroit then?).

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