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Lincoln Tops the Field in 1860 Presidential Election
Currier & Ives
Click to enlarge:

The 1860 presidential candidates flex their muscles, so to speak, along with New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who struggles to do a pull-up in his effort to gain the New York governorship. Lincoln, easily astride his own bar, offers advice: “You must do as I did, Greely, get somebody to give you a boost. I’m sure I never could have got up here by my own efforts.” New York Courier editor James Watson Webb attempts a backward somersault, while defeated Republican opponent (and future Secretary of State) William Seward appears on crutches, along with John Bell supported by Edward Everett, while Stephen Douglas and John Breckenridge box over slavery.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. Print. The Political Gymnasium. New York: Currier & Ives, 1860. 18 x 13½ in.

Inventory #23646       Price: $5,500

Historical Background

Currier & Ives produced prints intended for sale to the general public for display in homes and workplaces. Their images provided a historical depiction of America’s development from an agricultural to an industrialized society. Currier & Ives did not support a specific political party, but its political cartoons captured the strengths and foibles of all candidates. Their complicated cartoon images required readers to interpret the text and pictures in the context of current political events. For many voters, Currier & Ives prints were important to their understanding of candidates and issues in elections.

The election of 1860 was a four-way race between Lincoln, Illinois Democrat Stephen Douglas, Kentucky Southern Democrat John Breckinridge, and Tennessee Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. Each man had a particular view on the expansion of slavery, which had become the dominant issue in American politics. Lincoln opposed slavery and especially its expansion; Douglas remained committed to “popular sovereignty”- his plan to let each state decide slavery’s status for themselves; Breckinridge was the unabashedly pro-slavery candidate, and John Bell ran on the single issue of preserving the Union above all else (with slavery).

Lincoln quickly rose to the top of the electoral pack, though he won the White House without a single electoral vote from any southern state.  Here, Douglas’s position of popular sovereignty is shown to be checked by John Breckenridge, essentially splitting the proslavery vote. Bell is being supported by his popular vice president, Edward Everett. William Seward is seen on crutches, having lost the Republican nomination to Lincoln. Breckenridge took second place, carrying the entire South, Maryland, and Delaware. Bell placed third in the electoral contest, and Douglas dead last. The time-honored tradition of compromising on slavery was no longer viable. The movement toward secession began in the closing days of Buchanan’s presidency, and South Carolina led the way on December 20, 1860, months before Lincoln took office.

Lithographer Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) and artist James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) formed Currier & Ives in New York City in 1857 to publish art prints.  The company closed in 1907, after the deaths of its founders, when business had declined due to new printing technologies and changing artistic tastes.

Condition

Professionally treated by a paper conservator. Lined, and several tears closed resulting in the loss of one letter in Lincoln’s text.


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