1864 Presidential Election

Home Education Unit Plans Emilie Davis's Civil War 1864 Presidential Election

1864 Presidential Election

Presidential elections tend to stir up heated debates, mixed emotions, and increased political participation. Today, we hold rallies to show support for the candidate of our choice, but what did people do during the Civil War? The Presidential election of 1864 was the first to be held during a time of war and it resulted in a heated battle between the incumbent and his challenger.

This lesson will look at Emilie Davis’ account of the 1864 elections, as well as the propaganda surrounding the election and campaign strategies. Students will see a variety of primary sources relating to this turbulent year in history and assess how things have changed, or have not changed, in the past 150 years.

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?


Students will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast Presidential election in 1864 to elections today.
  • Read and analyze several different perspectives on an event.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Begin by providing students with an overview of 1864. Discuss how George McClellan was running for President against Abraham Lincoln. Talk to students about what his beliefs were and how they differed from Lincoln’s. Use the political cartoon “The True Issue or That’s What’s the Matter” as a reference. Create a Venn Diagram of the political beliefs of both candidates. Where do they overlap, and where do they differ?
  2. Have students look at the article from the Doylestown Democrat. Although it is difficult to see, what is the main idea of the newspaper? Whom does the paper support? Is this surprising?
  3. Next, discuss the voting rights of 1864. Who was allowed to vote? What was the political status of African Americans? Have students read the excerpts from Emilie Davis’ diary, and the article on the torch light processions. Then ask the following:
    1. Emilie predicts that Lincoln will win the election, but then says “I did not go to meeting (…) something might happen.” What could have been her specific worries?
    2. What do you think a torch light procession would look like, and how does this compare to our current political rallies?
    3. Based on these articles and Emilie’s diary, what problems do you think will arise when African Americans are given the right to vote?
  4. Have students look at the illustration of Octavius Catto (second page) from 1871. What happened once African Americans were given the right to vote? Why did this kind of violence take place? Discuss as a class what changed between 1864 and 1871. Have students read http://www.ushistory.org/people/catto.htm for background knowledge on the situation.