PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & ELECTIONS
OVERVIEWS & CHRONOLOGIES: 1856
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Election Year: 1856
Election Day Date: November 4, 1856
Winning Ticket: James Buchanan (65, Presbyterian), John Breckenridge (35) Democratic 1,835,140 45.29% 174 58.8%
- John C. Frémont (43, Episcopalian), William Dayton (49, ) Republican 1,340,668 33.09% 114 38.5%
- Millard Fillmore (56, Unitarian) Andrew Donelson (57) Whig-American 872,703 21.54% 8 2.7%
- Other (+) – – 3,094 0.08% 0 0.0%
Voter Turnout: 78.9%
Central Forums/Campaign Methods for Addressing Voters:
None of the major candidates stumped; torchlight parades, floats, mass meetings, picnics, campaign songs, slogans, fervent oratory, party pamphlets and handouts
Incumbent President and Vice President on Election Day:
Franklin Pierce, William R King, Democratic, 1853-1857
Population: 1856: 28,497,000
Nominal GDP (billions of dollars): $4.01 Real GDP (billions of 2005 dollars): $72.47
GDP Deflator (index 2005=100%) 5.53 Nominal GDP per capita (current dollars): $141 Real GDP per capita (year 2005 dollars): $2,543
Number of Daily Newspapers: 1850 254; 1860 387
Average Daily Circulation: 1850 758,454 1860 1,478,435
Method of Choosing Electors: Popular vote (general ticket system, usually winner take all) in all states except in South Carolina where the state legislature appointed electors
Method of Choosing Nominees: National party conventions
Central Issues (Nomination/Primaries):
Slavery in the territories; Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854); Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, popular sovereignty; “Bleeding Kansas” between Free-Soilers and pro-slavery settlers from Kansas; Ohio
Leading Candidates (Nomination/Primaries):
Democratic Party candidates:
- James Buchanan, Minister to Great Britain (Pennsylvania)
- Franklin Pierce, President of the United States (New Hampshire)
- Stephen Douglas, U.S. senator (Illinois)
American Party Know-Nothing candidates
- John Bell, U.S. senator (Tennessee)
- Erastus Brooks, New York State Senator
- Lewis D. Campbell, U.S. representative (Ohio)
- John M. Clayton, U.S. senator (Delaware)
- Garrett Davis, former U.S. representative (Kentucky)
- Millard Fillmore, Former President of the United States (New York)
- Sam Houston, U.S. senator (Texas)
- George Law, steamboat entrepreneur (New York)
- John McLean, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice (Ohio)
- Kenneth Rayner, U.S. senator from (North Carolina)
- Robert F. Stockton, former U.S. senator from (New Jersey)
Main Controversies (Nomination/Primaries):
Third party nominations proliferated as anti-Slavery and pro-slavery factions splintered the parties.
Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries): Stephen A. Douglas; Abraham Lincoln
Turning Points (Nomination/Primaries):
- Franklin Pierce, the incumbent, was denied the Democratic party’s nomination
- January 19, 1854, “Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States” warns against repealing the Missouri Compromise denounces Kansas-Nebraska Act as an “atrocious plot” by the Slave Power.
- The tumult of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the civil war in “Bleeding Kansas” fragmented both major parties and triggered the formation of the new Republican Party.
- Whigs divided into “Silver Greys” or “Nationals” who support Millard Fillmore, northern commerce, and the South versus “Conscience” Whigs or “Wooly Heads” who support William Henry Seward and the Anti-Slavery forces.
- Rise of the anti-immigrant “American Party” known as the “Know Nothings”
- On May 19 and 20, 1856, with “Border Ruffians” menacing Lawrence, Kansas, Senator Charles Sumner delivered his stinging speech denouncing the “Crime Against Kansas” and mocking the authors of the “Kansas-Nebraska Act,” including Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina.
- On May 22, 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks, Butler’s nephew, beat Senator Sumner on the head repeatedly with a thick gutta-perch cane, until it snapped. “The Caning of Sumner” outraged the North, in the midst of the campaign.
- North American Party formed by Northern Anti-slavery Americans also called “Northern Bolters” or “republican Sympathizers”
- The emergence of the Republican Party running on an anti-slavery platform
(On February 28, 1854, an alliance of Conscience Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Anti-Slavery Democrats met in Ripon, Wisconsin, to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act and recommend the organization of a new political party pledged to oppose the further extension of slavery.)
Conventions (Dates & Locations):
- Democratic National Convention, June 2-6, 1856, Smith and Nixon’s Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, John E. Ward (Georgia), 17th ballot, James Buchanan (Pennsylvania), John C. Breckinridge, (Kentucky)
- Republican National Convention, June 17-19, 1856, Musical Fund Hall; Philadelphia, 2nd ballot, John C. Frémont (California), William L. Dayton (New Jersey)
- The American National Convention, February 22-25, 1856 National Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- North American Party Convention June 12-20, 1856, New York City
- The 5th and last Whig National Convention, Hall of the Maryland Institute in Baltimore on September 17-18, 1856.
