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The Dark Horse Candidate

Led by his Bloomington friends, Lincoln captured the 1860 Republican nomination for president.

National Republican Convention

In mid-May 1860, Republicans gathered in Chicago to nominate their presidential candidate. Lincoln’s team was led by Judge David Davis.

As the convention got underway, thousands of Lincoln supporters from Central Illinois and Indiana filled the streets outside the convention hall. 

Counterfeit admission tickets printed by Lincoln allies swelled the ranks of his supporters inside the convention hall.

If Judge Davis, with his tact and force, had not lived, and all other things had been as they were, I believe you would not now be sitting where you are.
— Leonard Swett recalling a White House conversation with Lincoln, 1877
Black and white photo of a massive building with crowds outside, an eagle and flag on top, over the banner “Republican Headquarters.”

The 1860 National Republican Convention was held in downtown Chicago in a building known as the “Wigwam.”

Credit: Courtesy the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois.
Black and white photo of a massive building with crowds outside, an eagle and flag on top, over the banner “Republican Headquarters.”
Black and white illustration of a large indoor hall, with wooden pillars, filled with convention of people.

The cavernous convention hall, built entirely of wood, was meant to be a temporary structure.

Credit: Harpers Weekly, May 1860. Courtesy the Library of Congress.
Black and white illustration of a large indoor hall, with wooden pillars, filled with convention of people.

Lincoln Nominated

When Lincoln’s name was placed in nomination, his supporters gave a “wild yell.”

No language can describe it. A thousand steam whistles, ten acres of hotel gongs, a tribe of Comanches, headed by a choice vanguard from pandemonium, might have mingled in the scene unnoticed.
— Leonard Swett
May 27, 1860

While supporters rallied for Lincoln on the convention floor, the real action took place behind closed doors. Ignoring Lincoln’s instruction to make no backroom deals, David Davis did all he could to win over delegates.

By making promises and cutting deals with the Indiana and Pennsylvania delegations, Davis and Swett secured the votes Lincoln needed to win the nomination.

Lincoln ain’t here, and don’t know what we have to meet, so we will go ahead, as if we hadn't heard from him.
— David Davis’s response to Lincoln’s request, “Make no contracts that will bind me.”
Photo of red delegate card admitting entrance to the convention.

David Davis' delegate card

Credit: Courtesy the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois
Photo of red delegate card admitting entrance to the convention.
Black and white scan of handwritten telegram from Davis to Lincoln. Telegraph reads

“Don’t come here for God’s sake.” Davis sent a series of telegrams to Lincoln during the convention. He urged him to remain in Springfield while his friends worked to secure the nomination.

Credit: Davis to Lincoln telegram, May 18, 1860. Courtesy the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois.
Black and white scan of handwritten telegram from Davis to Lincoln. Telegraph reads
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