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Efforts are underway in many states to disqualify former President Donald Trump from primary ballots, based on the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause. Some viral posts compare Trump to Abraham Lincoln and falsely claim Lincoln was “removed” from state ballots in 1860. A Lincoln scholar said the claim “could not be more historically misleading.”
Challenges have been filed in at least 35 states to keep former President Donald Trump from appearing on the states’ presidential primary ballots, according to a review of court records and documents by the New York Times.
In Colorado, the state Supreme Court ruled in December that Trump was disqualified from the presidency based on the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, though the court allowed him to remain on the ballot for the state’s March 5 primary pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Colorado court found that then-President Trump engaged in insurrection based on his actions around Jan. 6, 2021, that led to his supporters’ assault on the Capitol and attempted disruption of the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Trump appealed the Colorado ruling on Jan. 3.
In Maine last month, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows barred Trump from the primary ballot, also based on the insurrection clause. A Maine Superior Court judge put a hold on Bellows’ decision until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Colorado case.
While the nation awaits the high court’s ruling, some social media users have posted false claims about the basis for the efforts to disqualify Trump from state primary ballots and have distorted American history to draw parallels to the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln.
A Jan. 18 post on Instagram claims, “The satanic left removed Abraham Lincoln from ballots for fighting slavery. Lincoln won due to record voter turnout. Now they’re trying to remove Donald Trump from ballots for fighting child sex slavery… The American People stand with Trump! HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF!” The post has received more than 4,000 likes.
But as we said, the legal efforts to keep Trump off some state ballots is based on the insurrection clause, not for Trump “fighting child sex slavery.”
The text on another Instagram post, accompanied by a music video featuring a singer in a “Make America Great Again” hat, inaccurately claims, “The last presidential candidate to be removed from the ballots was Abraham Lincoln by the Democrats because they wanted to keep their slaves.” The post has received more than 7,000 likes.
But Lincoln was not “removed from the ballots.” Both posts misrepresent how the election system worked in the 1860s.
Voting for President in 19th-Century America
Christian McWhirter, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, told us he has seen similar social media claims about Lincoln’s failure to appear on ballots in some states in the 1860 presidential election. “The problem with statements like this is it assumes voting practices worked the way they do now and that wasn’t true,” McWhirter said in a Jan. 22 email.
Rather than a series of state primaries, presidential nominees were chosen in the mid-19th century at a national convention. Lincoln was chosen as the Republican Party nominee at the 1860 convention in Chicago, defeating three other contenders, including front-runner and former New York Gov. William Seward, who would later serve as Lincoln’s secretary of state.
During the general election in the mid-19th century, “voters were not presented with official ballots at polling stations like we have today that allowed them to check off which candidate they were voting for,” McWhirter said. “Instead, a 19th-century ballot or ‘political ticket’ was a slip of paper, provided by each party, listing their candidates for whatever offices were up for election. This allowed voters to easily ‘vote the ticket’ for their party without having to know the names of every candidate and office.”
“So, a voter would receive tickets like these, often at a political event or in a newspaper before an election or even from a party representative at their polling station. Then they could just drop it in the ballot box as is, and that was their vote,” McWhirter continued.
Because the “1860 Republican Party had no real presence in most Southern slaveholding states —especially the Deep South — there were no political tickets being distributed. So that’s actually what was happening, rather than Lincoln being ‘left off’ some kind of official ballot like we have today,” McWhirter said. “That didn’t mean people couldn’t vote for Lincoln, but they would have had to ‘write him in’ like we would a 3rd-party candidate today, and results show very little of that happened in those states.”
Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer said the Jan. 18 Instagram post “could not be more historically misleading.”
In 1860, “no jurisdiction actually barred [Lincoln] from the ballot, such as it was. Voting was conducted with pre-printed ballots, and Republicans did not create Lincoln ballots for regions where pro-slavery forces repudiated him; electors did not run in these hostile districts pledged to Lincoln,” Holzer, director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, told us in a Jan. 22 email.
“To compare this situation to Donald Trump’s travails in 2024 is a miscarriage of historical justice. Lincoln pledged himself to fighting insurrection, not inciting it,” Holzer said.
McWhirter noted that in 1860, “the 14th Amendment didn’t exist yet, which is the specific context for Trump’s potential removal.” (The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868.)
Lincoln won the 1860 election with just under 40% of the popular vote, defeating Stephen Douglas of the Democratic Party, John Breckenridge of the Southern Democratic Party — who won the nine Southern states — and John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Bomboy, Scott. “On this day, Abraham Lincoln is GOP nominee in an upset.” National Constitution Center. 18 May 2017.
Coltrain, Nick. “Trump appeals Colorado Supreme Court ruling on 14th Amendment ballot disqualification.” Denver Post. 3 Jan 2024.
Constitution Annotated. Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Other Rights. Section 3 Disqualification from Holding Office. Constitution.congress.gov. Accessed 22 Jan 2024.
Gamio, Lazaro, Mitch Smith and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. “Tracking Efforts to Remove Trump From the 2024 Ballot.” New York Times. Updated 19 Jan 2024.
Holzer, Harold. Jonathan F. Fanton Director, Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. Email to FactCheck.org. 22 Jan 2024.
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McWhirter, Christian. Historian, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Email to FactCheck.org. 22 Jan 2024.
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