Convention Turning Points:
Democratic National Convention:
- Pierce supporters moved to support Stephen A. Douglas to thwart Buchanan’s nomination.
- Stephen Douglas withdrew on the 16th ballot paved way for James Buchanan “Old Buck.” won the nomination on the 17th ballot receiving all the votes.
- Eleven candidates for the Vice Presidential nomination; John C. Breckinridge won the nomination on the second ballot, with the help of New England.
- Breckinridge acceptance the nomination in person which was unprecedented.
Republican National Convention:
- First national convention of the party, which had formed in 1854.
- 600 delegates present primarily representing the Northern states, border states (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and District of Columbia) The convention treated the Kansas territory as a full state with full privileges John C. Frémont became the front runner when Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and William H. Seward of New York withdrew their names prior to the vote.
- Abraham Lincoln vied for the Vice Presidential candidacy with William L. Dayton, a former senator from New Jersey, who was nominated.
Number of Ballots to Choose Nominees:
Presidential 17th Ballot
- James Buchanan135.5 139 139.5 141.5 140 155 143.5 147.5 146 147.5 147.5 148 150 152.5 168.5 168 296
- Franklin Pierce 122.5 119.5 119 119 119.5 107.5 89 87 87 80.5 80 79 77.5 75 3.5 0 0 Stephen Douglas 33 31.5 32 30 31 28 58 56 56 62.5 63 63.5 63 63 118.5 122 0
- Lewis Cass 5 6 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 7 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 4.5 6 0
Vice Presidential 2nd Ballot
- John C. Breckinridge 51 296
- John A. Quitman 59 0
- Linn Boyd 33 0
- James Bayard 31 0
- Herschel V. Johnson 31 0
- Aaron V. Brown 29 0
- Benjamin Butler 27 0
- James C. Dobbin 13 0
- Benjamin Fitzpatrick 11 0
- Thomas J. Rusk 7 0
- Trusten Polk 5 0
Republican Party Nomination
- John C. Frémont 359 520
- John McLean 190 37
- Charles Sumner 2 0
- Nathaniel Prentice Banks 1 0
- William H. Seward 1 0
- Abstaining 14 9
Vice Presidential Ballots
- William L. Dayton 253 523
- Abraham Lincoln 110 20
- Nathaniel Prentice Banks 46 6
- David Wilmot 43 0
- Charles Sumner 35 3
- Jacob Collamer 15 2
- John Alsop King 9 2
- Samuel C. Pomeroy 8 1
- Thomas Ford 7 5
- Henry Charles Carey 3 0
- Cassius M. Clay 3 1
- Joshua R. Giddings 2 0
- Whitfield Johnson 2 1
- Aaron Pennington 1 0
- Henry Wilson 1 0
- Scattering 29 3
Third Party Candidates:
American Party Nomination
- Millard Fillmore 139 179
- George Law 27 35
- Garrett Davis 18 8
- Kenneth Rayner 14 2
- John McLean 13 1
- Robert F. Stockton 8 2
- Sam Houston 6 4
- John Bell 5 2
- Erastus Brooks 2 1
- Lewis D. Campbell 1 0
- John Middleton Clayton 1 0
Vice Presidential Ballot
- Andrew Jackson Donelson 181
- Scattering 18
- Henry J. Gardiner 12
North American Party
- President Nathaniel P. Banks nominated on the 10th ballot over John C. Frémont and John McLean. Bank refused the nomination; Frémont unanimously nominated on the 11th ballot
- Vice President William F. Johnston (later withdrew)
Whig Party Nomination
- 150 delegates from 26 states unanimously endorsed American Party’s national ticket of Fillmore and Donelson
Democratic Party: John E. Ward of Georgia
- Domestic and foreign policy sections of the platform; limited federal government and nationalism and expansionism
- Supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, popular sovereignty, Kansas’ pro-slavery territorial legislature, opposed the Topeka Constitution, annexation of Cuba, Ostend Manifesto.
- The Democrats warned that a Republican victory would lead to the secession of numerous southern states.
- “Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy and Slavery.” Anti-slavery, congressional sovereignty of the territories, an end to polygamy in Mormon settlements, federal assistance for a transcontinental railroad
- Repeal of Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Act; abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia
- The Republican platform demanded the immediate admission of Kansas into the Union as a free state, opposed the extension of slavery into the territories, and denounced the Ostend Manifesto (issued by James Buchanan and others) which called for the annexation of Cuba — where slavery was legal — to the United States.
