Parades, Protests and Politics

The 1864 Democratic National Convention

 The Amphitheatre, Michigan Avenue and Eleventh Street, site of
the 1864 Democratic National Convention.

The Amphitheatre, Michigan Avenue and Eleventh
Street, site of the 1864 Democratic National Convention. (CHS)

Four years into the Civil War, the North was tired. Many thought President Abraham Lincoln had gone too far, especially concerning the Emancipation Proclamation. Chicago was pro-union, but many Chicagoans had ties to the South.

Originally, the 1864 convention was to be over the 4th of July weekend. But it was postponed. The Democrats wanted to be in Chicago when anti-war feelings ran strong.

In August, tens of thousands of Democrats from political activists to con men showed up in Chicago, ready for battle.

Camp Douglas, at 33rd and Cottage Grove Avenue, was a concern. It housed 2,000 Confederate Prisoners who wanted to go home and there were rumors of a violent Camp Douglas conspiracy. During the war, Chjicago had lost a great deal of men, but gained a lot of wealth. With the weah came poverty and crime.

The Democrats needed to play on Republican tiredness and corruption. They wanted to bring the nation to peace. And they needed a leader. General George B. McClellan was the man. McClellan was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Mexican War at 21. He was dismissed from the Union Army by Lincoln for lack of offensive campagining but his popularity was still high.

Policy debates dominated the convention instead of candidate selection because McClellan was it. Eventually, a six-platform plank was developed and the peace plank was second.

Camp Douglas commander General J. B. Sweet was worried. 736 Union soldiers guarded 8,350 prisoners. He sent for help and 1,000 reinforcements arrived from Milwaukee.

When the ballots for candidacy were called, all names were withdrawn except McClellan and Thomas hary Seymour, governor of Connecticut. A congressman from Maryland, Benjamin Givinn Harris, spoke out against McClellan and a fight broke out on the podium and Harris pulled a gun on the crowd.

Regardless, McClellan was nominated on the first ballot. A week later he accepted the nomination, but renounced the peace plank that had reporesented the spirit of the convention. Lincoln eventually won the election, but the Civil War raged on for five more months.

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