The presidential election of 1860 featured a four-way race that vividly
illustrated the sectional tensions that were tearing the nation apart, and its
outcome would detonate the consummation of that sectional split.
Democrats, meeting in April at Charleston, South Carolina, were the first to
attempt to choose a candidate. But that convention immediately polarized
along sectional lines over the candidate and the platform. Northerners, who
had a majority of delegates, favored the nomination of Stephen A. Douglas
on a platform that repeated the pledge of Democrats' 1856 platform to
popular sovereignty, with a modification to take account of the Dred Scott
decision. Southerners and a few Northerners loyal to President James
Buchanan, who had split with Douglas over the Lecompton constitution,
were determined to prevent Douglas's nomination and to secure a platform
committed to the enactment of a federal slave code protecting slavery in all
federal territories. When the northern Douglasites rejected the Southerners'
preferred platform, they bolted the convention, leaving it with an insufficient
number of delegates to nominate Douglas. Thus Democrats had to reconvene
two later conventions, one at Baltimore and one at Richmond. At Baltimore,
Southerners again bolted, and the remaining Northerners then nominated
Douglas. The southern bolters then named Vice President John C.
Breckinridge as their candidate, a decision that was ratified by the
Southerners at Richmond. Some southern Democrats would support Douglas
in the race while a few Buchanan loyalists in the North would back
Breckinridge, but essentially the Democrats had one candidate in the North
and another in the South.