United States presidential election, 1868

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United States presidential election, 1868
United States
← 1864 November 3, 1868 1872 →

All 294 electoral votes of the Electoral College
148 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout 78.1%[1] Increase 4.3 pp
  UlyssesGrant.png Horatio Seymour - Brady-Handysmall.png
Nominee Ulysses S. Grant Horatio Seymour
Party Republican Democratic
Home state Illinois New York
Running mate Schuyler Colfax Francis P. Blair, Jr.
Electoral vote 214 80
States carried 26 8
Popular vote 3,013,421 2,706,829
Percentage 52.7% 47.3%

Presidential election results map. Red denotes states won by Grant/Colfax, blue denotes those won by Seymour/Blair, green denotes those states that had not yet been restored to the Union and which were therefore ineligible to vote. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

President before election

Andrew Johnson

Elected President

Ulysses S. Grant

The United States presidential election of 1868 was the 21st quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 3, 1868. It was the first presidential election to take place after the American Civil War, during the period referred to as Reconstruction. As three of the former Confederate states (Texas, Mississippi, and Virginia) were not yet restored to the Union, their electors could not vote in the election.

The incumbent President, Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency in 1865 following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, was unpopular and failed to receive the Democratic presidential nomination. By 1868, Johnson had alienated many of his constituents and had been impeached by Congress. Although Johnson kept his office, his presidency was crippled. After numerous ballots, the Democrats nominated former New York Governor Horatio Seymour to take on the Republican candidate, Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was one of the most popular men in the North due to his efforts in concluding the Civil War successfully for the Union.

Although Seymour was buried in the electoral college, he gave Grant a good race for the popular vote. In addition to his appeal in the North, Grant benefited from votes among the newly enfranchised freedmen in the South, while the temporary political disfranchisement of many Southern whites helped Republican margins. It was the first election in which African Americans could vote in every Northern or Reconstructed Southern state, in accordance with the First Reconstruction Act. Every state except Florida used popular votes to determine electors for the Electoral College vote.


Reconstruction and civil rights of former slaves was a hotly debated issue in the Union. Grant supported the Reconstruction plans of the Radical Republicans in Congress, which favored the 14th Amendment, with full citizenship and civil rights for freedpeople, including suffrage for adult freedmen. The Democratic platform condemned “Negro supremacy,” and demanded a restoration of states’ rights, including the right of southern states to determine for themselves whether to allow suffrage for adult freedmen.


Republican Party nomination[edit]

Republican candidate:

Grant/Colfax campaign poster
Grant/Colfax campaign poster

By 1868, the Republicans felt strong enough to drop the Union Party label, but wanted to nominate a popular hero for their presidential candidate. The Democratic Party controlled many large Northern states that had a great percentage of the electoral votes. General Ulysses S. Grant announced he was a Republican and was unanimously nominated on the first ballot as the party’s standard bearer at the Republican convention in Chicago, Illinois, held on May 20–21, 1868. House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, a Radical Republican from Indiana, was nominated for vice-president on the sixth ballot, beating out the early favorite, Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio.

The Republican platform supported black suffrage in the South as part of the passage to full citizenship for former slaves. It agreed to let northern states decide individually whether to enfranchise blacks. It opposed using greenbacks to redeem U.S. bonds, encouraged immigration, endorsed full rights for naturalized citizens, and favored Radical Reconstruction as distinct from the more lenient policy of President Andrew Johnson.[2]

Democratic Party nomination[edit]

Democratic candidates:

Seymour/Blair campaign poster

The Democratic National Convention was held in New York City between July 4, and July 9, 1868. The front-runner in the early balloting was George H. Pendleton, who led on the first fifteen ballots, followed in varying order by incumbent president Andrew Johnson, Winfield Scott Hancock, Sanford Church, Asa Packer, Joel Parker, James E. English, James Rood Doolittle, and Thomas A. Hendricks. The unpopular Johnson, having narrowly survived impeachment, won sixty-five votes on the first ballot, less than one-third of the total necessary for nomination, and thus lost his bid for election as president in his own right.

Meanwhile, the convention chairman Horatio Seymour, former governor of New York, received nine votes on the fourth ballot from the state of North Carolina. This unexpected move caused “loud and enthusiastic cheering,” but Seymour refused, saying,

“I must not be nominated by this Convention, as I could not accept the nomination if tendered. My own inclination prompted me to decline at the outset; my honor compels me to do so now. It is impossible, consistently with my position, to allow my name to be mentioned in this Convention against my protest. The clerk will proceed with the call.”[3]

After numerous indecisive ballots, the names of John T. Hoffman, Francis P. Blair, and Stephen Johnson Field were placed in nomination. None of these candidates, however, gained substantial support.

