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Friday, 2 May 2008

Do Americans have a choice in the next election?


We do have a choice.

If we had lived in America in 1860 we would have had the choice between four different men running for President. The leading political party was so deeply divided going into the convention, that rather than settling on one nominee they put forth two, one from each section of an increasingly divided country. None of them were opposed to the spread of slavery, so anti-slavery members of that party were forced to vote for a third-party candidate (the second party having gone down in flames in the previous election because it waffled on slavery).

There were two minor parties fielding candidates. One third-tier candidate believed that saving the Union was the most important thing and that anti-slavery and pro-slavery people should put aside their differences to keep the nation intact. This ticket stood to gain from the split in the leading party.

The other third-tier candidate had lost almost every election he had ever been in. He wasn't his party's front-runner going into the convention. He wasn't even on the ballot in many states. Yet he had broad support throughout the rest of the country and had alienated the least number of factions in his own party. There was no way he could get a majority of the vote, but if it split enough ways he might just be able to win the presidency. He wasn't very strong against slavery (although he personally opposed it), but he did support the right of Congress to ban it in some circumstances. Lose he might, but he would at least carry the anti-slavery vote; he was all they had.

With the Democratic Party split in half, they only took one northern state, but they swept the south with over 80% of the vote, taking 47% nationwide.

The Constitutional Union Party managed to take advantage of the swing states and captured 13% of both the popular and electoral vote, thus denying victory to the Democrats.

The upstart Republican Party, only fielding their second candidate, was shut out of the race in the South, but swept the North and West with 39% of the popular vote. Taking the most populous states meant that they captured the Electoral College with 59% of its votes.

And Abraham Lincoln, at best the second or third choice of most voters, became President, ended slavery, saved the union, and eliminated the right of secession for all time to come.

While he was President, a million people died in a war that was predicted almost certainly to happen if he won.

Yes, we have a choice. But it remains to be seen whether or not we will like the results of what we choose.

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