Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Los Angeles and the Election of 1860 (update)

Yesterday I asked for help finding the 1860 election returns from Los Angeles via all the usual social media platforms. Within 24 hours, I had my answer. I will tell anyone who will listen (and some who won't) that blogging and social media act as a collective humanities accelerant. This recent episode certainly illustrates my point. My friend and former student Robby Colby had the information (a link to a comprehensive list on Google Books) and sent it my way after seeing my request on Facebook. You know, vast Internet connections and digital archives make research less of a challenge than it was only a few short years ago. I still like rifling through old documents in libraries, but in a pinch it is nice to know that the information I need is often only a few clicks away.

But on to the returns. The winner for Los Angeles County in the 1860 presidential election is (was)...John C. Breckinridge. How about that. While Lincoln took the state by a narrow margin, Breckinridge (James Buchanan's vice president) handily won in LA. We all know that overall, he finished a distant 3rd behind Lincoln and Douglas. Breckinridge went on to serve as a general in the Confederate Army and for the last few months of the war as the Confederate Secretary of War. He fled the country in May, 1865 - only to return to his native Kentucky in 1869 after being granted amnesty. But all of this is a story for a later date.

Here are the Los Angeles County numbers:

Lincoln - 352
Douglas - 494
Bell - 201
Breckinridge - 685

For the statewide returns, click Appendix A

So it appears that even though the three other candidates combined bested Breckinridge in 1860, a significant number of Angelenos saw it fitting to side with the southern wing of the fractured Democratic Party - running on a pro-slavery platform. A number significant enough for Breckinridge to take the county. I think it might be time to dig a little deeper.



  1. Hi Keith,

    I have been reading a biography of Winfield Scott Hancock by David M. Jordan which includes a chapter titled "In California." Jordan contends that Hancock was almost personally responsible for keeping Los Angeles in Union hands. Despite the fact that Hancock was a life-long Democrat who "believed the Federal government had no right to interfere in a domestic institution such as slavery," and even though Hancock apparently voted for Breckenridge himself, when push came to shove, Hancock stayed loyal to the Union.

  2. Ah, Google Books, that wonderful source of old out of print but still useful tomes. I'm so glad that you found this. I wonder if the population contained an unusually high number of southerners there. Also, there may be an aversion to radical parties, as many at the time viewed the Republicans.

  3. Thanks Bob - I am working on a piece right now that looks at Angelenos during the period. I plan on including the testimony of those who were stationed here in the Army. So this book will undoubtedly be helpful - thanks for the heads up.

  4. Scott - I think you may be on to something regarding the radical element. Although Lincoln did quite well in San Francisco and other places north of Los Angeles. I'll go to the census next - to see if I can find out more about the residents.

  5. Jordan says in the Hancock bio: "The greater part of the Americans in southern California was probably in sympathy with the southern cause, as most of the immigration to Los Angles, San Bernardino,and the other lower counties had come from slave states."

  6. It certainly appears that way from looking at the state-wide voting returns.