Good morning, it's Nov. 6 -- Day 4 of the maddeningly slow voting-counting process in the 2020 elections. Today is also a Friday, the day of the week when I pass along a quotation intended to be inspiring or informative. Today's comes from Abraham Lincoln, who won the presidency on this date in 1860. Who better to quote at a time of national discord?
On Election Day 160 years ago, there were far fewer votes to count in this country. The population of the United States totaled some 31 million -- less than one-tenth its size today -- and women and enslaved Americans couldn't cast ballots, meaning that only 4.7 million votes were tallied, fewer than have been tabulated in the state of Georgia this year.
On the other hand, computer technology was unknown, the "mass media" consisted of newspapers and magazines, and the only way to convey information immediately was via the telegraph. Nonetheless, 19th century Americans knew the importance of counting votes in a timely manner, meaning that Abraham Lincoln and his supporters in Springfield knew that night he'd been elected as the 16th U.S. president.
The first returns had been promising: "the West," which at that time meant Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota, had all gone for the Republican ticket. (So would the true western states, California and Oregon, though they totaled only seven Electoral College votes between them.)
The South went against Lincoln, so the states along the Eastern seaboard would determine the outcome. As crowds swelled in the streets of Springfield, applauding each positive news report, the eyes and ears of the nation were on Pennsylvania. At 10 p.m. (!) Simon Cameron, the Republican Party boss in the Keystone State, sent word that Pennsylvania had gone big for Lincoln, and also that New York was "safe."
Lincoln and his entourage made their way to Watson's saloon, which had been rented for the evening to a group of local Republican women who welcomed Lincoln with this greeting: "How do you do, Mr. President!" Food, not drink, was being served at Watson's that evening, perhaps to keep the male revelers from becoming inebriated. They needn't have worried about the candidate himself. Always sober, Abraham Lincoln was especially so this evening. After eating, he made his way over to the telegraph office to await the official returns from New York. Two weeks earlier, Lincoln had hosted a visitor from Albany named Benjamin Welch. A Democrat-turned-Republican, Welch had been appointed commissary-general of the New York state militia. He was destined to serve in "Mr. Lincoln's Army," and would not survive the Civil War.
On Oct. 25, 1860, however, he had come to pay his respects in person to the future commander-in-chief. Lincoln himself was having second thoughts about the political machinations -- his own -- that had put him on a path to the White House instead of the U.S. Senate, where he believed his talents would be put to better use. And he conveyead these misgivings to his visitor:
"I declare to you this morning, General, that for personal considerations I would rather have a full term in the Senate, a place in which I would feel more consciously able to discharge the duties required, and where there is more chance to make a reputation, and less danger of losing it, than four years of the presidency."
On Nov. 6, however, as he awaited news from New York that would prove Simon Cameron prescient, Lincoln had moved past any nostalgia about serving on Capitol Hill. Eschewing the celebration around him, the president-elect put on his hat and walked out into the chilly autumn air.
"This was about 2 in the morning," he later recalled, "I went home, but not to get much sleep, for I then felt as I never had before the responsibility that was upon me."
And that is our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.