United States Elections: Presidential Elections (1856)


Figure 1.--This Louis Maurer political cartoon was published by Currier & Ives during the 1856. The man at the right is Republican nominee John C. Freemont. Maurer was lampooning the various elements Freemont was suposedly collecting under the Republican banner, including anti-tobacco and liquor preachers, suffragettes, immigrants, free lovers, Catholics, and blacks. Interestingly there was no abolitionists pictured. Perhaps picturing a black man covered the slavery issue. Note the suffragette and how she is dressed. The outfit looks rather like something a young boy would wear. I am not sure if this is what Maurer was trying to depict. This was not, however, how women dressed in the 1850s.

The Compromise of 1850 was clearly beginning to fall apart by the campign of 1856. The popularity of Taylor (1848) and the unpopularity of Scott (1852) had desguised the increasingly sectional divide in American politics. The escalating violence in Kansas underscored the danger to the nation inherent in the slavery issue. The two established parties were proving incapable of addressing the issue. The Whigs had unraveled leading to the formation of a new party completely opposed to the expansion of slavery. The Democrats remained together only by pandering to Southern slave interests. President Pierce failed to garner enthusiam for his renomination. James Buchanan had been a leading contender for the nomination in 1852 and emerged as the front runner at the Cincinnati Democratic convention (June 1856). Like Pierce, his lack of involvement in the heated issues, especially slavery, was a major asset. It took 17 ballots, but Buchanan was nominated unanimously. The Democratic platform supported the Compromise of 1850, opposed any Federal limitations interference in slavery, and came out for the transcontinental railroad. The new Republican Party emerged as a union of anti-slavery Whigs and Free Soil Democrats. It was a sectional party with no support in the South and very little in the Border States. The Republicans nominated John Fremont who made a name for himself in California during the Mexican War. The Republicans were initially a single-issue party. They were opposed to the expansion of slavery. They sharply criticised President Pierce for not acting forcefully to stop the violence in Kansas. The Know-Nothing Party emerged as another single issue party. They were opposed to immigration and Catholocism. (Irish immigrants in the 1840s had substantially expanded the Cathoic population in America.) The Republicans campaigned on the slogan party in the candidate was "Free Speech, Free Press, Free soil, Free Men, Fremont and Victory!" The Democrats warned that the South would not accept a Republican victory and would secede. They also incorrectly charged that Fremont was Catholic. The South voted in a bloc for Buchanan who also carried most of the border states as well as northern states like Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It is unclear to what extent the vote was a refeendum on slavery in the north or northern concern over Southern scecession. Buchanan won with 174 electoral votes. Fremont ammased 174 votes, a respectanle showing for a new party. Former President Filmore only carried Maryland with 8 electoral votes, but over 20 percent of the popular vote.

Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850 which undid the Missouri Compromose which had settled the issue of slavery in the western territiries was clearly beginning to fall apart by the campign of 1856. The popularity of Taylor (1848) and the unpopularity of Scott (1852) had desguised the increasingly sectional divide in American politics. President Pierce sought to difuse the escalating sectional tensions, but erred badly in supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The violence in Kansas underscored the danger to the nation inherent in the slavery issue. The two established parties were proving incapable of addressing the issue.

The Whigs

The Whigs had unraveled leading to the formation of a the new Republican Party completely opposed to the expansion of slavery. Pro-slavery Whigs joined the Democrats.

The Democrats

The Democrats remained together only by pandering to Southern slave interests. President Pierce failed to garner enthusiam for his renomination, largely because he sided to closely to the southern planters. One of the leading Democrats, Senator Stephen A. Douglas sought the nomination, but his reputation had been badly tarnished by supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act which resulted in violence nd bloodshed. James Buchanan had been a leading contender for the nomination in 1852 and emerged as the front runner at the Cincinnati Democratic convention (June 1856). Like Pierce, his lack of involvement in the heated issues, especially slavery, was a major asset. Buchanan had been the minister to Britain (1853-56) and thus was not linked to the Kansas-Nebraska issue. He also had some support in the South because of his role in the Ostend Manifesto. It took 17 ballots, but Buchanan was nominated unanimously. The Democrats balanced the ticket by nominating John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for Vice-president. The Democratic platform supported the Compromise of 1850, opposed any Federal limitations interference in slavery, and came out for the transcontinental railroad.

