In Defense of the Nation
BY 1860 MICHIGAN WAS SOLIDLY REPUBLICAN and was expected to be instrumental in the election of that party's first President of the United States. Because of his firm antislavery convictions, close personal friendship with Zachariah Chandler, and residency in New York (which, in 1860, was the birthplace of 25 percent of Michigan's population), Senator William H. Seward was the choice of state Republicans for the presidential nomination. In Chicago's Wigwam, which was decked with boughs of Northern Michigan pine, the state's twelve votes were cast on each ballot for Seward. When the nomination went to Abraham Lincoln, the leader of the Michigan delegation, Austin Blair of Jackson, told the convention that Michigan would never lose its affection for Seward but would join with him in support of Lincoln. He then pledged a Republican majority of 25,000 votes in the state for “the gallant son of Illinois.”
The campaign was spirited, with Seward visiting the state to speak for the Republican ticket, and Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic presidential nominee, keynoting Democratic rallies throughout the lower peninsula. The state Republican ticket was headed by Blair, with James Birney of Bay City, son of the famous abolitionist leader, running for lieutenant governor. Democrats countered by nominating for governor John Barry of Constantine, a conservative who had held the position twice previously. In November, Republicans scored an overwhelming triumph, electing Lincoln and Blair by majorities of slightly more than 20,000, capturing every state office and congressional seat, and winning all but two seats in the state senate and ten in the state house.
Following Lincoln's election, talk of Southern secession gripped the nation. President James Buchanan did not appear willing to try to save the Union, and took the position that secession was illegal, but so was any attempt by the federal government to prevent it. Buchanan's weakness