Abraham Lincoln (books by this author) was nominated for president on this day in 1860. The Republican National Convention was held in Chicago that year; it was only the second national nominating convention for the fledgling party. The lanky Kentucky-born lawyer had gained national attention for his debates on slavery with Illinois senator Stephen Douglas two years before. Douglas, a Democrat, had argued that the question of slavery was best left to the individual states to decide, while Lincoln — formerly a Whig — had argued to curb the expansion of slavery. This ended up being one of the more moderate positions among the contenders for the Republican nomination. Two of his rivals — William Seward and Edward Bates — supported the complete eradication of the practice of slavery nationwide. Delegates knew they would have to win voters from the West and South to win the presidential race, so Lincoln was their choice. After his election, every one of his rivals ended up a member of his Cabinet.
It was a speech that Lincoln gave in New York City just three months before the convention that won over skeptical Easterners. Some 1,500 curious New Yorkers crowded into Cooper Union in the East Village to hear what Lincoln had to say. Most of them doubted that this uneducated Westerner had what it took to lead a nation in crisis. One eyewitness reported that he was appalled at how tall, awkward, and ungainly Lincoln was. Once the presidential hopeful began to speak, however, “his face lighted up as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured. I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet like the rest, yelling [and] cheering for this wonderful man.”