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The Election of 1860

Leading up to the election, the three newspapers supported different candidates, with the Standard favoring Democrat John C. Breckinridge and the Watchman and Observer favoring Constitutional Unionist John Bell. The papers all agreed that the election of Lincoln would be an undesirable outcome for the South; however, they disagreed on how to best prevent this from happening. While the Standard favored Breckinridge, the Watchman and Observer argued that the Democratic challenger had no hopes of being elected and only served to split the anti-Lincoln vote. All three papers felt that the election of Lincoln would only have served to further separate the North from the South. Even if Lincoln won, they argued, he would win without carrying a single southern state. The papers believed this would further alienate those in the South, especially states in the Deep South like South Carolina. In arguing against Lincoln in their October 31, 1860, edition, the Weekly Standard wrote “We do not overstate the fact when we say that the existence of the Constitution will have been violated by the triumph of a geographical party, while the action of certain Southern States will be directed towards a dissolution of the Union itself.” (Item 829) The Unionist papers not only believed that Lincoln’s election would be detrimental for the South as a region, but that it would further split the nation geographically and increase the risk of secession.

Contrary to the newspaper editors’ hopes, Abraham Lincoln won the election. Of course, all three condemned the election of Lincoln in very strong language, but they also argued against a rush to panic and secession. They stressed that the incoming president would have little authority in Congress. In its November 8, 1860, edition the Fayetteville Observer stated that "The friends of the South and the Union congratulate themselves in consequence of the increased opposition majority in Congress. Lincoln’s administration, divested of Legislative power, cannot injure the South, if so disposed." (Item 823) The Carolina Watchman offered much the same argument in its November 13, 1860, edition stating that "The democrats have gained several members to Congress in the Northern States, which will give them a majority in both Houses. With a Congress opposed to him, Lincoln, if he were disposed, will find it impossible to do anything detrimental to the interest of any portion of the Country." (Item 824)

All three newspapers made it clear that they believed the election of Lincoln was not beneficial for North Carolina; however, they also stressed the need for reason and rationality when viewing the election as a whole. Even if Lincoln wanted to end slavery, he could not impose his will on the South without the backing of Congress, and although the Democrats lost the presidential election, they won the congressional election. In the opinion of these newspapers and their editors, the election of Lincoln was not a justification, in and of itself, for secession. Instead the southern states, including North Carolina, should develop a wait-and-see approach to the new administration and its policies. The papers hoped that in the end reason would prevail and since the president, without congressional authority, could do little damage to the South, there was no reason for any state, especially North Carolina, to rush to secede.