The election of 1860 was a pivotal moment in American history. It marked the first time that four candidates ran for President, and it saw Abraham Lincoln become the 16th President of the United States. The election also brought to light deep divisions within the country over slavery and states' rights, ultimately leading to a civil war two years later.
At this point in U.S. history, slavery had been an issue since before its founding as a nation; However, with industrialization taking hold across much of America during this period, economic tensions between free labor and slave labor had come to a boiling point by 1860. This tension was further exacerbated when new territories acquired from Mexico were up for debate regarding whether they should be admitted as free or slave states, fueling political division even more intensely than ever before on both sides of the aisle.
In response to these growing tensions among citizens throughout various regions of America (North vs. South), three major parties emerged: the Republican Party led by Abraham Lincoln; the Democratic Party split into Northern Democrats led by Stephen Douglas and Southern Democrats who supported John Breckinridge; and the Constitutional Union Party backed former Senator John Bell from Tennessee, seeking compromises on all issues related to slavery instead of abolitionists' demands for immediate emancipation at any cost. Despite being heavily outspent by his opponents' combined forces, Lincoln won a majority of electoral votes, thus becoming President-elect amid great uncertainty due to the overwhelming regional divide, causing secessionist movements starting on December 20th when South Carolina declared itself an independent republic, followed by other southern states soon thereafter, forming the Confederate States of America, while the North stood firm behind the newly elected commander-in-chief until April 1861, when the Civil War broke out.