Across Five Aprils

by Irene Hunt

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What was the public reaction to the Presidential Election in Chapter 11 of Across Five Aprils?

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The Presidential Election of 1864 was notable for the vehemence of public opinion on both sides.  Abraham Lincoln, who was running for reelection for the Republican Party, had, in the months before the election, issued

"a proclamation of amnesty, in which he promised pardon and full rights to any individual Confederate who would swear to protect the Constitution...(and) to abide by the government's pronouncements against slavery...he promised, too, that a Confederate state could return to the Union whenever ten per cent of its voters should reestablish a loyal Union government within that state". 

His detractors regarded his offer as "little better than treason", and, partly in response, the Democrats nominated General George B. McClellan as their candidate.  McClellan defined as his party's platform the declaration that

"the North was not to offer peace on any terms short of the reestablishment of the Union, that to accept anything else would be an insult and an affront to the thousands of soldiers who had died in battle".

Despite McClellan's unyielding stance, many in the nation believed that, since the Republicans had not been able to effect a cessation of hostilities, a change of leadership was in order.  The country was sick to death of war, and things did not look good for Lincoln.  Public rage at the human cost of the seemingly endless fighting was at a high, and a series of Northern defeats made victory seem, at times, almost unattainable.  Fortunately for the President, in the weeks before the citizens went to the polls, the tide of battle began to turn.  Decisive Union victories made it appear that "the prize was almost within its grasp...the goal for which its thousands of boys had died or suffered the agony of prison camps was almost would have been folly to give up with victory so men went to the polls that November and reelected Abraham Lincoln" (Chapter 11).

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