1. Journal of American History
  2. /
  3. Teaching the JAH
  4. /
  5. Houses Divided: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Political Landscape of 1858

Houses Divided: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Political Landscape of 1858


Who Voted for Whom?

When the votes were finally cast on November 2, 1858, Republican candidates for the state legislature by far outpolled Democratic candidates in total number of votes. If we assume that every Republican vote was cast knowingly as a vote for Abraham Lincoln, and every Democratic vote for Stephen A. Douglas, then Lincoln would have won a statewide popular election handily. But the apportionment of the state’s population among the fifty-six state house districts and the twenty-five state senate districts was not even. Even though more Lincoln voters cast votes, they were unevenly represented in the various districts and failed to elect a sufficient number of Republican state legislators to secure Lincoln’s election to the Senate in January 1859. In particular, Lincoln failed to get majorities in the districts across the middle of the state, which historically had been loyal to the old Whig party. Lincoln had been a Whig before 1856, and the “Whig belt” had given its votes to Whig candidates even as late as 1856, when the last Whig presidential candidate, Millard Fillmore, ran against the Democrat, James Buchanan, and the nominee of the new Republican party , John C. Fremont. As a former Whig, Lincoln had hoped to carry these “swing” Whig districts. But Douglas played strongly on Whig fears about abolitionism and race, capping his efforts with an “October surprise”: an endorsement letter from the last great champion of the old Whigs, John J. Crittenden of Kentucky.

Questions

  • How close did Lincoln come to winning the “Whig belt”?
  • What does the difference between the total votes cast for each party and number of members elected from each party say about the apportionment of Illinois?

Sources

A. Maps of the Illinois state house and state senate districts, showing the counties where Whig, Democratic, and Republican support was the strongest.

  1. Illinois in 1858, showing state senate districts.
  2. Illinois in 1858, showing state house districts.
  3. Phase one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates (July 17–August 21).
  4. Phase two (August 24–September 4).
  5. Phase three (September 5–September 23).
  6. Phase four (September 24–October 7).
  7. Phase five (October 9–October 29).

B. Table showing the overall voting for the Illinois state legislature on November 2, 1858.

C. Tables showing Republican and Democratic voting in the “Whig belt” on November 2, 1858.