For twenty-one ballots, the opposing candidates battled it out: the East battling the West for control, the conservatives battling the radicals. The two leading candidates were determined that the other should not receive the nomination; because of the two-thirds rule of the convention, a compromise candidate was needed. Seymour still hoped it would be Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, but on the twenty-second ballot, the chairman of the Ohio delegation announced, “at the unanimous request and demand of the delegation I place Horatio Seymour in nomination with twenty-one votes-against his inclination, but no longer against his honor.”

Seymour had to wait for the rousing cheers to die down before he could address the delegates and decline.

“I have no terms in which to tell of my regret that my name has been brought before this convention. God knows that my life and all that I value most in life I would give for the good of my country, which I believe to be identified with that of the Democratic party...”

“Take the nomination, then!” cried someone from the floor.

“..but when I said that I could not be a candidate, I mean it! I could not receive the nomination without placing not only myself but the Democratic party in a false position. God bless you for your kindness to me, but your candidate I cannot be.”[4]

Seymour/Blair campaign poster

Seymour left the platform to cool off and rest. No sooner had he left the hall than the Ohio chairman cried that his delegation would not accept Seymour's declination; Utah's chairman rose to say that Seymour was the man they had to have. While Seymour was waiting in the vestibule, the convention nominated him unanimously.

Exhausted, the delegates unanimously nominated General Francis Preston Blair, Jr., for vice-president on the first ballot after John A. McClernand, Augustus C. Dodge, and Thomas Ewing, Jr., withdrew their names from consideration. Blair’s nomination reflected a desire to balance the ticket east and west as well as north and south.[5]

Blair had worked hard to acquire the Democratic nomination and accepted second place on the ticket, finding himself in controversy.[6] Blair had gained attention by an inflammatory letter addressed to Colonel James O. Broadhead, dated a few days before the convention met. In his letter, Blair wrote that the “real and only issue in this contest was the overthrow of Reconstruction, as the radical Republicans had forced it in the South.”[7]

General election[edit]


Republican campaign poster, created by superimposing a portrait of Grant onto the platform of the Republican Party

The 1868 campaign of Horatio Seymour versus Ulysses S. Grant was conducted vigorously, being fought out largely on the question of how Reconstruction should be conducted.[8]

The Republicans were fearful as late as October that they might be beaten.[9]

Grant/Colfax humorous campaign card

Grant took no part in the campaign and made no promises. The Republican campaign theme, “Let us have peace,” was taken from his letter of acceptance. After four years of civil war, three years of wrangling over Reconstruction, and the attempted impeachment of a president, the nation craved the peace Grant pledged to achieve.

Seymour/Blair campaign photograph

Seymour answered none of the charges made against him, but made a few key speeches. Some newspapers exaggerated his faults. As governor, Seymour had sent troops to Gettysburg, but some press tried to portray him as disloyal to the Union. The New York Tribune led the cartoon campaign with the picture of Seymour standing on the steps of the City Hall calling a mob of New York draft rioters “my friends.” The Hartford Post called him “almost as much of a corpse” as ex-President James Buchanan, who had just died. Additionally, Republicans alleged that insanity ran through the Seymour family, citing as evidence the suicide of his father.

Blair went on a national speaking tour in which he framed the contest with Ulysses S. Grant and the pro-Reconstruction Republicans in stark racial terms, warning of the rule of “a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshipers of fetishes and poligamists” and wanted to “subject the white women to their unbridled lust.” Republicans advised Americans not to vote for Seymour, as Blair might succeed him.[10]

Northern and Southern Democratic Sheet Music

Blair had a reputation for being outspoken as a politician and his campaign speeches in 1868 attacked Radical Republicans.[11] Samuel J. Tilden, a member of the national committee, asked Blair to confine his campaigning to Missouri and Illinois for fear he “would hurt the ticket” because of his stand on Reconstruction.[12]

Seymour, who had not taken an active role in the campaign to this point, went into the canvass, seeking to steer the campaign away from the harshness of Blair’s attacks on Radical Reconstruction. Seymour emphasized his idea that change in the South should be accomplished at the state level, without national interference. The Democrats campaigned for immediate restoration of all states, the “regulation of the elective franchise in the states by their citizens”, and amnesty for past political offenses,[8] whilst State civil authority should take precedence over military action. The president and the Supreme Court should be respected rather than attacked, as he claimed the Republicans had done. The Democrats would be careful to reorder national priorities.[13]


Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage for the winning candidate. Shades of red are for Grant (Republican) and shades of blue are for Seymour (Democratic).

Horatio Seymour polled 2,708,744 votes against 3,013,650 for Grant.

