Abraham Lincoln on Election Fraud

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

Lincoln blamed his loss to Douglas on immigrants, vote tampering, and flexible voter registration laws.

I’m not an election denier who believes that Biden stole the election, but am enough of a history buff to know that voter fraud has been commonplace throughout American history.

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To that point, halfway down this page is a fascinating passage from the excellent book Abe, by David S. Reynolds. It summarizes Lincoln’s claims of election fraud when he ran in 1858 on the Republican ticket for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois and lost to Stephen A. Douglas.

You’ll see that much hasn’t changed in 162 years.

First, an aside:

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There are thousands of books on Lincoln, and of the scores of them that I have read, Abe ranks near the top. Reflecting superb scholarship, the book describes the social, cultural, political, and economic milieu of the times. It’s an antidote to the poor scholarship of the 1619 Project and of the San Francisco school board’s decision to remove Lincoln’s name from a school, both of which claimed that Lincoln was racist and thus undeserving of the honor.

The book includes extensive comments and writings from Lincoln about African Americans, both bad and good, but also reveals how, as a savvy politician, he had to temper his passion for emancipation with the language of the times in order to fend off accusations that he was a radical who shouldn’t hold public office.

Unfortunately, such historical nuance and context are a rarity in today’s America, especially when the subject is race. Ironically, if it were to be judged by today’s superficiality, the New York Times would be canceled, due to its past racist reporting.

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The passage from the book:

Lincoln and his associates suspected foul play in the election results. Because of flexible voter registration laws, tampering with elections was commonplace, especially by manipulating the immigrant vote. Democrats, in particular, were known to “colonize” swing districts with Irish railroad workers who were rapidly naturalized so that they could vote. David Davis, who had high praise for Lincoln’s speeches in the Senate race, remarked, “There would be no doubt of Douglas’ defeat if it was not from the fact that he is colonizing Irish votes.” William Herndon, likewise, was confident that “there is nothing which can well defeat us but the elements, & the wandering roving robbing Irish, who have flooded the State.”

Lincoln, also suspicious of Democratic hijinks, was prepared to fight fire with fire. On October 20, five days after his last debate with Douglas, he wrote the Republican operative Norman Judd saying that while he felt confident about his chances in the election, he feared being “over-run with fraudulent votes to a greater extent than usual.” He said he had recently spotted fifteen Irishmen going around with bags (presumably containing money to be used to bribe voters). He wrote Judd: “I have a bare suggestion. When there is a known body of these voters, could not a true man, of the detective class, be introduced among them in disguise, who could, at the nick of time, control their votes? Think this over. It would be a great thing, when this trick is attempted upon us, to have the saddle come up on the other horse.”

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