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Lincoln’s 1864 re-election Campaign Compared to a Table Game Similar to Billiards
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[ABRAHAM LINCOLN; ELECTION OF 1864]. Print. A Little Game of Bagatelle, between Old Abe the Rail Splitter & Little Mac the Gunboat General lithograph cartoon. Philadelphia: John L. Magee, 1864. 12½ x 18½ in.

Inventory #25615       Price: $4,900

Rare. Five copies located in institutions (Houghton Library at Harvard, Library of Congress, McGill University, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and New York Public Library), and none others traced at auction since 1924.

This pro-Lincoln cartoon from the 1864 campaign shows Abraham Lincoln with the “Baltimore” cue running the Union Board. His diminutive Democratic opponent George B. McClellan with a “Chicago” cue totters on a collapsing “Chicago Peace Platform” and says, “This Cue is too heavy and the Platform’s shakey!! O! O! I want to go back in the yard!!!” McClellan’s running mate George B. Pendleton stands nearby, and says, “O see here. We can’t stand this! Old Abe’s getting all the pots on the board, this game will have to be played over again or there’l be a fight, THAT’S CERTAIN.” Lincoln’s running mate Tennessee Unionist Andrew Johnson keeps score and exclaims, “Hurrah for our side, go ahead Old Abe! O aint he bully on the bagatelle? you’ve only got a few more to make, IT’S A SURE THING!!” to which Lincoln replies, “I’ll do the best I can, Andy, I can do no more.” General Ulysses S. Grant looks toward McClellan, “I say Mac, you travel too near the ground to play on this board, better surrender UNCONDITIONALLY,” while northern Peace Democrat Clement Vallandigham tells McClellan, “There is nothing the matter with the CUE or the PLATFORM, you had the first red and didn’t make anything, now he’l win the game.” At their feet, a cat labeled “Miss Cegenation” and a black dog with a kettle tied to their tails chase away two rats, “Old Lea” and “Wood.” “Old Lea” was a nickname for General Robert E. Lee. “Wood” is Congressman and former New York City Mayor Fernando Wood, a prominent “Copperhead” leader supportive of both slavery and the Confederacy.

Historical Background

The 1864 presidential election in the midst of the Civil War pitted President Lincoln against his Democratic challenger, General George B. McClellan. Although McClellan had been the commander of the Army of the Potomac and general-in-chief of the Union Army, he was hampered by the Peace platform adopted by the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which declared the war a failure. The party was bitterly divided between War Democrats, who favored continuing the war to restore the Union while leaving slavery alone; moderate Peace Democrats, who favored an armistice and a negotiated peace that would likely protect slavery in a reconstructed union, and radical Peace Democrats, who favored an immediate end to the war without securing Union victory. War Democrat McClellan supported continuing the war and restoring the Union, but the platform, written by Peace Democrat Clement Vallandigham, opposed McClellan’s position. The convention also nominated Peace Democrat George H. Pendleton for vice president.

President Abraham Lincoln won the nomination of the “National Union Party” at its Baltimore convention. In 1864, Republicans created the National Union Party to attract War Democrats, Unconditional Unionists, and Unionist Party members who would not vote for the Republican Party, though most state Republican parties did not change their name. The National Union Party selected War Democrat Andrew Johnson as Lincoln’s running mate.

American politics had long played on fears of sexual relationships between the black and white races, or “race-mixing,” but the word “miscegenation” was coined in an anonymous December 1863 pamphlet entitled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro, published in New York. The pamphlet was a literary forgery prepared by The World managing editor David Goodman Croly and reporter George Wakeman and purported to advocate the virtues of the “blending of the white and black races on this continent.” The authors even attempted to trick President Lincoln into endorsing the work, though unsuccessfully.[1]

Although Lincoln was convinced by August 1864 that he could not be reelected, General William T. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in early September and General Philip Sheridan’s successes in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia from August to October ensured a victory for the National Union Party. Lincoln and Johnson won 55 percent of the popular vote and an overwhelming 212 to 21 victory in the Electoral College, though of course without the participation of the seceded states. McClellan and Pendleton carried only Kentucky, Delaware, and McClellan’s home state of New Jersey.

Bagatelle evolved in France during the long reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), when billiard tables were narrowed and wooden pins placed at one end. Players would shoot balls with a cue in a game as similar to bowling as to billiards. Because pins took too long to reset, they were eventually fixed to the table, and holes in the bed of the table became the targets, allowing players to ricochet balls off pins to reach more difficult holes. During the Revolutionary War French officers brought bagatelle tables with them and introduced the table game to America, where it became popular in the nineteenth century.

Games were usually played either with eight white balls and one black ball, or with four white balls, four red balls, and one black ball. The aim was to “pot” as many balls as possible in the cups, and players gained the number of points indicated on each cup in which they potted a ball. A traditional bagatelle table has nine sunken holes, but the one pictured in this cartoon has twenty-one, a few less than the number of states voting in the 1864 election

John L. Magee (1818-1870s) was born in New York and created lithographs for New York publishing companies until he moved to Philadelphia after 1852. There, he published prints on a variety of political, sports, and news events throughout the 1850s and 1860s. In 1860, he lived in Philadelphia with his wife Ann and two children and owned $100 in personal property. In 1870, he lived in Philadelphia with three children and he owned $350 in personal property.


Edges worn with three repaired closed tears in the margins. Loss to bottom left corner well clear of design or text.

[1] Author of Miscegenation to Abraham Lincoln, September 29, 1864 (with enclosed copy of pamphlet), Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

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