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‘Firm and dignified’: Warren Mail stumps for Lincoln-Hamlin ticket in runup to 1860 election

Library of Congress image search Hannibal Hamlin.

John Adams once called the vice presidency “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

But in a little over five months, we’ll go to the polls to pick electors that will pick the next one.

It’s a nebulous office. It doesn’t have too many required responsibilities and it really only has the authority that the president decides to give it.

The person selected is often – beyond their own merits or qualifications – to balance out a presidential ticket.

I traveled over Memorial Day weekend to Maine to spend some time with friends. While I was there, I went to the grave of Hannibal Hamlin, President Lincoln’s first vice president.

Photo from the Warren Mail An 1860 presidential campaign ad in the Warren Mail touting the candidacy of Lincoln and Hamlin.

When I got back to work on Tuesday, I started looking to see what the local papers had to say about Hamlin.

And it turns out that the Warren Mail – the town’s Republican paper – had a lot to say. And I realized… it was the campaign of 1860. No internet, radio, television. The town’s Republican paper was essentially the campaign arm for the campaign in Warren.

And it’s clear that was the case, which I found interesting; but a little background is required on an obscure – if intriguingly named – historical figure before I get into what the local papers said.

Prior to the 1960 election, Hamlin had been a Senator, governor and Representative from Maine and even was a former Democrat.

“When an excited ally interrupted Hamlin at a card game in Washington to give him news of his nomination in Chicago, the irritated senator complained the interruption ruined the only good hand he had had all evening,” a U.S. Senate history explains. “With great reluctance, he accepted the offer.”

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Abraham Lincoln’s first vice-president, Hannibal Hamlin, is buried at the Mount Hope Cemetery outside of Bangor, Me.

Hamlin’s work in the Senate allowed him an early voice in filling out the Cabinet. But that’s where his value stopped.

“Once Hamlin took up his vice-presidential duties, his usefulness ended,” the Senate site explained. “Although he hated being vice president, he again sought the nomination in 1864. Party leaders, however, dumped him–Maine was by then safely Republican–in favor of Andrew Johnson, from the politically crucial border state of Tennessee.”

Hamlin may have been irrelevant but it’s not a hard argument to make that Hamlin would have made a better president than Andrew Johnson because the reality was that there have been few presidents worse than Johnson.

Hamlin returned to the Senate in 1869.

The first reference I could find is from the Aug. 1, 1850 edition in a column on late dispatches from other cities.

“A dispatch from Augusta to-day announces the election of Hannibal Hamlin to the United States Senate,” it simply said.

The 1850s were a turbulent time, ultimately leading to the outbreak of civil war after Lincoln and Hamlin were elected. The previous May, the ticket was selected by the Republican National Convention in Chicago.

There were signs that tensions were high.

“When the Republicans in Washington called on Senator Hamlin the other night, and he and others were speaking, they were interrupted by a mob and pelted with brick bats, but not driven from their ground,” the Mail reported. “This was in Washington, the capital of the nation! Who says this is not a free country?

“The pro-slavery democracy shouldn’t attempt to muzzle free speech just yet. When Lincoln and Hamlin are inaugurated on the 4th of March next, they will feel a little ashamed of this early exhibition of their bad manners and worse principles.”

That edition of the Mail included both a speech Hamlin gave when he learned of his nomination, a biography and the Republican Party’s 1860 platform.

“Concurring with you fully in the great principles which have united us in political association, I am pleased to meet you on this occasion, and unite my voice with yours most cordially in a tribute to a common cause,” Hamlin told wellwishers. I’ve edited the speech for length.

Of that position which has been assigned to me, you will allow me to say, that at while I feel profoundly

grateful for the honor it confers,and am duly sensible of the obligation it imposes, it was neither sought, expected, or even desired.

