McDermott: Baseball and Illinois politics during Abraham Lincoln’s time

From Stacy Pratt McDermott at The National Pastime Museum on September 5, 2013:

On July 25, 1860, members of the Excelsior Base Ball Club met on their grounds in Chicago to settle a political argument. The purpose of the meeting was a base ball game between players who supported the presidential candidacy of Abraham Lincoln and those who supported Stephen A. Douglas. The club had been playing base ball in the city since at least 1858. The players, mostly in their 20s, represented an upwardly mobile group of young men who hoped to channel their energy and enthusiasm for the coming presidential election through their prowess on the ball field.

Lincoln and Douglas had very recently earned the nominations of their respective political parties, and the political atmosphere in Chicago, which had hosted the Republican Party’s raucous convention just weeks before, was charged with excitement as people took sides over which would be president. The newspaper headline announcing the game read, “Lincoln vs. Douglas—Nine Against Nine,” and the editors noted that they had “no authority for saying that the event of this match will decide the Presidential contest, but it will be a spirited affair on both sides.”

Today people frequently employ the language of sport in political contexts, and modern baseball has become synonymous with American ideals. But is it possible that these now comfortable connections between baseball and American identity were rooted in the political environment of the late 1850s and could have emerged directly from Lincoln’s Illinois?

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Originally published: September 5, 2013. Last Updated: September 5, 2013.