Contributing Editors for this page include Rhonda Webb


#36 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

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“We can not have free government without elections…”

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HD Daily Report, November 10, 1864

The Lincoln Log, November 10, 1864

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Posted at YouTube by “Understanding Lincoln” participant Rhonda Webb, September 28, 2013

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How Historians Interpret

“That Americans would conduct a presidential campaign during a titanic civil war amazed German-born Francis Lieber, professor of history and political science at Columbia University. ‘If we come triumphantly out of this war, with a presidential election in the midst of it,’ he wrote in August 1864, ‘I shall call it the greatest miracle in all the historic course of events. It is a war for nationality at a period when the people were not yet fully nationalized.’ Democrats predicted that the administration would cancel the election in a brazen attempt to retain power, but Lincoln would not hear of it. ‘We can not have free government without elections,” he believed; “and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.’ As dismayed Confederates saw their chances of winning on the battlefield fade, they pinned their hopes on Northern war weariness; if Lincoln could be defeated at the polls, they believed their bid for independence just might succeed”

— Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 2, Chapter 33 (PDF), 3646


“When serenaders came to the White House to celebrate his reelection, Lincoln touted the theme of charity: ‘Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this [election], as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged’…With the phrase ‘planting a thorn in any man’s bosom,’ Lincoln borrows an Old testament reference to alien nations whom the Israelites allowed to remain in the promised land: ‘But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.’”

— Lucas E. Morel, Lincoln’s Sacred Effort: Defining Religion’s Role in American Self Government (Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2000), 202-203.


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November 10, 1864
It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies.
On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people, united, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail when divided, and partially paralized, by a political war among themselves?  But the election was a necessity.
We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case. What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases. Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.
But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility. It shows also how sound, and how strong we still are. It shows that, even among candidates of the same party, he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.
But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.
While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
May I ask those who have not differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?
And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skilful commanders.