ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S CONVENTION:
Compiled and Presented by Kenneth D. Ackerman
Today’s national party conventions, staged meticulously by campaigns and media consultants, have become little more than extended televised informercials, devoid of controversy or anything unpredictable. It is easy to forget that, not long ago, these conventions used to be among the most exciting, suspenseful, and consequential events in American politics.
During their golden age, party conventions could be dazzling spectacles rivaling a Super Bowl, World Series, or World Cup, lasting dozens of ballots (the longest in 1924 had 103), easily stampeded by a brilliant speech or backroom deal. If dissatisfied, delegates could buck the leaders and surprise everyone by choosing their own “dark horse” candidate.
One of the most exciting came in 1860, and it gave us one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. In a three day, three-ballot carnival of music, fireworks, and politics drawing over 40,000 people to frontier-era Chicago, Lincoln and his team outwitted the leading celebrities of their party, capturing the prize with nerve, ambition, and brass tacks. They played a hardball brand of politics that usually made reformers cringe. Still, they gave us one of the best presidents in American History.
Abraham Lincoln’s Convention, Chicago 1860, tells the story of Lincoln’s surprise nomination primarily through the eyes of newspaper writers, giving it the immediacy of the moment, with annotations, background, and updated formatting.
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