General Election Controversies/Issues:
- “Slave Power”; Slavery in the territories; Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854); Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, popular sovereignty; “Bleeding Kansas” Violence between Free-Soilers and pro-slavery settlers in Kansas; Ohio, Dred Scott case (North); Expansion slavery (South);
Campaign Innovations (General Election):
Major Personalities (General Election):
- Rocky Mountain Clubs, Wide Awakes, Freedom Clubs, and (in California) Bear Clubs;
- Jessie Benton Frémont’s image was reproduced on a campaign medallion, first public use of the wife of a Presidential candidate.
- depicted Buchanan and Fillmore, old fogies; South, backward and reactionary
- Stephen Douglas stumping/speaking tour
Turning Points (General Election):
- Democrats called the Republicans “Black Republicans”; Governor Wise of Virginia claimed “If Frémont is elected, there will be a revolution.” The south would cede and there would be civil war; “Buck and Breck,” “take the Buck by the horns”
- Eastern businessmen feared the Republicans’ affect on the economy; contributed huge amounts of money to the Democratic Party their victory; Republicans could not compete in donations
Popular Campaign Slogans:
- “Young America.”
- denouncing the “Nebraska Infamy.”
- “John and Jessie” [regarding Jessie Fremont – first time candidates’ wife featured on campaign items]
- “One Country, One Constitution, One Destiny …. UNION”
- “Clear the Track! Old Buck is Coming. Fremont ! Free Niggers! Off for the Rocky Mountains.”
- “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, and Frémont.”
- “Fremont and Freedom, Principles NOT Party.”
- [Typical Know Nothing quote] “I know nothing but my Country, my whole Country, and nothing but my Country.”
- Republicans: “We shall Overcome,” “There is the White House yonder,” “Fillmore Quick Step.”
- Democrats: “Buchanan and John Breckinridge,” “The Democrats are in the field, And are determined not to yield; And certainly they’ll have good luck, For they have nominated ‘Buck,’” “Buchanan’s Union Grand March”
Influential Campaign Appeals or Ads:
- Democrats mock Frémont as “a man whose only merit, so far as history records it, is in the fact that he was born in South Carolina, crossed the Rocky Mountains, subsisted on frogs, lizards, snakes and grasshoppers, and captured a woolly horse.”
- Republicans reject Buchanan’s “don’t rock the boat” approach, crying “full speed ahead.” Republicans march in clubs of “Wide Awakes” in the East and “Bear Clubs” in California
Defining Quotation (Winning Candidate):
- “The Black Republicans must be, as they can be with justice, boldly assailed as disunionists, and this charge must be reiterated again and again.” James Buchanan
Defining Quotation (Losing Candidate):
- “Nothing is clearer in the history of our institutions than the design of the nation, in asserting its own independence and freedom, to avoid giving countenance to the Extension of Slavery. The influence of the small but compact and powerful class of men interested in Slavery, who command one section of the country and wield a vast political control as a consequence in the other, is now directed to turn back this impulse of the Revolution and reverse its principles.” John Charles Frémont
- “You are here today to give a direction to a movement which is to decide whether the people of the United States are to be hereafter and forever chained to the present national policy of the extension of slavery.” Republican Chairman Edwin D. Morgan’s welcoming address at the first RN
- “We Frémonters of this town have not one dollar where the Fillmoreans and Buchaneers have ten each.” Horace Greeley
- William E, Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (1987).
Lasting Legacy of Campaign:
- End of an era: the second generation of Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster faded as did their defining institutions like the Whig Party.
- The emergence of the Third Party system marked by the founding of the Republican Party and the growing tensions that erupted in Civil War.
- December 30, 1853: “The Gadsden Purchase, negotiated by James Gadsden, U.S. minister to Mexico, is signed.” The United States finalizes it continental border by acquiring 29,600 square miles in southwest Arizona and New Mexico.
- January 19, 1854: “Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States” warns against repealing the Missouri Compromise denounces Kansas-Nebraska Act as an “atrocious plot” by the Slave Power.
- May 30, 1854: Pierce signs the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law. The act introduced by Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas repeals the Missouri Compromise, Kansas and Nebraska would be organized by “popular sovereignty.” Pierce opposes the act which he believes will cause controversy.
- February 28, 1854: Conscience Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Anti-Slavery Democrats meet in Ripon, Wisconsin to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act and decide to form a new political party in opposition to the expansion of slavery.
- July 6, 1854: Republican Party is founded in Jackson, Michigan. It’s supporters include Whigs, Free-Soilers, and northern Democrats who oppose slavery’s expansion and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The party has an anti-slavery platform.
- 1854: The Whig Party divide into “Silver Greys” or “Nationals” who support Millard Fillmore, northern commerce, and the South versus “Conscience” Whigs or “Wooly Heads” who support William Henry Seward and the Anti-Slavery forces.
