As Election Day neared in the late summer of 1864, President Abraham Lincoln was convinced that he would lose his re-election bid to George McClellan, the Democratic Party’s nominee and the onetime commander of the Army of the Potomac.
So noted Professor George Rable, one of the nation’s leading historians of the Civil War, as he delivered a pair of lectures to Kean University and Kean-Ocean students on November 14.
Dr. Rable, the Charles G. Summersell Professor of Southern History at the University of Alabama, has won multiple prizes for his books about the Civil War, including Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! (2002) and God’s Almost Chosen People: A Religious History of the American Civil War (2010). His appearance at Kean’s main campus and at Kean-Ocean was sponsored by the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy.
Dr. Frank Wetta, a senior fellow at CHPP, introduced Dr. Rable, a onetime colleague of his, at both lectures.
Dr. Rable noted that Lincoln’s political fortunes rose at just the right time in 1864. His Democratic opponents were divided, and it certainly helped his cause when Union General William T. Sherman captured the Confederate bastion of Atlanta, Georgia. Lincoln wound up winning by a landslide, with 55 percent of the popular vote. His opponent, McClellan, captured only three states – one of them was New Jersey.
What was miraculous about the election of 1864, Dr. Rable noted, was that it took place at all. “I don’t know of any other country where a presidential election took place in the middle of a civil war,” he said. “Usually elections are suspended during wartime.”
Dr. Terry Golway, director of CHPP, delivered an accompanying lecture about New York politics during the Civil War era.