It gave a forum to none other than Brag Bowling … again.
Memorandum Aug. 23, 1864, from Abraham Lincoln to his Cabinet in a sealed envelope to be opened only after the November election:
“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; so he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot save it afterwards.”
Lincoln was simply reading the tea leaves. Four years of horrific fighting with massive casualties, high living costs, opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation, continuation of the draft and opposition to his political and unconstitutional policies (such as the denial of the writ of habeas corpus, mass arrests and closure of opposition newspapers) had left his popularity at low ebb. Tactical losses from the Wilderness to Petersburg produced 65,000 casualties. The unpopular war seemed no closer to ending than in 1861.
George McClellan was considered a formidable challenger whose party’s platform included ending the war and Confederate independence, although McClellan rejected that part in his letter accepting the nomination.
The mid-term 1862 elections proved disastrous to the Republican Party with congressional losses in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana and Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.
Lincoln had significant opposition in the Republican Party. The Radical Republicans doubted Lincoln’s fervor to end slavery and thought his Reconstruction plan was not punitive enough to the South.
Prospects brightened greatly with victories in Mobile Bay, the Shenandoah Valley and Atlanta on Sept. 6, 1864. Still, a November victory was uncertain. What could he do to guarantee a victory?
The answer lay in the novel use of absentee ballots. Letting American troops vote absentee while in the field had not been done before. Lincoln banked on the hope that the soldiers would support him and continue with the war to validate their sacrifices. Many thought this could lead to corruption. Blank absentee ballots showed up throughout the army. Whole regiments were given furloughs to return home and vote. Lincoln took it a step further. In many polling precincts, armed Union troops intimidated voters. His electoral victory in New York has been credited to the menacing presence of soldiers. Accusations of voter fraud were made in nearly every state. Lincoln was reelected on Nov. 8, 1864. As he hoped, the army ballots proved decisive. The horrific war and subsequent Reconstruction would proceed as Lincoln planned.
Congratulatory letters poured in. Two of note came from European supporter Karl Marx writing on behalf of the International Working Men’s Association.
By the way, Mr. Bowling is the director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute, an educational group established by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Really.