Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lincoln's 1864 Vice Presidential Possibilities

In a recent post, Kevin Levin was kind enough to link to a question I had raised as a comment to a post at Brian Dirck’s A Lincoln Blog. Prof. Dirck had cited Abraham Lincoln’s "worst flub" as the acceptance of Andrew Johnson as his vice presidential running mate in 1864. I asked, Well who, then, should Lincoln have pushed for the post? I qualified my question by noting that a fair answer required that the basic parameters be retained: basically, a Democrat (or Unionist) or conservative Republican from a border state or the lower reaches of the North.

When I asked the question, I had no answer in mind. My knowledge of available politicians in the specified categories during this period was and is weak. Like many, I suspect, I know more about the radicals on both sides, such as Clement Vallandigham or Charles Sumner, and far less about the moderates or conservative unionists.

It looks like Kevin (and his commenters), as well as Prof. Dirck, may propose some candidates. Despite my ignorance, I thought I’d take a crack at it too. As a first step, I simply consulted a Wikipedia list of the members of the Senate in the 38th Congress to see who, if anyone, looked like a possibility. Understanding full well that it’s not wise to propose vice presidential candidates based on their Wikipedia entries, I nonetheless thought it would be a fun exercise.

Here are my very brief notes on the possibilities. Among Senators, the candidates I’d be most likely to look at more closely are Garrett Davis, Reverdy Johnson (despite his age) and Waitman Willey.

James A. Bayard, Jr. (Democrat, Delaware) – Definitely not, refused to take loyalty oath.

George R. Riddle (Democrat, Delaware) – Maybe?

Willard Saulsbury, Sr. (Democrat, Delaware) – Definitely not, vehement critic, drunk.

Thomas A. Hendricks (Democrat, Indiana) – Maybe?

Henry Smith Lane (Republican, Indiana) – Definitely not, abolitionist.

Lazarus W. Powell (Democrat, Kentucky) – Definitely not, vehement critic.

Garrett Davis (Unionist, Kentucky) – Promising?

Thomas Holliday Hicks (American, Maryland) – No. Was governor in 1861. Too controversial, too anti-immigrant, too old.

Reverdy Johnson (Unionist, Maryland) – Well known Whig, leading legal figure for decades. Other than age, an interesting possibility. But represented defendant in Dred Scott.

John B. Henderson (Unionist, Missouri) – Maybe?

Robert Wilson (Unionist, Missouri) – Maybe?

B. Gratz Brown (Unionist, Missouri) – Too radical?

John C. Ten Eyck (Republican, New Jersey) – Can’t tell. Not enough gravitas?

William Wright (Democrat, New Jersey) – Maybe? Can’t tell.

John S. Carlile (Unionist, Virginia) – Maybe? Interesting. Too conservative?

Peter G. Van Winkle (Unionist, West Virginia) – Maybe? Interesting.

Waitman T. Willey (Unionist, West Virginia) – Leading western Virginian politician. Possibility.

There are, of course, many other groups to review for possible candidates: governors, representatives, possibly political generals. But at least it's a start.


  1. And why not Hannibal Hamlin again?

  2. Ed,

    Rightly or wrongly, I was limiting myself candidates from border states or the "lower" north. Mr. Hamlin was from Maine, I believe.

  3. Anonymous11:00 AM

    I would argue that carrying out a civil war that resulted in over 600K American deaths was Lincoln's biggest flub. It kind of dwarfs who his running mate was.


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