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Continue or Stop the War? Voters Choose in Election of 1864


Detail from a campaign poster for the 1864 Presidential Election

Detail from a campaign poster for the 1864 Presidential Election

From VOA Learning English, this is The Making of a Nation. I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

In 1864, the United States was still struggling in a civil war. The Union of northern states was fighting the Confederacy of southern states.

Each side had its own constitution. Under the Union constitution, Americans elected a president every four years. Eighteen sixty-four was such a year.

At that time, Abraham Lincoln was completing his first term as president. He hoped to lead the nation for another four years.

Lincoln's Republican Party was divided. Some Republicans demanded severe punishment for the southern rebels. But Lincoln and other moderate Republicans wanted to re-build the Union as soon as the war ended. They believed the southern states should be welcomed back with full rights.

So President Lincoln formed a group called the National Union Party. It included moderate Republicans and some members of the opposition Democratic Party. The group supported the Union and the war effort. It opposed slavery.

On the first nominating ballot, party delegates chose Lincoln to seek a second term. And they chose Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, to run as vice president.

The Democratic Party held its presidential nominating convention in Chicago, Illinois. The Democrats demanded an immediate end to the Civil War. They did not care if the North and South remained apart permanently.

The Democratic statement did not discuss slavery. It did say, however, that any state wishing to return to the Union could do so without losing any of its constitutional rights -- including, many believed, the right to own slaves.

Convention delegates nominated General George McClellan as their candidate for president.

Three days after the Democratic Party convention closed, the Union won an important military victory. Union troops captured Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta was one of the last remaining industrial cities of the South. Its loss seriously hurt the Confederacy.

The people of the North began to understand their side was winning the war. Public opinion changed. President Lincoln and his National Union Party increasingly gained popular support.

A vote for Lincoln meant a vote for continuing the Civil War until it was won. A vote for McClellan meant a vote for stopping the war.

By the end of Election Day, it was clear that Lincoln had won. He earned only about 400,000 more popular votes than McClellan. But when electoral votes were counted, Lincoln received 212 to McClellan's 21.

On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president for a second term. This is part of what he said:

"We hope -- and we pray -- that this terrible war may pass away quickly. But God may wish it otherwise. He may have it continue until the riches earned from 250 years of slavery are gone. It may continue until every drop of blood made by the slaveowner's whip is paid for by another made by the soldier's sword.

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right -- as God gives us to see the right -- let us strive on to finish the work we are in. Let us heal the nation's wounds. Let us do all possible to get and keep a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

I’m Christopher Cruise.

And I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

This is The Making of a Nation from VOA Learning English.

Frank Beardsley and Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

moderateadj. not extreme

malicen. a desire to cause harm to another person

charityn. giving money, food, or other kinds of help to people who are in need

strivev. try very hard to do something

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