In the 1860 election, Essex County was divided. Severely.
There were four men on the presidential ballot. John Bell, who had labored so to convince Southerners of his earnest opposition to Northern abolitionist efforts, came in first – but only narrowly. There was still some hesitation in Essex about that word “Constitutional” in his party’s title. Nevertheless Bell won a narrow victory in Essex, first past the post followed by Breckenridge.
The celebrated Democrat Stephen A. Douglas came in third, out of four. Now, I know what you’re thinking – that means Lincoln came last! And what runs through your mind when I tell you that Douglas actually only received four, count ’em four votes? Yet he beat Lincoln?
Yes, in Essex County Virginia, cradle of the Revolution, guardian of the American spirit, that man destined to be seen as one of the greatest Presidents, if not the greatest in American history, Abraham Lincoln received zero votes.
It was, of course, the same story in other counties in the South – at least the few Southern counties which had Lincoln on the ballot. Goose egg.
The face-saving explanation after the war for Virginia’s shellacking of the man who would go on to save the Union and be a martyr for it, was that “men in Essex and across the state still hoped for a reconciliation,” as the authors of an officially-sponsored-by-the-County-Board-of-Supervisors Essex history book would put it later in the more charitable twentieth century. (Settlers, Southerners, Americans: the History of Essex County, Virginia, 1608-1984; by James B. Slaughter; publisher Essex County Board of Supervisors, 1985)