The Republicans

The new Republican Party emerged as a union of anti-slavery Whigs and Free Soil Democrats. It was a sectional party with no support in the South and very little in the Border States. The Republicans nominated John Fremont who made a name for himself in California during the Mexican War. He was known as "The Pathfinder". This was Frémont's first political effort. He thus had no political record which can be a major assett. He held abolitionist views which alienated many moderates. His running mate was William L. Dayton of New Jersey. The Republicans were a coalition of abolitionists and moderates who opposed the expansion of slavery, but did not support abolition. The Republicans were initially a single-issue party. They were opposed to the expansion of slavery. They sharply criticised President Pierce for not acting forcefully to stop the violence in Kansas.

The Know Nothings

The American Party, better knowen as thev Know-Nothings, emerged as another single issue party. They were nativists who appealed to the discontent caused by immigration and Catholocism. (Irish immigrants in the 1840s had substantially expanded the Cathoic population in America.) They nominated former-president Millard Filmore.

Campaign

The 1856 election was the Republicans first national political campaign. The Republicans called for repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, opposed the extension of slavery, and supported for internal improvement projects. They blamed the Democrats for the horrors of "Bleeding Kansas." Freemont and the Republicans campaigned on the slogan "Free Speech, Free Press, Free soil, Free Men, Fremont and Victory!" The Democrats warned that the South would not accept a Republican victory and would secede. They also incorrectly charged that Fremont was Catholic. Bucannan insisted that good wull could hold the Union tgogether. A campaign poster read, "No North, No South, One country, one destiny, the Union forever."

Election

The South voted in a bloc for Buchanan who also carried most of the border states as well as northern states like Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It is unclear to what extent the vote was a refeendum on slavery in the north or northern concern over Southern scecession. Buchanan won with 174 electoral votes. Fremont ammased 174 votes, a respectanle showing for a new party. Former President Filmore only carried Maryland with 8 electoral votes, but garnered over 20 percent of the popular vote. Buchanan's victory was not as imprssive as it looked. He did not win a majority of the popular vote even though he was running against a new party. The large Know Nothing vote was part of the reason, but still the Republican showing was impressive. A shift of only a small number of votes in key states would have tipped the Electoral College vote to the Freemont and the Republicans. This is of course what happened when the Democratic Party split in 1860.

Assessment

An analasis of the vote shows what a mistake the South made in splitting the Democratic Party ans seceeding. The Democratic Party wouild never have supported abolition. And the Know Nothings were largely composed of people who not only were not abolitionists, but had no great concern over slavery. (Note that Fillmore carried Maryland, a slave state.) Thus the overwealming majority of Americans had no desire to attack the slave system. If the South had supported a unified Democratic Party in 1860 and stayed jn the Union, the Republicans could never have passed measures through Congress ending sxlasvery. The Democratic nomination process excluded any forceful politican. This the Democratic victory brought another weak politican to the presidency at a timer of natiional crisis. Buchanan is commonly ranked as the worst American president.

President James Buchanan

James Buchanan was the 15th president of the United States. He groped for compromise as the South advanced toward secession. Tall, stately, stiffly formal in the high stock he wore around his jowls, James Buchanan was the only President who never married. Presiding over a rapidly dividing Nation, Buchanan grasped inadequately the political realities of the time. Relying on constitutional doctrines to close the widening rift over slavery, he failed to understand that the North would not accept constitutional arguments which favored the South. Nor did he appreciate how sectionalism had realigned political parties: the Democrats split; the Whigs were destroyed, giving rise to the Republicans. Buchanan is judged by many historians as the worse presudent in American history. Because of his failed policies and refusal to even prepare for military action, the United States came perioously close to breaking up. The consequences of this to the 20th century are unimmaginable.







HBC





Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main U.S. 19th century elections page]
[Return to the Main U.S. elections page]
[Return to the Main U.S. political party page]
[Return to the Main U.S. history page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Children] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Essays]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[ Boys' Clothing Home]



Created: 8:42 PM 6/28/2010
Last updated: 8:42 PM 6/28/2010