Ohio History Journal

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Clement L. Vallandigham Views

the Charleston Convention


The Democratic National Convention which opened at Charleston,

South Carolina, on April 23, 1860, provided the setting for one of the

most significant turning points in American history. The delegates who

gathered at this southern city to select a presidential candidate and a

platform failed in both efforts. Radical southerners refused even to

consider a program of "popular sovereignty" as defined by Stephen A.

Douglas, the first choice of most northern delegates.1 Instead they

insisted on the rejection of Douglas and a legislative policy which would

guarantee the protection of slavery in the territories. Northern men,

particularly those from the Northwest, demonstrated that they were

equally as adamant in their preference for Douglas and in their desire to

confine decisions on the slavery issue to the Supreme Court, not extend

them to Congress. Before the Convention formally adjourned ten days

later, many southern delegates had stormed from the proceedings in

angry protest. Some northern delegates, tired of the irresolution

surrounding the Convention and depressed over the high prices they had

to pay for lodging and meals, simply left for home. Consequently, the

meeting became hopelessly deadlocked over the question of whether

two-thirds of the total number of delegates or only two-thirds of those

present would suffice to nominate a candidate and vote on a platform.

By May 3, 1860, the remaining delegates decided to adjourn and

reconvene at Baltimore on June 18, 1860.

The schism that had characterized the Charleston meeting reappeared

at Baltimore. Although Douglas was selected as the candidate,


Dr. Geary is an Assistant Professor of Library Administration and is also the Archivist

for the American History Research Center at Kent State. He wishes to express his

gratitude to Mr. David E. Estes, of the Special Collections Division at Emory University,

for permission to publish this manuscript.


1. "Popular" or "squatter sovereignty" came into vogue during the debates on the

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. In essence, this doctrine provided that only the resident

voters of a territory had the authority to determine the nature of their local institutions.

Hence, in adopting a constitution, these individuals had the choice of either accepting or

rejecting slavery. For a discussion of Douglas' deep commitment to this policy, see Robert

W. Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas (New York, 1973), 137-38, 698-99; and Allan Nevins,

The Emergence of Lincoln: Prologue to Civil War, 1859-1861 (New York, 1950), II, 209,

224, 225.