But you have come to pay a tribute to our standard-bearer (LINCOLN), who has been taken from the Great West, where the star of empire is culminating, if it has not already culminated; a man of comprehensive and

vigorous intellect, and fully equal to the position designated. The architect of his own fortune, lie comes to us most emphatically a representative man; not only a representative man as an able and earnest exponent

of Republican principles, but is identified with those laboring and industrial classes. Having from early life, lo the maturity of manhood, devoted himself to physical labor, lie can, as he does, but feel a keener sense of the rights of labor. He stands before the country, too, with a high moral character, upon which even a suspicion was never breathed, and with a political integrity above reproach.

To preserve the integrity of the Union, with the full and just rights of all the States, the States themselves not interfering with the principles of Liberty and Humanity in the Territories of the United States, outside of their own jurisdiction, and to preserve our original territorial domain for the homesteads of the free– these are the great principles which we have united to sustain and advance.

That done, our Government will remain a blessing to all, and our country a refuge in which the man of every creed and every (citizen) may enjoy the securities and privileges of institutions of Freedom, regulated

only by law.”

The biographical sketch states that Hamlin and Lincoln were the same age, both 51, and detailed Hamiin’s service in the Main state house, House of Representatives and then in the Senate.

“When the Nebraska Bill was introduced into the Senate by Senator Douglas, Mr. Hamlin refused to support

It,” the paper reported. That bill is likely what we know as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, another touch point in the decades-long free state vs. slave state controversy.

“A more honest and upright man than Hannibal Hamlin does not live,” the Mail reported, in an item attributed to the Albany Journal. “He possesses great experience in public, is firm and dignified in his manner, and fully impressed with the great mission of the Republican party.

Mr. Hamlin was bred a mechanic, but commenced the study of law soon after his majority. In person he is of medium height, of modest demeanor, with a grave and thoughtful countenance. We (think) he

has no enemies, so courteous and considerate are his relations to those around him. — He will preside over the Senate with dignity and efficiency.”

The “People’s State Committee” continued its electioneering in the June 16 edition.

“We are about to outer another great national struggle, the issue of which must tell decisively for the (success) or woe of our common country.”

That kind of language sound familiar?

That Abraham Lincoln, the nominee for President, is spotless in both public and private life, and that he is ” honest and capable” is confessed as with one voice by his countrymen. His well earned national fame, the

offspring of no fortuitous circumstances, points to him as the “coming man “ who will administer the Government honestly, frugally and faithfully, and restore the Republic to domestic tranquility, to prosperity, and to honor.

True to these great measures of reform is Hannibal Hamlin, our candidate for Vice-President, as is shown by his long and consistent public career in the councils of the nation.

As Election Day approached, the electioneering got closer to home.

From the Oct. 13, 1860 edition: “A splendid pine pole was raised by the Republicans in Kinzua last Saturday. It is 112 feet high, a true taper and straight as an arrow. A streamer floats from the top below which is a beautiful flag with the stars and stripes on which the names of our candidates, Lincoln and Hamlin. When the pole was up three rousing cheers were given for them and three for the ladies who made the flag.”

Over 30 years later, the Mail included a brief item in an 1891 edition denoting Lincoln’s birth while adding this about Hamlin: “his associate on the Presidential ticket of 1860, Hannibal Hamlin, born only one year later, is alive and enjoying a vigorous old age.”

Just a week earlier, Hamlin had added his voice to the idea of turning Lincoln’s birthday into a holiday.

“Lincoln’s birthday was generally observed last Thursday by meetings in most of the Northern States. Warren,

as will be seen on our local page, keeps up with the procession,” the Mail reported. “In New York last Thursday evening Hon. Hannibal Hamlin, now over 80 years old, was an honored guest, and urged that Lincoln’s

birthday be made a National holiday. Congressman Mason and Senator Higgins, who were present, said they would at once introduce bills in Congress in accord with the suggestion.”

It proved a fruitless effort as Lincoln’s birthday is a holiday in only a few states.

Hamlin would die just a few months later – July 4, 1891 – at the age of 81.

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