Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Presidential Election in Virginia

Union or Secession
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  • Wheeling <em>Daily Intelligencer</em>, October 24, 1860,
    printing Republican ballots
  • Excerpt from editorial in Winchester <em>Republican</em>, October 26, 1860,
    "To the Polls! To the Polls!"
  • John M. Smith to Governor John Letcher, September 23, 1860, Executive Papers of John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    wanting to vote for Lincoln
  • Editorial in the <em>Daily Richmond Enquirer</em>, November 6, 1860,
    "The Day of Battle Has Arrived"
  • Editorial in the Richmond <em>Daily Dispatch</em>, November 8, 1860.,
    Deplorable election
  • <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, November 9, 1860.,
    Voted for Lincoln
  • Petition of Wood County clergymen, November 16, 1860, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    Petition for prayer
  • Jacob Bechtel to George Bechtel, November 7, 1860, Jacob H. Bechtel Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan., University of Michigan
    "Troublous times are upon us"
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Presidential Election in Virginia

When the voting concluded on November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln had received more popular votes in the United States than any of the other candidates and had won a majority of the electoral votes. In Virginia, it was the closest presidential election in history. Constitutional Union candidate John Bell very narrowly won the state's fifteen electoral votes. He received 74,701 votes, as reported in the Richmond Daily Enquirer of December 24, 1860; John C. Breckinridge received 74,379; Stephen A. Douglas received 16,292; and Abraham Lincoln received 1,929.

Bell received most of the votes of the state's former Whigs, and Breckinridge received most of the votes of the state's Democrats. Both ran strongly in counties and cities that had traditionally been Whig or Democratic Party strongholds, but in many counties the race between them was very close. Douglas received a significant number of votes only in a few eastern cities, in the upper Shenandoah Valley counties, and in northwestern Virginia. Most of Lincoln's votes were cast in the northwestern counties, but a few men voted for Lincoln in the lower Shenandoah Valley counties and in the upper Potomac River region. Lincoln also received 55 votes from Prince William County residents and from 4 men in Portsmouth.

The election was not so much about union or disunion as it was a contest between former Whigs and Democrats who rejected Stephen A. Douglas's popular sovereignty proposal for allowing residents of western territories to decide for themselves whether to permit slavery before applying for statehood. The votes of Virginians in the presidential election of 1860 did not predict how the voters would behave later. Breckinridge, the Democratic candidate who supported the right of secession and the protection of slavery, received more votes than did Bell in the counties that later became West Virginia, and Bell, the compromise Union candidate, received more votes than did Breckinridge in the counties that remained Virginia.