Thursday, September 4, 2014

The fall of Atlanta and the 1864 elections

In one of the Marx Brothers movies, Chico is caught in a lie but bravely says, "Who do you believe, me or your own eyes?"  There's something of the same contradiction in a Monkey Cage post by a political science professor, Nathan Kalmoe.

Kalmoe cites the conventional historical wisdom -- which I have followed in my own writings -- that Lincoln was rescued from defeat in the 1864 elections by the capture and burning of Atlanta in early September. Like a good political scientist, he tests that proposition by analyzing election returns before and after that battle -- since even congressional elections were spread during the year. [They were all held on the same day in November only after an 1872 law.] Kalmoe finds that there was no post-Atlanta "bounce" for Republicans. In fact the GOP share of the vote shrank below earlier levels in some states. Accordingly, he concludes that Sherman's victory was not a game-changer for Lincoln.

Maybe. But many people at the time thought it did help Lincoln significantly. And maybe we should also pay close attention not only to party allegiance of voters but also to the "ground game" of the Republican officials. As I have written:

In 1862, the Republicans held on to 33 of 52 Senate seats, but saw their lead in the House drop from 108-44 [plus 34 of other parties] to 85-72 [with 27 from other parties].  These results could deny them a working majority.

Stanton reacted to these setbacks by working to guarantee a strong Republican turnout in the 1863 state elections and in the 1864 presidential contest. He made sure that Ohio defeated a leading peace Democrat running for Governor, for example, by arranging for Ohio troops to vote in the field and allowing war department clerks to travel home with free railroad passes. Lame-duck Democrats tried to pass a bill censuring Stanton and forbidding military officers from interfering in civil elections, but the measure failed.

In 1864, Stanton pressured military officials to help Republican state agents and to thwart the Democrats. Entire regiments were furloughed home to crucial states. As Charles Dana commented, “all the power and influence of the War Department … were employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.”Stanton knew how strongly the men in uniform supported the president: Lincoln got 53% of the votes overall, but a rousing 78% of those of Union soldiers.
 I'm sure Atlanta helped Union troop morale, too.

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