FACT CHECK: Did Democrats Remove Abraham Lincoln From The Ballot In 1860?

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

A video shared on Instagram claims the last time Democrats removed a presidential candidate from the ballot was Abraham Lincoln in 1860.


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A post shared by Kali Fontanilla (@kalifontanilla)

Verdict: False

Lincoln was not removed from the ballot. Multiple experts told Check Your Fact that in 1860, political parties used tickets rather than ballots. Multiple experts agreed that Lincoln was not on tickets in most southern states as most did not recognize or agree with the party.

Fact Check:

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments regarding the Colorado Supreme Court case in which the state’s justices voted to keep former President Donald Trump off the Mar. 5 primary ballot, according to CNN.

In the Instagram video, which has garnered over 60,000 likes, a man claims the last time Democrats removed a presidential candidate from the ballot was Lincoln in 1860. The man compares Lincoln’s case to that of Trump, saying that Trump is being removed from the 2024 ballot for claiming the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.”

The claim is false. According to a December 2023 blog post published on the website “Emerging Civil War,” voters did not complete a ballot, but rather a single party ticket they returned to their local ballot box. In addition, the Republican Party did not distribute ballots in 10 Southern states, including Alabama and Mississippi, because they “did not believe they would receive a significant number of votes,” the same blog post indicates.

At the same time, only 61 electoral votes were from the 10 Southern states that did not receive ballots, and the Republican Party did not need those electoral votes to achieve a victory. There were a total of “303 electoral votes up for grabs” in 1860, and Lincoln received 180, or more than was needed to win the presidency, according to the same blog post. 

Lincoln became the first Republican to win the presidency, defeating John C. Breckinridge, a Southern Democrat; John Bell, a Constitutional Union candidate; and Stephen Douglas, a Northern Democrat.

Multiple experts echoed the sentiments expressed in the blog post from Emerging Civil War.

William Harris, an emeritus professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, told Check Your Fact comparing Lincoln’s case with that of Trump’s is difficult because political parties used tickets rather than ballots in 1860.

“I’m not an expert on the history of balloting in the US, but I do know that it is very difficult to compare the notion of ‘removing a candidate from a ballot’ in 1860 and today,” Harris said. “In 1860, voters did not normally receive a single ‘ballot,’ printed up by some official authorized body, with the names of all candidates, from which the voters could select their preferences for each office.”

“Instead, each party produced printed ‘tickets’ that listed all the candidates from that party (President, Governor, sheriff, etc. – depending on the election). Voters chose their preferred ‘ticket’ and deposited that in the ballot box. (That’s why we still speak of the “Democratic ticket,” the “Republican ticket,” and so on).”

“So, if there was no local party organization that was printing up tickets and getting their supporters to the polls, there might well be no votes at all for a candidate of that party. This is what happened in many southern states – the Republican Party in ten southern states did not exist in any meaningful sense, so Lincoln got no votes (in states that joined the Confederacy, he got a few votes in the part of Virginia that later split off to become West Virginia).”

“This was certainly in large part because anyone campaigning openly for Lincoln in these states would have been in real danger of mob attacks, but it was not because some official government body “removed” him from a ‘ballot,'” Harris explained.

Dr. James McPherson, Lincoln and history expert at Princeton University, also explained that “tickets”  were used instead of “ballots.”

“Voters would pick up a ticket for their party at the polls and deposit it. Since Lincoln’s Republican party was not organized in any of the ten deep South slave states, there were no Republican tickets there, and thus no Republican votes in those states,” McPherson said. “Because Lincoln carried nearly all of the free states, he won more than enough electoral votes to win the election even though he won only 40 percent of the popular votes nationwide.”

Dr. Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia University, offered a slightly different opinion.

“Lincoln, a Republican, was not on the ballot in a number of southern states as his party did not exist there in 1860. Whether that counts as being removed I leave to you to decide,” Foner said.

Dr. Thomas Balcerski, associate history professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, provided more disparities between the 1860 and 2024 elections. 

“It’s important to remember that the Republican Party basically did not exist in the South, so it makes sense that Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln did not appear on ballots there,” Balcerski said. “In fact, it was not possible to vote for Lincoln in ten of the eleven states that later composed the Confederate States of America. All this is to say that the mechanics of who appears on a ballot differ greatly between 1860 and 2024.”

Dr. Erik Alexander, associate history professor at Southern Illinois University, pointed out that because the Republican Party had only existed as a national organization for four years in 1860, the party only had supporters in Northern states.  

“While it is true that Abraham Lincoln did not receive votes in many states, that is not because he was ‘removed from the ballot,’” he said. “Rather, as a brand-new party focused on preventing the expansion of slavery into western territories, Republicans only had support in Northern states. There were no Republican newspapers or party operatives in Southern states who could print and distribute ballots on Lincoln’s behalf.”

Alexander summarized, “In short: Democrats had nothing to do with whether or not Lincoln appeared on the Republican Party ticket, or whether or not there was a Republican Party ticket available for voters in Southern states.” (RELATED: Joe Biden Claimed Billionaires Only Pay 8% Income Tax)

Lincoln’s case greatly contrasts with that of Trump’s. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars some people who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office, has been invoked to potentially keep Trump off ballots in Colorado and Maine, according to The Associated Press.

Lawfare is tracking a complete list of Section 3 cases being brought against Trump. Most of the Supreme Court justices “appeared to think that states do not have a role in deciding whether a presidential candidate can be barred from running under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment,” NBC News reported.

Besides Check Your Fact, USA Today, Fact Check.org, and Politifact also labeled the claim about Lincoln being removed from the ballot in 1860 as false.

Anna Mock contributed to this report. 

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter