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Former President Donald Trump’s inclusion on Republican primary ballots has been formally challenged in 35 states. Challengers have cited the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, Section 3, which prohibits anyone who engaged in insurrection from holding the office of president.
President Abraham Lincoln was not removed from general election ballots in 1860. At that time, political parties distributed their own ballots, which were single-party tickets, and some slaveholding states in the South did not print and hand out Republican ballots because there was little support for Lincoln in those places.
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Days before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear former President Donald Trump’s appeal of his removal from Colorado’s March 5 Republican primary ballot, social media users compared his electoral plight with Abraham Lincoln’s in 1860.
A Jan. 26 Instagram post reshared a video in which a man describes efforts to remove Trump from the ballot. The man compared the situation with the 1860 election, and said President Abraham Lincoln was removed from ballots.
"The last time Democrats removed a Republican from the ballot was 1860," he said. "That candidate was Abraham Lincoln. He still went on to win, and the Civil War started the next year. He also won that." He claimed that Trump was being removed from the ballot "for saying the elections were rigged."
The video was originally shared by its creator in a Dec. 20, 2023, Instagram post that garnered more than 150,000 likes.
We have seen numerous similar claims in recent months, comparing efforts to remove Trump from ballots with Lincoln’s 1860 election. Many said that Lincoln was removed from ballots in 10 slaveholding states. One TikTok video shared a video of Fox News host and commentator Jesse Watters making the false claim on his show.
The Instagram post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
Like the Instagram video’s claim, the posts are wrong about why some are seeking to remove Trump from the primary ballot in dozens of states, and about Lincoln’s ballot status in 1860.
Formal challenges to Trump’s inclusion on Republican primary ballots have been made in at least 35 states, according to a New York Times review. Of those, only Colorado and Maine have taken steps to remove Trump from their state’s ballot, although those cases are being challenged in court. As of Feb. 3, 17 states have rejected efforts to remove Trump from the ballot, and cases in 16 states are unresolved, the Times said.
The challenges are not for simply questioning the election results, as the Instagram video says, but over Trump’s actions on or before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.
In December, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump was ineligible for the White House and should be removed from the state’s Republican March 5 primary ballot based on the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, Section 3, which says that no person who has "engaged in insurrection" can hold the office of president.
The Colorado lawsuit was filed by a group of Republican and independent voters. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case Feb. 8, and a decision will likely impact challenges to Trump’s candidacy in other states.
On Dec. 28, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, unilaterally removed Trump from the Republican primary ballot after three challenges by voters, also citing the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause. Trump has appealed that decision to a Maine Superior Court.
Historians told PolitiFact that the claim comparing Trump’s ballot removals to the Lincoln era shows a misunderstanding about how general elections worked in the 1800s. (Primary elections didn’t come into general use in the U.S. until the early 20th century.)
Jonathan W. White, a Christopher Newport University American studies professor, said in the mid-19th century, political parties were responsible for printing and distributing their own ballots to supporters. Other experts said because there was little support for Lincoln in slaveholding Southern states, the Republican Party didn’t waste resources printing and handing out ballots there.
"To be fair to the gentleman in the video, I've heard professional historians make the mistake of saying that ‘Lincoln wasn't on the ballot.’ The truth is that nobody banned him," White said. "It's just that there weren't any Republican Party organizations, or voters, in most of the South, which meant that there wouldn't be any Republican ballots for Lincoln to be on."
Cecily Zander, a Texas Woman’s University assistant history professor, said after being "frustrated" by the "erroneous" comparison, she wrote a blog post about it on Emerging Civil War, a website that shares scholarly articles about the Civil War.
Voters in Lincoln’s 1860 election would have submitted a "party ticket" — supplied by their party — in the ballot box at their polling place, Zander wrote. That ticket wouldn’t include candidates from opposing parties, only the candidates for one party. Because the Republican party didn’t expect a large number of votes in places such as Alabama or Mississippi, which at the time were majority Democratic, it didn’t distribute tickets in those states, she wrote.
"It was a waste of time and resources to send thousands of Lincoln ballots to the South, just to have them sit in unopened boxes on Election Day," Zander wrote.
She shared an image of an 1860 Republican ticket in Iowa in her post, and more examples can be seen on this National Museum of American History webpage.
Louis Masur, a Rutgers University American studies and history professor, said Democrats didn’t remove Lincoln from ballots. He didn’t appear because the Republican party "in effect, did not exist in those states."
A man in an Instagram video said, "Last time Democrats removed a Republican from the ballot" was Lincoln in 1860.
Comparisons with Lincoln’s 1860 election ignore the differences between elections then and now, historians said. Political parties were responsible for providing single-party tickets to voters; Republicans had little support in the South, so chose not to distribute tickets in some states.
No ballot featured candidates from multiple parties, like those used in today’s general elections, so Lincoln could not have been removed from one.
The claim is False.
Email interview, Cecily Zander, Texas Woman’s University assistant history professor, Feb. 5, 2024
Cecily Zander, Texas Woman’s University assistant history professor, Dude, Where’s My Candidate?: Lincoln, the Ballot, and the Election of 1860, Dec. 21, 2023
Christian McWhirter, Lincoln historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, Was Lincoln 'removed' from southern presidential ballots?, Jan. 26, 2024
Email interview, Jonathan W. White, a Christopher Newport University American studies professor, Feb. 5, 2024
Email interview, Louis Masur, a Rutgers University American studies and history professor, Feb. 5, 2024
Email interview, Peter Carmichael, a Civil War studies professor at Gettysburg College, Feb. 5, 2024
National Museum of American History, Voting and electioneering, 1789-1899,
Constitution Annotated, Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Other Rights, accessed Feb. 5, 2024
The Washington Post, The 91-year-old Republican suing to kick Donald Trump off the ballot, Feb. 5, 2024
Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, Ruling of the Maine secretary of state, Dec. 28, 2023
Department of the Maine Secretary of State, Maine secretary of state decision in challenge to Trump presidential primary petitions, Dec. 28, 2023
The New York Times, Tracking Efforts to Remove Trump From the 2024 Ballot, updated Feb. 3, 2024
The New York Times, Trump ballot challenges advance, varying widely in strategy and sophistication, Jan. 4, 2024
Encyclopedia Britannica, Primary election, Feb. 1, 2024
Library of Congress, Political primaries: How are candidates nominated?, accessed Feb. 6, 2024
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