Abraham Lincoln, age 51 - detail from an ambrotype taken during the 1860 presidential campaign by Preston Butler, Springfield, Illinois. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Slavery and its expansion into the western territories were the central issues of the election. Like many Northerners, Lincoln believed that if slavery were permitted in the West, it would eventually move north. Southern slaveholders thought that banning slavery in the territories would lead to its abolition across the country.
The debate fractured the old political parties into regional factions and led to the most critical election in the nation’s history.
“'A house divided against itself can not stand.' I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."
—Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858