Election Day 1860

–by Troy Taylor

On November 6, 1860, former Illinois congressman Abraham Lincoln defeated three other candidates for the American presidency: John Breckenridge, John Bell and Stephen Douglas and became the most beloved — and most hated — president in American history. And later that night, experienced an eerie vision that he believed was a premonition of the future.

In November 1860, Lincoln was home in Springfield, Illinois. The city had a carnival-like atmosphere and Election Day dawned with rousing cannon blasts, with music and contagious excitement. Lincoln spent the day and evening with friends at the telegraph office. By midnight, it was clear that he had been elected President of the United States. A late night dinner was held in his honor and then he returned to the office for more news. Guns fired in celebration throughout the night.

Lincoln finally managed to return home in the early morning hours although news of victory and telegrams of congratulations were still being wired to his office. He went into his bedroom for some much needed rest and collapsed onto a settee. Near the couch was a large bureau with a mirror on it and Lincoln stared for a moment at his reflection in the glass. His face appeared angular, thin and tired. Several of his friends suggested that he grow a beard, which would hide the narrowness of his face and give him a more “presidential” appearance. Lincoln pondered this for a moment and then experienced what many would term a “vision” — an odd vision that Lincoln would later believe had prophetic meaning.

He saw in the mirror, that his face appeared to have two separate, yet distinct, images. The tip of one nose was about three inches away from the tip of the other one. The vision vanished but appeared again a few moments later. It was clearer this time and Lincoln realized that one of the faces was actually much paler than the other, almost with the coloring of death. The vision disappeared again and Lincoln dismissed the whole thing to the excitement of the hour and his lack of sleep.

The next morning, he told Mary of the strange vision and attempted to conjure it up again in the days that followed. The faces always returned to him and while Mary never saw them, she believed her husband when he said that he did. She also believed she knew the significance of the vision. The healthy face was her husband’s “real” face and indicated that he would serve his first term as president. The pale, ghostly image of the second face however was a sign that he would be elected to a second term — but would not live to see its conclusion.

Lincoln dismissed the whole thing as a hallucination, or an imperfection in the glass, or so he said publicly. Later, that strange vision would come back to haunt him during the turbulent days of the war. It was not Lincoln’s only brush with prophecy either. One day, shortly before the election, he spoke to some friends as they were discussing the possibilities of Civil War. “Gentlemen,” he said to them, “you may be surprised and think it strange, but when the doctor here was describing a war, I distinctly saw myself, in second sight, bearing an important part in that strife.”

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