John C. Breckinridge (1860, Southern Democratic)
- Opponent: Abraham Lincoln
- State: Kentucky
- Running Mate: Joseph Lane
Background and Education: John Cabell Breckinridge was born on the 16th January 1821 at Thorn Hill, Lexington, Kentucky. His parents were Joseph ‘Cabell’ Breckinridge and Mary Smith. His mother was the granddaughter of Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon. His paternal grandfather had served as Attorney-General under Thomas Jefferson. Cabell Breckinridge was Kentucky’s Secretary of State.
When Breckinridge was only two and a half, his father suddenly died. Cabell Breckinridge had died with significant debts. Mary was so upset and shocked that she miscarried. The family was forced to move in with his grandmother Mary Breckinridge.
Breckinridge attended Central College, where his uncle worked. He graduated aged 17. After briefly studying law under a lawyer, Breckinridge attended Transylvania University. He was 20 when he graduated.
Personal Life: Breckinridge met his law partner’s cousin, Mary Bunch, in 1843. They married the same year. The pair had six children- four sons and two daughters. Several of their children and grandchildren became famous in their own right. Mary survived her husband by thirty-two years and is buried with him.
Breckinridge was a cousin by marriage to Abraham Lincoln. Mary Todd Lincoln was Breckinridge’s distant cousin. Lincoln and Breckinridge were close friends despite political differences.
Pre-Election Career: Breckinridge started his life as a lawyer in Kentucky. Deciding that things might be better for him out west, he moved to the Iowa Territories and set up a practice there. After only two years in Iowa, Breckinridge moved back to Kentucky after marrying his wife Mary. When the Mexican-American War rolled around, Breckinridge sought a military commission. He did not see combat but was an integral legal mind. In 1849, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. Unlike his abolitionist uncles who were also part of the House, Breckinridge affirmed his support of slavery.
His term in the Kentucky House of Representatives was short, as Breckinridge began two terms in Congress. Despite his young age, Breckinridge made a name for himself. He remained a close friend of Henry Clay and regularly visited the man who’d encouraged his political career. Slavery became a very important important issue at this time. Breckinridge retired after two terms as he worried about his re-election chances.
The Democratic National Convention of 1856 saw Breckinridge nominated as their Vice Presidential Candidate under James Buchanan. The ticket won, but the pair had a poor relationship. Breckinridge was not involved much in the administration and usually spend time presiding over the Senate.
Election: When 1860 rolled around, the union was fracturing. The Democrats split over the issue of slavery and thus the Southern Democrats were born. Breckinridge became their candidate, with Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon as his ticket mate. Slavery and the state of the union dominated the election.
Breckinridge dominated the South, with Lincoln not receiving a single electoral vote down there. He also won Delaware. Lincoln, however, managed to win the North and the West, winning the election. Breckinridge won 11 states, 18.1% of the vote, 72 electoral college votes and 848,019 votes.
Later Years: Elected to the Senate, Breckinridge enjoyed only a short term before divided
loyalties meant that he had to leave the office. Breckinridge spent the Civil War in service of the Confederacy. He took part in several major battles and was a prominent figure throughout. In February 1865, he was appointed Confederate Secretary of War. He was in the position for just three months when he realised that the war was ending and that his side was losing. Breckinridge resigned but helped the
Confederacy during the peace negotiations. He finished the war as a Major-General.
With the war over and the Confederacy disbanded, Breckinridge slipped out of the country and headed to Central America. He headed to Britain and stayed there for a short time before meeting his family in Canada. They stayed there for a time before touring Europe for several years in hopes of helping his wife’s poor health.
The family returned to Canada in summer 1868. President Johnson proclaimed amnesty for former Confederates on Christmas Day that same year. Breckinridge returned to the USA in February. He worked in banking, law and railroads. His health started failing in 1873. After unsuccessful surgery for pneumonia, Breckinridge died on the 17th May 1875, aged 54. He is buried in Lexington Cemetery, Kentucky.
Appearance and Character: Breckinridge was a handsome man with striking looks. He was
also rather tall for the time. As a person, Breckinridge was charismatic, intelligent and very
charming. He had a commanding presence and was a skilled orator.
George B. McClellan (1864, Democratic)
- Opponent: Abraham Lincoln
- State: New Jersey
- Running Mate: George H. Pendleton
Background and Education: George Britton McClellan was born on the 3rd December 1826 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents were George McClellan Sr and Elizabeth Brinton. It was expected that McClellan would become a doctor like his father, but he was forced to attend law school. McClellan changed his mind and started at West Point aged only 15. At West Point, McClellan was in a class that would see 20 generals on both sides of the Civil War. He came second in his class.
Personal Life: Sometime in the mid 1850s, McClellan met Mary “Ellen” Marcy. She was a popular candidate for marriage but eventually accepted his second proposal. Her family disapproved, which forced them to break up.
