Election time is upon us once again. On the first Tuesday in May, Ohio voters will have an opportunity to register choices on a wide variety of people, proposals and issues. Some of these issues are of great importance to the people who brought them forward. Many of the candidates for public office have argued that they and only they should be elected.

Election time is upon us once again. On the first Tuesday in May, Ohio voters will have an opportunity to register choices on a wide variety of people, proposals and issues. Some of these issues are of great importance to the people who brought them forward. Many of the candidates for public office have argued that they and only they should be elected.

We shall soon see if the public agrees.

To provide a little perspective on the issues of the present day, it might be useful to look back 150 years to a time when election campaigns were conducted very differently. In an era before radio, television and the Internet, a political race was often literally just that.

The year 1860 was a national election year in America. While some attention was focused on local candidates and issues, most people were more concerned about the national situation. They were concerned because America seemed to be on the verge of coming apart.

The founders of our country had successfully constructed a sound and workable form of government at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. But they recognized that they had left a number of matters unresolved and questions unanswered. Some of them are with us still.

Among them were defining the exact role of the states versus the national government and the balance between liberty and responsibility in a free society.

But the major unresolved question was the one that - in the words of Thomas Jefferson - haunted America "like a fire bell in the night," the existence of slavery and its future.

Every generation since the end of the American Revolution had tried to find a way to deal with the issue. In the early 1800s, an American Colonization Society had proposed to buy the freedom of slaves and then send them back to Africa. And although modern day Liberia was founded as part of this effort, repatriation as a strategy was doomed to failure.

In 1820, the Missouri Compromise tried to draw lines on a map to keep the country roughly divided between "slave states" and "free states" as the country expanded west. A second major set of agreements was reached in the Compromise of 1850. But that series of laws also included a Fugitive Slave Act that antagonized many in the North, frustrated many in the South and gave new life to an "Underground Railroad" whose "conductors" helped runaway slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

The 1850s were turbulent years with violent confrontations in Kansas and Nebraska and the creation of new political movements to restrict immigration, inflate the currency and deal with issue of slavery. Arguably one of the most successful of the new groups was the Republican Party, which ran John Charles Fremont, the "Pathfinder," as its first candidate for president in 1856. Fremont lost, but his race demonstrated that the Republican Party could attract voters. The message was not lost on the North or the South.

As tensions between North and South rose, John Brown brought the decade to a close with a raid on a United States arsenal in western Virginia to seize arms and spark a slave uprising. The raid failed and Brown was executed. But by early 1860, it was clear that the country was deeply divided.

To try to bridge a widening divide, Gov. William Dennison of Ohio invited the legislatures of Kentucky and Tennessee to visit the state as the guests of the Ohio General Assembly. On Jan. 26, 1860, a special train arrived from Cincinnati with the delegations from the South in the company of the governor and state officers of Indiana. Accompanied by no less than eight companies of Ohio militia from various cities, the visitors marched down High Street from the railway station to the Statehouse. After an evening of speeches, banquets and other festivities, the guests left by train the next day.

It was the last convivial meeting of these northern and southern legislatures for quite some time.

On March 1, 1860, the Republican Party held its state convention in Columbus and voted to endorse the candidacy of former Gov. Salmon P. Chase for the presidency. The Democratic National Convention made an effort to complete its work on April 23, 1860, in Charleston, S.C., and found itself unable to do so. Over the next few months later meetings led to the emergence of no less than three candidates seeking Democratic support.

Sen. Stephen Douglas was the candidate of the North and John C. Breckinridge stood for at least some of the South. Constitutional Unionist John Bell of Tennessee sought the votes of Democrats - and anyone else - who did not care for any of the other candidates.

On May 16, 1860, the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency at their convention in Chicago. Receiving the news at 3 p.m., local Republicans, in the words of a later account, "caused 100 guns to be fired on the Capitol Square. In the evening bonfires were lit and fireworks were displayed. A Republican mass meeting to ratify the nomination was held on the West Front during the evening of May 21 and songs were sung by the Lincoln Glee Club. The organization of "Wide Awake" companies in the interest of Lincoln and Hamlin began soon after this meeting The theatre building on State Street (where the Ohio Theatre is today) was leased for the use of Republican clubs and committees during the campaign."

Not to be outdone, the Democrats soon were holding meetings as well. "The Douglas wing of the Democracy held a ratification meeting in the Capitol Square June 25 A national salute was fired at the corner of State and Third, and the streets were illuminated with bonfires and enlivened by a parade of marching clubs."

"A Breckinridge and Land ratification meeting, Thomas Sparrow presiding, was held at the corner of Broad and Third streets June 29."

All of these were followed by more marches, parades, mass meetings and artillery salutes through the summer and fall of 1860. And in November, Lincoln was elected president. A few months later, America was engulfed in Civil War.

All in all, it had been a very eventful election year.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.