Monday, December 8, 2014

Immigration History: Immigration and the Nomination of Abraham Lincoln

Previous: State Based Policies

Just because there were no federal immigration laws before the Civil War does not mean that immigration issues did not influence politics.

One such instance is the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for President at the Republican convention in 1860. This convention saw stiff competition for the nomination among William Seward, Salmon Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln. When the convention started, Lincoln was thought to be in last place. However, Lincoln managed to obtain the nomination by angling for second preference of the delegates and letting the other three knock each other out.

Edward Bates, had previously been affiliated with the Know Nothing Party, a political movement formed in the 1850s in response to the high levels of immigration. Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, this party had seen some success but ultimately split over the question of slavery.

Bates' affiliation with the Know Nothings hurt him at the convention. A German-American delegation refused to support him, which threatened to actively oppose him among all German-Americans were he given the nomination.

This problem with Bates (among others), combined with failure of each of the other candidates to achieve majority support left everyone looking for an alternative. That was exactly who Lincoln had positioned himself to be--the ideal second choice for delegates who could not nominate their man yet would not support any of the other two.

So while the immigration issue was far from critical, and likely not even determination, it was a factor that played into the stalled candidacy of Edward Bates and the nomination of Abraham Lincoln.

Which just goes to show that here in the United States we don't even need an immigration policy to have political consequences for immigration politics.

Next: A National Policy


Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005).

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