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McClellan Nomination Sesquicentennial

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Off-topic but interesting, Fergus Bordewich in the WSJ takes us on a historical trip down the "what if" road.
On Aug. 31, 1864, the sweltering galleries of Chicago's largest assembly hall, known as the "Wigwam," erupted with wild yells as Gen. George B. McClellan was nominated as the Democratic Party's candidate for president. The delegates had reason to be exuberant. The North was sick of war, support for Abraham Lincoln was plummeting, and they had an attractive candidate. But if McClellan had won, it would have been the last election in United States as a unified nation.

Handsome and self-confident, the 37-year-old McClellan had won several minor victories early in the war and was promoted to command the Union forces. His battlefield record after that was unimpressive. But he remained immensely popular with the troops, even after Lincoln dismissed him for failing to destroy Robert E. Lee's army after the Union victory in Antietam in September 1862.

A McClellan presidency would have momentous consequences. The Democratic platform called for an unconditional cease-fire and a peaceable restoration of the Union. This was a clear signal to abandon the war, and thus also Lincoln's commitment to free the slaves. Lincoln, while not an abolitionist, loathed slavery and had staked his administration on ending it. McClellan opposed any interference with slavery.

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