McClellan was finally able to marry Ellen in 1860. They had five children – three sons and two daughters. Their son George would later become Mayor of New York City. Ellen survived her husband by twenty years and died abroad in 1915, but was buried with her husband.
Pre-Election Career: McClellan spent eleven years in the forces before the Civil War. He was an engineer during the Mexican-American War, though did not see combat, much to his chagrin. During peacetime he continued engineering work and even went to study the Crimea War in Europe. After leaving the army, McClellan worked in civilian engineering.
When the Civil War broke out, McClellan proclaimed himself for the Union. Despite his youth, McClellan was a trusted soldier and was easily able to rise through the ranks. His early successes made him popular and he was often greeted by cheering crowds. His relationship with Lincoln was less positive due to McClellan’s propensity to overstep. Despite early successes, McClellan began to become overconfident and started to fail. McClellan was named Commanding General of the Army of the United States in late 1961.
Unfortunately for him, he was only in the post for four months before he was summarily dismissed. Nevertheless, McClellan still wielded significant power. He saw both highs and lows during his tenure. McClellan tended to be hands off and relied too much on enemy intelligent reports. He was given the opportunity to pursue General Lee after the Battle of Antietam but chose not to. This displeased Lincoln, who relieved McClellan of his command.
Election: With the Civil War still going, 1864 was an election that would surely decide how the war would go. As the Confederacy was no longer a part of the United States, their states would not be voting.
The Democrats were sharply divided between the War and Peace factions. As a compromise, they chose General McClellan as the candidate for President and Ohio Representative George Pendleton, who was anti-war, as the ticket mate.
As it became clear that the Union was going to win the war, people started to shift more towards Lincoln. He argued that it would be silly to change the Commander-in-Chief in the middle of the war. Up until this point, victory for Lincoln was far from assured. The Democrats were also divided, with John C. Frémont having formed his own party.
Lincoln won a landslide victory. McClellan got 3 states, 45% of the vote, 21 electoral college votes and 1,812,807 votes overall.
Later Years: McClellan spent several years abroad following the Civil War. He returned in 1868 and worked as a government engineer in New York. Following this, McClellan once again headed to Europe for a short period.
In 1877, McClellan was nominated to become the Governor of New Jersey. He hadn’t expressed interest so was surprised, but rolled with it and won the election. McClellan was a very popular man whose tax cuts eventually led to state income tax being abolished. Despite his generally hands off approach, any reforms he did were very popular with the populace.
Like Horatio Seymour, McClellan pushed hard for Grover Cleveland’s 1884 successful election. He left politics and focused on writing his memoir.
On the 29th October 1885, McClellan died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 58. He is
buried in Riverview Cemetery, New Jersey.
Appearance and Character: McClellan was a broad set man with thick brown hair and a mustache. Nicknamed “Young Napoleon,” McClellan was an arrogant, stubborn man who refused to listen to others. He thought he’d been put upon this earth by God for a special reason. McClellan ignored the civilian workers at the War Department but was idolized by the men under his command. He was an abrasive character who didn’t work well with Lincoln, such as when he refused to meet with the President.
Horatio Seymour (1868, Democratic)
- Opponent: Ulysses S. Grant
- State: New York
- Running Mate: Francis Preston Blair Jr.
Background and Education: Horatio Seymour was born on the 31st May 1810 in Pompey, New York. His parents were Henry Seymour and Mary Ledyard. The family moved to Utica when he was ten. Seymour graduated military school aged 18. He then studied law and was called to the bar aged 22.
Personal Life: Seymour married Mary Bleeker, an Albany native, in 1835. They had no children. Mary died only a month after her husband and they’re buried together. His sister Julie was married to notable Republican politician Roscoe Conkling.
Pre-Election Career: Seymour spent six years as a military secretary before taking over the family firm. He engaged in a variety of non-political work. In 1841 he became a member of the New York Assembly and gained the role of Mayor of Utica the next year, holding both roles concurrently.
Seymour won the New York Gubernatorial election of 1852 after losing the previous one. Problems within the Democratic Party both in New York and nationwide caused him to lose the 1854 election. A strong supporter of the Union, Seymour worked hard to keep the peace in the lead up to the Civil War. He did this by supporting the Crittebden Conpromise, which if successful, would have enshrined slavery into the Constutition. Seymour supported the Union but was not a fan of Lincoln.
In 1862, Seymour won the New York gubernatorial election. Problems within the Democratic Party continued to plague Seymour, whilst his poor relationship with Lincoln doomed his political
Election: Despite multiple attempts to refuse the candidacy, Seymour was a hugely popular choice among delegates and won unanimously on the 22nd ballot (it was a long process). His running mate was former Missouri congressman Francis P. Blair.
Reconstruction was the major issue during the election. The Democrats generally represented disgruntled southerners, with their favourite catchphrase: “this is a white man’s country, let white
men rule.” They were angered by Reconstruction and the new freedoms for African-Americans.
