As we prepare to vote in the 2018 mid-terms, I looked back to 1862’s election.
The House of Representatives had about 245 members after secession. The Republicans maintained their majority, but lost 22 seats. The speaker of the House—Galusha Grow, from Pennsylvania—was one of the men who lost re-election.
State legislatures elected Senators until 1917. The Senate after secession had 49 members; the Republicans gained three seats.
What did this mean for Lincoln and his policies? Dissatisfaction with the war loomed large. The Battle of Antietam had happened in September 1862; many people had read about or seen the photographs that made the deaths all too real. The President had released his Emancipation Proclamation to go into effect on January 1, 1863.
According to an article by Catherine Whittenberg in Civil War Magazine:
Much like the Battle of Antietam, the midterm elections offered no one a clear-cut victory. On the one hand, Democrats won the governorships of New York and New Jersey, legislative majorities in New Jersey, Indiana and Illinois, and gained 28 seats in the U.S. House. “That the election was a serious Administration reverse nobody ever doubted,” historian Allan Nevins wrote, calling the results “a vote of no confidence.” Under a parliamentary system, he noted, Lincoln’s administration would have been compelled to resign.
But historian James McPherson has argued that while the 1862 elections may have been something of a rebuke, they were hardly an overwhelming censure. The party of Lincoln had managed to hold on to all but two of 18 governorships, and to legislative majorities in all but three states. The Republicans gained seats in the Senate and kept a majority in the House “after experiencing the smallest net loss of House seats in twenty years—indeed the only time in those two decades that the party in power retained control of the House.”
“Peace Democrats”—also known more disparagingly as Copperheads—made gains, which would cause problems for Lincoln. In New York, Indiana, and New Jersey, Democrats won races for governor.