1860: A cautionary Electoral College story

One of the most important presidential elections of American history happened in 1860. It was also one of the messiest elections, with complicated consequences — notably a civil war.

It was one of only two American presidential elections with four major candidates (the other being 1824). This included Abraham Lincoln (Republican), Stephen Douglas (Northern Democrat), John Breckinridge (Southern Democrat), and John Bell (Constitutional Union).

Lincoln won decisively— but with less than 40% of all votes cast. This was a larger share…