The Unique Strategy Abe Lincoln Used to Win an Election

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In the year 1860, the Republican Party in the United States had to select their presidential nominee.

Everyone thought that William Seward—the senator from New York—would win the nomination with ease. He was the most popular candidate by far.

There were a few other candidates too. Notable amongst them were Edward Bates of Missouri and Salmon Chase of Ohio. One relatively unknown candidate from Illinois joined the race too: Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s Strategy to Outsmart His More Popular Competitors

Lincoln knew that he won’t be able to become the favorite choice of the majority of the delegates. Many delegates were too loyal to Seward, Bates and Chase already. But Lincoln also knew that no candidate had more than 50% backing of the delegates.

So Lincoln decided on a strategy to become the number two choice of the highest number of delegates!

His strategy was to give offense to no one. He wanted to leave the delegates “in the mood to come to us, if they shall be compelled to give up their first love.”

So while Seward, Bates and Chase concentrated only on their core constituency, Lincoln traveled the country— willing to go anywhere to give speeches.

For example, when Seward was on a trip to Europe and Cooper Union in New York was looking for a Republican to give a speech to its audience, Salmon Chase declined the invitation thinking that he could make no in-roads in New York—Seward’s state. But Abraham Lincoln jumped on the chance in a jiffy!

How Does the Strategy Fare During Nomina on?

It was May 18, 1960—the day when Republican delegates nominated their presidential candidate. A candidate required at least 233 votes to win. In the first round, the results were the following:

  • Seward: 173 1⁄2 votes
  • Lincoln: 102 votes
  • Chase: 49 votes
  • Bates: 48 votes

Seward had the lead with a very good margin. But things changed quickly during the second round when people started changing their votes to select one sole winner.

In Round 2, Seward received 184 1⁄2 votes—hardly moving ahead. But Lincoln made huge strides and received 181 votes—only 3 1⁄2 votes behind Seward.

Both Chase and Bates lost ground and the match was now between Seward and Lincoln alone.

But over the years, Seward made quite a few enemies. And not many people liked him outside his core constituency. On the other hand, Lincoln had spent a lot of time making sure that he was the number two choice of the majority of the delegates. Hence, in Round 3, Lincoln quickly gained the lead and crossed 233 votes to become nominated as the Republican Presidential candidate!

Action Summary:

  • If the competition is stiff, and you’re not the first one on the scene, then instead of trying to become the number one choice of people, position yourself to become the best number two choice out there.
  • People love an underdog. It doesn’t take much to go from being number two to number one if you’ve not offended a lot of people.

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