The closeness of the popular vote surprised the political elite at the time.[14] When Republican Representative James G. Blaine looked at the returns of the election, he thought that the slender popular majority for Grant was “a very startling fact.”[15] Blaine, an acute judge of popular sentiment, was at a loss to explain the size of the Democratic vote.[16] Ethnic Irish Catholic and other immigrants had been settling in New York in number for nearly a quarter century. The very narrow margin by which Seymour lost several of the northern states like Indiana, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, and the effects of new black votes in the South provoked the suspicion that a majority of the white men of the nation probably preferred him to Grant.[17]

The Democrats in the South had worked hard, but Republican regimes controlled the election machinery and carried all of the states there except Georgia and Louisiana, where activity by the Ku Klux Klan was already affecting Republicans’ ability to express their opinion.[18]

Along the border, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware went overwhelmingly Democratic, in Kentucky’s case this being influenced by hostility towards the Radical Reconstructionists, which had led to the state’s first postwar government being almost entirely composed of former Confederates.[19] No Democratic presidential candidate before or since has attained a higher percentage of the vote in the states of Kentucky[20] or Maryland,[21] where hostility towards black suffrage was very widespread.[22] As for Delaware,[23] only the Democratic tickets of Johnson/Humphrey in 1964 (which was elected with the largest percentage of the popular vote since 1824) and Obama/Biden in 2008 (which had the first Delawarean on a national ticket) carried the state with a larger percentage of the vote.

Two border states, Missouri and West Virginia, both of which were under Republican control, gave their electoral votes to Grant.[24] Seymour narrowly carried his home state of New York, but Blair, largely because of the Radicals’ registry system, failed to carry Missouri. The Missouri Democrat exulted: “General Blair is beaten in his ward, his city, his county and his State.”[25] In West Virginia, former Confederates were temporarily forbidden from voting or holding public office. It is estimated that 15,000 to 25,000 white residents were disfranchised as a result.[26]

Of the 1,708 counties making returns, Grant won in 991 (58.02%) while Seymour carried 713 (41.74%). Four counties (0.23%) split evenly between Grant and Seymour. Hence, the Democrats, even with all of the burdens of the war, still carried only 278 fewer counties than the triumphant Republicans. This cemented a solid party comeback at the grassroots level that had begun in local elections during 1867.[27]

This was the last election in which the Republicans won Tennessee until 1920, the last in which the Republicans won Missouri until 1904, the last in which the Democrats won Oregon until 1912, and the last in which the Democrats won Louisiana until 1880.

The ULC petitioned Congress to investigate Seymour's victory in New York.

That Grant should lose New York to Seymour by a majority of 10,000 votes was a source of shame and anger to Republicans. Seymour's victory in New York was made the subject of a federal investigation. On November 4, Horace Greeley spoke at the Union League Club. The ULC promptly petitioned the Congress to look into the vote of the state. This petition was presented to the House of Representatives on December 14 and was accepted by a vote of 134-35 (52 abstained). Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax, the Republican candidate for vice-president, appointed a committee of seven: five Republicans and two Democrats. The committee was most likely created because the Republicans could not lose New York without a protest. It reported to the House of Representatives on February 23, 1869.[28] The committee decided to take no action and Seymour retained all of New York’s 33 electoral votes. Seymour was willing to return to this subject as long as he lived.[15]

In his 1943 book, writer Irving Stone, a novelist, suggested that if Seymour had carried all four of the October states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa), the Republican-controlled Congress would have acted to prevent the possibility of any Southern states supporting the Democratic ticket. Stone claimed that the only way the Democrats could have won was if they carried every close state in the North while retaining both Georgia and Louisiana. The vote of Georgia was contested at the electoral count with the Republicans claiming the Democrats won only to “violence, fraud and intimidation”, and it likely would have been disallowed if a Democratic victory had been decisive.[9]

According to Seymour’s biographer, Stewart Mitchell, the Republican Party claimed credit for saving the Union and was bound, bent, and determined to continue to rule it.[29] It has also been noted than only the votes of half a million newly enfranchised coloured men gave Grant a popular majority,[9] which contrasted strongly with later years when the Republicans permitted complete black disenfranchisement in the former Confederate states as they had many new and secure votes in new states of the West.[30]

Popular vote
Electoral vote
Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a) Electoral
Running mate
Count Percentage Vice-presidential candidate Home state Electoral vote(a)
Ulysses S. Grant Republican Illinois 3,013,650 52.7% 214 Schuyler Colfax Indiana 214
Horatio Seymour Democratic New York 2,708,744 47.3% 80 Francis Preston Blair, Jr. Missouri 80
Other 46 0.0% Other
Total 5,722,440 100% 294 294
Needed to win 148 148

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. "1868 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved July 27, 2005.  Source (Electoral Vote): "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved July 31, 2005.  (a) Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia did not participate in the election of 1868 due to Reconstruction. In Florida, the state legislature cast its electoral vote.