Unlike most presidential candidates up to that point, Seymour actively campaigned. Grant was the opposite. The election was surprisingly close. The Republicans actually dominated the South due to newly emancipated African-Americans voting for them.
Seymour won 8 states, 47.3% of the vote, 80 electoral college votes and 2,706,829 votes in
Later Years: Ill health forced Seymour into retirement from active political life. He acted as an advisor to young Democrats and constantly resisted attempts to nominate him for political office. Seymour came out of semi-retirement to help Grover Cleveland’s successful 1884 campaign.
On the 12th February 1886, Seymour died in NYC. He had suffered poor health for years and was 75 years old at his death. His wife Mary died only one month later. They’re buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in mid-state New York.
Appearance and Character: Seymour was a stern looking man with sideburns, wild hair and a
goatee. He remained a popular man throughout his career and was known as a quiet teetotaler.
Horace Greeley (1872, Liberal Republican)
- Opponent: Ulysses S. Grant
- State: New York
- Running Mate: Benjamin Gratz Brown
Background and Education: Horace Greeley was born on the 3rd February 1811 in Amherst, New Hampshire. His parents were Zaccheus Greeley and Mary Woodburn. Unlike many presidential candidates, Greenley came from next to nothing. His farmer father was rarely successful. Greeley was an extremely brilliant and intelligent young boy who was unable to attend higher education. He read through the local library and borrowed books from a kind neighbor.
Personal Life: Greeley met a teacher named Mary Cheney in about 1834/1835. They married in 1836, with Mary unusually keeping her job after the wedding. They had seven children – four sons and three girls. Only two lived past childhood.
The marriage was extremely unhappy, though Greeley was upset by her death. Despite his feminist views, Greeley opposed female suffrage and was angered to learn that his wife supported it. He was rarely home and when he was, he just got Mary pregnant again. She raised the children alone. Mary was a deep believer in the spiritual and even believed one of her sons had the gift. Unfortunately, Mary was mentally unbalanced and was not the most adept mother. She died only one month before her husband. They’re buried together.
Pre-Election Career: Greeley served as an apprentice printer, but struggled to find work in New York City. The printing job market there was heavily saturated. Despite early success, financial problems shut down some of his early papers. After dipping his toe into the political world, Greeley became a campaigner for the Whigs.
Greeley is popularly associated with the phrase “go West, young man.” This refers to his encouragement of young men going to seek work and livelihoods out West as opposed to staying in the city.
In 1841, Greeley founded the New-York Tribune. The paper became very successful and Greeley was very hands-on. Greeley continued to support Whig politics and this could be seen by the Tribune’s articles. He had a range of eccentric views on feminism, vegetarianism and spirituality among other things. This made him notorious in a rather conservative time period.
Greeley won a special election for a Congress seat in 1848. He wasn’t a particularly good or popular politician and only lasted a year, but he befriended Abraham Lincoln when he was there. As the Whig Party fell apart, Greeley made the Tribune non-partisan. He was a delegate at the 1860 Republican National Convention.
During the Civil War, Greeley urged for a harsh attitude towards the Confederacy. He was a strong abolitionist who felt the freedom of slaves was happening at too slow a place. Despite his criticisms, Greeley continued to be a loyal Lincoln supporter. Greeley urged a conciliatory tone towards Confederates during Reconstruction as he was afraid they’d be portrayed as martyrs.
Election: Whilst Ulysses S. Grant was easily renominated by the Republicans in 1872, there were members of the party unhappy with the perceived harshness of Reconstruction. They also didn’t like the corruption of Grant’s government. Splitting from the main party, they nominated Greeley as their candidate and former Missouri Governor Benjamin G. Brown.
Despite the corruption, Grant was personally popular. The Panic of 1873 was yet to set in, so the economy was stable. Greeley was a poor candidate – he wasn’t charming or good at speaking. He was also very controversial. The Democrats, worried about splitting the vote and enabling a Grant win, threw their lot behind him – reluctantly.
Grant easily won. The election killed the Liberal Republicans in their cradle. If the results had been validated, Greeley would have taken 6 states, 43.8% of the vote, 63 electoral college votes and 2,834,761 votes overall.
Later Years: The election was held but the Electoral College had not yet officially certified the votes. Greeley was now a widower, as Mary had died less than a week before the election. He headed back to work at his beloved Tribune. Unfortunately, Greeley fell ill and died on the 29th November 1872. The Electoral College divided up his votes between other candidates as they’d still not certified the election. Greeley is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
Appearance and Character: Greeley was a plump, stout man with wispy white hair and a beard coming from the neck. He wore round spectacles and was known to be careless about his looks. Greeley was eccentric, irrational and impulsive. Despite his strong moral compass, Greeley could be impatient and even cold.