Oberlin Heritage Center Blog


Prelude to the Civil War: The Election of 1860

This year (2011) marks the beginning of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War—perhaps the most defining and critical event in our country’s history. Oberlin’s involvement and sacrifices in the war were considerable. The Heritage Center is initiating a blog series on Oberlin in the Civil War to highlight some of Oberlin’s brave and innovative men and women, its home front developments, and its military participation. You will find that Oberlin from 1861 to 1865, as per usual, was progressive, inspired, and full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things!

Reform, Progress, and Advancement on the Eve of the Civil War

The presidential election of 1860 is arguably the most infamous in our country’s history. With the confirmation of Lincoln’s presidency Oberlin’s vastly Republican populace was overjoyed, but the Union itself was irrevocably shaken. On December 20th, South Carolina announced its secession from the Union, and with the coming of the new year war seemed imminent.

For months before the November election day, Oberlinians were actively promoting Lincoln and the Republican cause. The Lorain County News (Oberlin and Wellington’s weekly newspaper at that time), for instance, rarely mentions Stephen Douglas or the Democratic party, and then, only in a negative sense; but it did avidly publish promotional articles on Lincoln, Republicans, and every citizen’s duty to vote Republican with great frequency. A rather humorous example is given below:

“REPUBLICAN!
Are you going on a journey?
Are you going to be married?
Are you going away to teach school?
Are you going away for anything?
IF SO,
Don’t go until after Election! Save your Vote—it will be needed.
Respectfully Yours,
THE PUBLIC GOOD”

-The Lorain County News, 3 October 1860, p. 2, c. 2.

On Election Day, November 6th, 1860, as The Lorain County News had been promulgating for months, Oberlin men did go out and vote overwhelming Republican, as did Lorain County and Ohio as a whole.  Perhaps most interesting, though, to a modern reader of Oberlin’s local newspaper, is a small article at the bottom of page two delineating the protest of a considerable number of Oberlin ladies desiring the right to vote at the polls. The editor writes kindly of their endeavor, but firmly states “American politics” is not a realm for women. While the article elicits shock and even laughter at its now “antiquated” sensibilities, it illustrates well the strong feelings and need for involvement and progression by a portion of society in the Civil War that is often overshadowed by the battles and soldiers:  the women.  The suffragist movement was gaining momentum at this time, and the progressive Oberlin women were, of course, right on top of it. Hats off to you, ladies!

Reform, Progress, Advancement

Two or three dozen ladies, married and single, appeared at the polls in this enterprising village yesterday and offered to vote. Owing to some unaccountable omission in the copy of the constitution which was read to them, or owing to the want of gallantry manifested by the judges of election, or owing to a general, floating idea about “spheres” and so forth that prevails to quite an extent, or owing to some other untoward, unlucky, and unfortunate circumstance the ladies did not exercise the right of suffrage.

We think we are progressive, we trust we are generous, we believe we are liberal, we hope we are destitute of gallantry, we desire to be reformatory, in theory at least, we solemnly aver that we are both a phil-anthropos and a phil-gunikos, but, bless you ladies! Don’t vote. Not that we are afraid of having masculine prerogatives taken away, masculine patents interfered with, or masculine rights whelmed, devoured, and swallowed up in a resistless ocean storm of reformatory and aspiring crinoline,–not at all: but ladies don’t vote!

Soberly, we honestly believe that there are some rights, important ones, of which a woman is deprived, but we have yet to be convinced that the right of suffrage is among the number. There is yet room for expansion inside the much talked of “sphere” without walking out at the gap of the ballot box. –We would be glad to see the atmosphere of the hustings purified,–not, however, at the expense of contaminating the womanhood of our country. Women should hesitate long lending their influence to a movement, which if it could ever prove successful, would bring their sex into contact with the most debasing of civilized life—American politics.

Again, God bless you, ladies! But don’t vote.”

The Lorain County News, 7 November 1860, p. 2, c. 3, 4.
 
Comments/Questions:

Please contact Karyn Norwood, the AmeriCorps Civil War 150 Leadership Corps Volunteer at the Heritage Center, via email: cw150@oberlinheritage.org.

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