Rosy prophecies and gilded promises
The high-school-textbook version of history that we all grew up with had most of us believing that the election campaign of 1860 was defined by two clearly distinct and diametrically opposite positions: the evil South determined to spread slavery throughout the American West and the righteous North determined to end it forever.  However, throughout the contest, other than offering the ripe plumb of the West for “landless [white] freemen,” the Republicans were unable "to discuss vital issues or to wage the campaign with a consistent national program."
Ken Bachand
In Madison, Wisconsin…[William Seward] was introduced by Governor Randall with new avowals of affection. Lincoln was "our Moses," but Seward was "our great High Priest." Aaron-like, Seward erected a golden calf in the wilderness, promising prosperity to all who would support the Chicago platform. The North­west, intoned Seward, was the future seat of power; its duty was to call the federal government back to its original principles. In Michigan and Minnesota he blessed his loyal supporters, then passed on to St. Louis. Here he told his audience that if Missouri had been a free state it would now have a population of four million. He noted, with a glance at the German vote, that the state was fortunately in a fair way to being "Germanized" into a liberal attitude. "It was through the Germans Germanizing Great Britain," he said, "that Magna Charta was obtained."
The touring high priest’s remarks were a token of the lack of very specific issues in the Republican campaign. The New York Times vaguely remarked that Lincoln’s weakness in safe New England was an argument for him in doubtful Western areas. The rival Herald warned the conservative East against Seward’s supposedly dangerous ideas: Republican success would place abolitionists in federal judgeships and fanatics in other offices of the national government. Negro insurrections would multiply, and fugitives would flood the North. Instead of replying, Republicans merely sang:
Come all you landless freemen
That want good land to till,
Elect old honest Abraham
And get the Homestead Bill.

Thus rosy prophecies and gilded promises were the substitutes for tangible issues in the campaign oratory. Indeed, no other course was feasible. The conglomerate structure of the Republican Party made it impossible either to discuss vital issues or to wage the campaign with a consistent national program. Years later Charles Francis Adams, Jr., was to shudder as he looked back on the summer of 1860. He remembered the Wide-Awakes with their nocturnal parades, their smoking flares, and their deafening fireworks. But he also remembered how little anyone had understood the profound significance of the coming election. When young Adams and his father accompanied Seward on his Northwestern tour, none of the party had any idea of the bitterness of Southern feeling. "We all dwelt in a fool’s Paradise," he confessed. "We fully believed it would all end in gasconade!"
Yet the Republicans won. They won without an integrated program, without an organized national campaign, and without any realization of the terrible train of events they had set in motion.
(LINCOLN AND THE WAR GOVERNORS, William B. Hesseltine, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1948, pp. 67–8)