Geography of results[edit]

Cartographic gallery[edit]

1868 Electoral Map.png


Counties with highest percent of vote (Republican)

  1. Hancock County, Tennessee 100.00%
  2. Monona County, Iowa 100.00%
  3. Ottawa County, Kansas 100.00%
  4. Jefferson County, Nebraska 100.00%
  5. McDowell County, West Virginia 100.00%

Counties with highest percent of vote (Democratic)

  1. St. Landry Parish, Louisiana 100.00%
  2. Lafayette Parish, Louisiana 100.00%
  3. Jackson Parish, Louisiana 100.00%
  4. De Soto Parish, Louisiana 100.00%
  5. Franklin Parish, Louisiana 100.00%

Counties with highest percent of vote (Other)

  1. DeKalb County, Alabama 0.70%
  2. Sullivan County, New Hampshire 0.11%
  3. Strafford County, New Hampshire 0.09%
  4. Carroll County, New Hampshire 0.02%

Close states[edit]

Red font color denotes states won by Republican Ulysses S. Grant; blue denotes those won by Democrat Horatio Seymour.

States where the margin of victory was under 1% (8 electoral votes)

  1. California 0.48%
  2. Oregon 0.74%

States where the margin of victory was under 5% (93 electoral votes)

  1. New York 1.18%
  2. New Jersey 1.76%
  3. Alabama 2.50%
  4. Indiana 2.79%
  5. Connecticut 2.98%
  6. Pennsylvania 4.41%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections". The American Presidency Project. UC Santa Barbara. 
  2. ^ William DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, Gramercy,d 1997
  3. ^ Irving Stone (1943), They Also Ran: The Story of the Men Who Were Defeated for the Presidency, Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Doran, pg. 280
  4. ^ Official proceedings of the National Democratic convention, held at New York, July 4-9, 1868 (Pg. 153)
  5. ^ William E. Parrish (1998), Frank Blair: Lincoln's Conservative, Missouri Biography Series, University of Missouri Press, pg. 254
  6. ^ Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative, William E. Parrish, pg. 260
  7. ^ Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York, Harvard University Press, 1938, p. 448
  8. ^ a b Henry, Robert Selph; The Story of Reconstuction; p. 330-332 ISBN 9781568522548
  9. ^ a b c Henry; The Story of Reconstruction; pp. 345-346
  10. ^ Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York, Harvard University Press, 1938, pg. 23
  11. ^ Mitchell (1938), Horatio Seymour, pp. 448-449
  12. ^ William E. Parrish, Frank Blair: Lincoln's Conservative, p. 255–256
  13. ^ William E. Parrish, Frank Blair: Lincoln's Conservative, pg. 258–259
  14. ^ Irving Stone (1943), They Also Ran, pg. 282
  15. ^ a b Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York, pg. 483
  16. ^ Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York, pg. 443
  17. ^ Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York, pg. 474
  18. ^ Leonard, Elizabeth D.; Lincoln’s Avengers: Justice, Revenge and Reunion after the Civil War, p. 286 ISBN 0393048683
  19. ^ Henry; The Story of Reconstruction, pp. 250-253
  20. ^ Counting the Votes; Kentucky
  21. ^ Counting the Votes; Maryland
  22. ^ Bergeron, Paul H.; Andrew Johnson’s Civil War and Reconstruction; pp. 105-111 ISBN 1572337486
  23. ^ Counting the Votes; Delaware
  24. ^ Henry; The Story of Reconstruction; p.
  25. ^ Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative, William E. Parrish, pg. 259-260
  26. ^ “A Brief History of African Americans in West Virginia,” West Virginia Culture "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 1, 1970. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  27. ^ Bergeron; Andrew Johnson’s Civil War and Reconstruction; pp. 175-177
  28. ^ Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, pg. 474-475
  29. ^ Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, pg. 484
  30. ^ Valelly, Richard M.; The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 134-139 ISBN 9780226845302


  • American Annual Cyclopedia...1868 (1869), online, highly detailed compendium of facts and primary sources
  • Gambill, Edward. Conservative Ordeal: Northern Democrats and Reconstruction, 1865-1868. (Iowa State University Press: 1981).
  • Edward McPherson. The Political History of the United States of America During the Period of Reconstruction (1875) large collection of speeches and primary documents, 1865–1870, complete text online.[The copyright has expired.]
  • Prymak, Andrew. “The 1868 and 1872 Elections,” in Edward O. Frantz, ed. A Companion to the Reconstruction Presidents 1865-1881 (Wiley Blackwell Companions to American History) (2014) pp 235–56 online
  • Rhodes, James G. History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896. Volume: 6. (1920). 1865-72; detailed narrative history
  • Simpson, Brooks D. Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868 (1991).
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren.The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865-1878 (1994)
  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. The Era of Good Stealings (1993), covers corruption 1868-1877

External links[edit]