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Scholarly Essays

Kansas Territory, the Election of 1860, and the Coming of the Civil War: A National Perspective

An essay by ,
University of Kansas
A political cartoon satirizing Lincoln, Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell, the four candidates vying for office in the 1860 presidential campaign. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
In many respects, Kansas—and the question of whether slavery, legal in neighboring Missouri, would be allowed to spread to the territory—was the central issue of the 1860 presidential election, the most significant in U.S. history. Curtailing slavery’s expansion and admitting Kansas as a free state was a key plank in the Republican Party’s platform that year, just as it was during the party’s first presidential election in 1856. The seemingly unanswerable “Kansas Question” and the issue of slavery’s expansion split the venerable Democratic Party into Northern and Southern factions, allowing the Republican Abraham Lincoln to win the election without a single Southern electoral vote.