The History Of Post-Election Riots: Should We Expect Civil Unrest After Results?

By | November 4, 2020

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Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

Nothing has defined the modern era of presidential elections like fear, distrust of the government, and anxiety, but 2016 and 2020 haven't been the only election years that were full of post-election dread and the possibility of violence in the streets, coups, and/or an uprising from a losing party. American history is rich with disparate groups flipping out because they didn't get their way, and though it's hard to determine when there's going to be civil unrest, the best thing we can do is look to history to tell us how things tend to play out.

The Secession Of The South

The most important post-election coup/government shakeup (to put it mildly) occurred following the election of 1860. Lincoln's victory in this race was one of the catalysts for the secession of seven Southern states from December 20, 1860 until February 1, 1861. While violence didn't immediately occur, the Civil War officially began on April 12, 1861 and lasted another four years.

The secession that began the Civil War isn't technically a post-election riot, but it does illustrate just how far people and political parties will go to show their dissent. In this case, rather than work toward a compromise, the Southern states cut America in half in an attempt to remake it in their vision.

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Poster for the successful 1896 presidential campaign of Governor William McKinley of Ohio and Garret Hobart of New Jersey. (Gillespie, Metzgar & Kelley/Wikimedia Commons)

The Dueling Riots Of 1896

The presidential election of 1896 was fraught with tension and violence as William McKinley ran against William Jennings Bryan. At the time, the country was just coming out of a lengthy depression that left laborers and business owners looking for a change, although each group wanted something vastly different. McKinley ran from his front porch in Ohio, funded by industrialists to the tune of $4 million and essentially creating modern campaign financing.

It also inspired Bryan's supporters to riot in Chicago's 18th Ward and Manhattan, albeit for different reasons. In Chicago, rioters fought the police until they were bloody and falling down in the streets, while those in New York City took more of a Super Bowl approach to the whole thing, yelling and shouting as they ran up and down Broadway.