We are told that this Presidential election is the most important in 50 years. One nationally prominent Christian Right columnist has written that this is the most important Presidential election in the history of the United States.
How could anyone know if this is the most crucial election? You might think that it would be possible to assess this by looking at the #1 issue of this election, and then compare it with the #1 issue that some previous election settled. Unfortunately, this is not possible. It is not possible for two reasons. First, we do not know the future. Second, because Presidential elections are never fought over a crucial dividing issue that proves to have been divisive after the election is settled.
Here is a list of crucial issues in American political life today. Which of these is central to the campaign?
End legalized abortion
End the war in Afghanistan
End the FED
End the war on drugs
End executive orders
End the Department of Homeland Security
The unfunded liabilities of Medicare
The unfunded liabilities of Social Security
Audit the government’s gold’s ownership
Balance the federal budget before 2016
These are major issues. They should be publicly addressed. They are so far under the rug that the mainstream media are oblivious to them. Obama is staying silent, and the mainstream media prefer that he get away with this. Think “closing Guantanamo.” Think “climate change.”
This is the way that every Presidential race is always conducted. Does this seem like a preposterous statement? Probably. Is it an accurate statement? Let me state my case.
The most important Presidential election in American history was held in 1860, when the former Mary Todd’s two suitors, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, lawyers for the Illinois Central Railroad, squared off for the second time, the first being the office of U.S. Senate in 1858. The outcome led to the secession of most Southern states before Lincoln was inaugurated. The death toll of the Civil War has recently been increased from an admitted 630,000 to about 700,000. It is clear that no other election ever produced anything like that.
What was the dividing judicial issue of the election of 1860? That is, what judicial issue was the crucial one that the election would surely settle, which President Buchanan’s administration had not settled, over which the political battle was fought?
Answer: the one which both candidates denied was an issue. Abolition.
Either Lincoln or Douglas would win. John C. Breckenridge, Buchanan’s Vice President, was also running as a third party candidate, because the South’s Democrats could not stand Douglas’ position on the right of voters within a proposed state to decide whether to enter as a slave state or a free state. Douglas promoted “popular sovereignty,” and the geography of all the new states made it clear that there would be no new slave states. The South would be outvoted at some point, and slavery would be repealed.
You can see this on any map: what is now Edgewood, Texas, 50 miles east of Dallas. West of Edgewood, a slave owner would have had to give a slave a horse to herd cattle. The piny woods grew thin, because the soil grew thin. There would be no cotton west of Edgewood. That soil division extends north through Oklahoma and Kansas. Kansas was the wave of the future. It was a free state.
If Lincoln won, he would make sure that no slave state would enter the Union to balance a non-slave state. He had made this the keystone of his later political career.
South Carolina seceded, pulling Deep South states with it. The issue given by the seceding legislature was the defense of slavery. The North no longer would support the Fugitive Slave Act, which was part of the Missouri Compromise of 1850. So, the declaration said,
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
Problem: that declaration would have been just as judicially relevant in October of 1860 as it was in December, when South Carolina seceded.
The four states that presented reasons all cited slavery. Again, their declarations were as judicially relevant before the election as after.
Breckenridge could not win. No one expected him to win. So, the election was in fact a gigantic emotional bloodletting that provided the South with a symbol, but the substance would have been the same if Douglas had won.
The soil west of Edgewood, Texas made either secession or abolition inevitable. The election was merely a national ratification of what the leaders of the South could see was coming.
The election of 1860 was monumental – lots and lots of monuments after 1865 – in its importance, but the central judicial issue was not. The election was important because men seek symbols when they go to war, and Lincoln was the symbol. It had nothing to do with his party’s platform, which insisted,
4. That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.
If Douglas had been elected, it would have made no difference. He died in June of 1861. The Vice President would have been Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia. He opposed secession. But he would not have been able to change the soil west of Edgewood.
What other elections might qualify?
The election of 1896 was fought over the gold standard. William Jennings Bryan’s speech on “the cross of gold” made that the central issue. There was no way that Bryan was going to get that changed in 1897. Besides, the poor schnook was persuaded by Woodrow Wilson in 1913 to push for the creation of the Federal Reserve System. On economic affairs, he was a far Left radical – by far the most radical Left major party Presidential candidate in American history when his views are compared to voters’ opinions in his own era.