Abraham Lincoln, though widely beloved and admired today, was controversial, to say the least, during his time in office as president of the United States during the American Civil War. Many Democrats strongly opposed his prosecution of the war; some openly called for peace negotiations with the Confederates to stop the hostilities. Others vehemently opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. Some hated his extensive use of presidential war powers to suspend the writ of habeus corpus to keep Maryland in the Union by military and political force. Lincoln’s calling of 75,000 volunteers to join the Union army to suppress the rebellion led to additional states joining the Confederacy.
On the other hand, some in his own Republican Party felt that Lincoln was too moderate and too centrist with his policies. The so-called Radical Republicans favored a harsher prosecution of the war and demanded an unsparing attitude toward punishing the “Southern traitors.” Strict abolitionists wanted Lincoln to take a more aggressive stance toward ending slavery nationwide, not just in the Confederate states (the Emancipation Proclamation did not cover slaves in border or pro-Union states such as Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, West Virginia, and Kentucky).
Here in York County, the local elections in the spring of 1863 reflected growing anti-Lincoln sentiment, even in areas such as Carroll Township and Wrightsville, which had strongly supported Lincoln in the election of 1860. Then, the county had strongly supported a “fusion ticket,” headlined by the Democratic vice-president of the U. S., John C. Breckinridge (later a prominent Confederate general).
An article in the pro-Democratic Gettysburg Compiler from March 30, 1863, boasted of the recent local results.
The editor of the Gettysburg Compiler, Henry J. Stahle, was a staunch Democrat, much like his counterpart in York, David Small, who published the Gazette for 49 years. Here are Stahle’s words covering the March 1863 elections in neighboring York County.
“In York, David Small, Esq., the Democratic candidate for Burgess, is reelected by one hundred and six majority, against fifty-nine last year. The Democratic candidate for borough Constable, which has recently been made an elective office, is also elected by a majority of fifty-nine, and Democratic Councilmen have been elected in three out of five wards; the whole exhibited largely increased Democratic majorities.
York county has given unheard-of Democratic majorities for the spring elections.
The Gazette says:
Dover gives 275 Democrat majority.
Springgarden comes in with 156 for the Democratic ticket.
York Township pronounces in favor of Democracy in thunder tones by giving a majority of 200 for the Democratic ticket.
West Manchester, the Codoruses, the Manheims, Paradise, Jackson, Heidelberg, Washington, Shrewsbury–all the Democratic townships send us greeting the heaviest Democratic majorities ever given for township officers.
Many of the Republican strongholds have completely revolutionized themselves, and stand disenthralled with the blighting curse of Abolitionism.
Wrightsville Borough has gone Democratic. Hellam has declared for the Union and Constitution, by giving a Democratic majority. Lower Windsor, the stronghold of the Abolitionists, only gives a small majority. Old Manchester, another Abolition stronghold a few years ago, is surely abandoning their dis-union party, and is near the portals of Democracy. The Democrats elect a Supervisor, and Jacob Hartman, Democrat, is only beaten [by] five votes for Assessor. The average Abolition majority is only about 17.
In Carrol[l], we learn that the Democratic majority is 60, being the largest majority ever given in the township.
From many townships we have not heard, but from what we have heard, we are satisfied that the County is Democratic all over, and will not stop at 4000! for the Democratic State and County ticket in October next.”
Henry Stahle and David Small, bigwigs in their respective county Democratic politics, gloated over their decisive victories in the local elections. What they could not know was that between the spring elections and the October elections, both of their towns, Gettysburg and York respectively, would see Confederate flags waving during the Gettysburg Campaign. That fall, as predicted, York County indeed returned a significant majority for the Democratic Party as many folks were frustrated with the Lincoln government, and PA Republican Governor Andrew G. Curtin, for failing to protect the county from the Rebels in a war that many did not support in the first place.