Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Civil War Veepstakes. . .

Sure has been a lot of talk lately about vice-presidential candidates. . .Pundits and talking heads have been on the air waxing nauseatingly about Senator So and So and Governor Such and Such, and what they each bring to their respective parties and to each of the presidential hopefuls. So in the spirit of the current Veepstakes season, I thought I'd spend some time with America's own Fifteenth Vice-President of the United States. . .the Honorable Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine.

His was (is) a memorable name, but he is certainly not among the most recognized members of Abraham Lincoln's ring of political insiders and confidants. He has taken a backseat in memory to the William Sewards and Edwin Stantons, and I am almost embarrassed to say that I, too, know little of Mr. Hamlin's background and his career in public service. Turns out, it was a lengthy one. . .He served in the Maine House of Representatives and later in the US House before being elected to the US Senate. He was a lifelong Democrat, but in the mid-1850s he split from the party. A staunch anti-slavery man, and later abolitionist, Hamlin became a Republican in 1856. That same year he was elected governor of Maine, but held this position only a short time before returning to the Senate.

When it came time to select Mr. Lincoln's running mate in 1860, Hamlin had one very important thing going for him. . .and it wasn't his decades' worth of experience. Instead, it was because he hailed from Maine and the Republican Party, hoping to balance the ticket, chose the New Englander. It was a position he did not seek, nor much desire, but he reluctantly agreed. His selection was a purely political maneuver, in the truest sense of the term. It appears as though Hamlin had little influence in the Lincoln White House, and that Mr. Lincoln did not actively seek his veep's opinions all too often. However, Hamlin urged emancipation almost from the start of the war and when Lincoln finally got around to adopting this policy, he allegedly made his decision known first to the Maine native.

When it came time for reelection, Hamlin's name was kept off the ballot. Republicans were still seeking to present a balanced ticket, but this time they looked south. . .to Tennessee Senator and Military Governor Andrew Johnson. After the war, Hamlin returned for several more terms in the Senate and served for two years as Minister to Spain. He then retired, and soon slipped into the realm of the obscure.

Hannibal Hamlin died at the age of 81, on Independence Day, 1891, while in the middle of a card game. His remains were buried in Bangor.

To learn more about good old Hannibal Hamlin, and to see a picture of the couch he died on (yes, you heard me right), click here.

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