- October 18, 1854: Ostend Manifesto. After Secretary of State William Marcy wants Pierre Soulé, U.S. minister to Britain to negotiate Cuba’s purchase, Soulé, James Buchanan, and the U.S. minister to France, John Y. Mason, devises a secret plan in Ostend, Belgium to purchase Cuba, and if Spain would not agree, the United States would forcibly take the Island. The plan leaks to the press, because Cuba would have been a slave state, which the Pierce administration refuses.
- November 1854: Know Nothing Party forms, sweeps the 1854 mid-term elections in Massachusetts and Delaware, and has strong showings throughout the northeast states.
- November 1854: Mid-term Congressional elections, Whigs power waning. “Forty-four Republicans are elected to the House of Representatives.”
- 1955: Settlers move in to Kansas Territory predominantly from Free states.
- March 30, 1855: Free-Soilers and pro-slavery settlers fight over control of the territorial government in Kansas. 5000 Missouri Border Ruffians use force and fear to ensure the pro-slavery faction wins the states legislature in the election.
- June 5, 1855: “The Native American Party, or Know-Nothing Party, becomes the American Party.” Rise of the anti-immigrant “American Party” known as the “Know Nothings”
- September 5, 1855: Antislavery settlers in Kansas form the Free State forces. Abolitionist John Brown goes to Kansas to head the army.
- October 23-November 2, 1855: Anti-slavery Kansans form the Free-State Party, in Topeka they write a constitution that prohibits slaves within the state, the constitution is approved through a popular vote.
- October 23, 1855: Free State forces write the Topeka Constitution, it outlaws slavery, and forms “a second government in Kansas.”
- November 26, 1855: Wakarusa War, Fifteen hundred Border Ruffians attack the town later renamed Lawrence. They withdraw after discovering Free State forces defending the town. Lawrence “becomes the center of Free-State activities after being founded by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society.”
- January 15, 1856: Free Soilers in Kansas elect a Free-State legislature; Kansas now has two legislatures, one slave, one free.
- February 11, 1856: President Franklin Pierce issues an order for both Kansas legislatures.
- February 11-14, 1856: Dred Scott v. Sandford arguments held before the Supreme Court.
- February 22, 1856: “The Republican Party holds its first national meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
- February 22-25, 1856: The American National Convention, convenes in National Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The “Know-Nothing Party nominates Millard Fillmore for President and Andrew Donelson for Vice President.
- April 23, 1856: Free Soilers shoot Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones when he attempts arrest free state settlers.
- May 11, 1856: Federal marshal J. B. Donaldson announces that the free soilers’ action in April interfered with the government warrants for the Free state legislature. The pro-slavery legislature determined that Free State representatives were acting as an extralegal organization. A Grand jury concludes that Lawrence’s Free State Hotel was actually a fort. This announcement causes Sheriff Jones and an army of 700 to destroy the hotel and the free state partisan presses.
- May 19-20, 1856: “Border Ruffians” menacing Lawrence; Kansas, Senator Charles Sumner delivered his stinging speech denouncing the “Crime Against Kansas” and mocking the authors of the “Kansas-Nebraska Act,” including Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina.
- May 21, 1856: Sack of Lawrence, violence erupts in Lawrence, Kansas “Bleeding Kansas” between Free-Soilers and pro-slavery settlers from Kansas; Ohio. One death and extensive property damage results from the violence.
- May 22, 1856: Congressman Preston Brooks, Butler’s nephew, beat Senator Sumner on the head repeatedly with a thick gutta-perch cane, until it snapped. “The Caning of Sumner” outraged the North, in the midst of the campaign.
- May 24-25, 1856: Pottawatomie Massacre, Abolitionist John Brown along with his four sons, three others seek revenge on the pro-slavery supporters. At night, they attack and kill five members of the pro-slavery Law and Order Party in Pottawatomie Creek.
- June 4, 1856: Governor Shannon of Kansas attempts to end the violence by ordering armed groups to disband, instead a “civil war” erupts.
- June 2, 1856: “The anti-slavery section of the Know-Nothing Party nominates John C. Fremont for President and W.F. Johnston for vice president.”
- June 2-6, 1856: Democratic National Convention convenes in Smith and Nixon’s Hall at Cincinnati, Ohio. John E. Ward (Georgia) serves as chairman. The convention nominates on the 17th ballot, James Buchanan (Pennsylvania) for President, and John C. Breckinridge, (Kentucky) for Vice President. Franklin Pierce, the incumbent is denied the Democratic party’s nomination because of his association the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Pierce supporters move to support Stephen A. Douglas to thwart Buchanan’s nomination; however, Douglas is also taken out of consideration for the same Kansas connection. James Buchanan wins the nomination on the 17th ballot, John C. Breckinridge wins the nomination on the second ballot. Party platform supports the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Compromise of 1850.
- June 17, 1856: North American (Seceders) Party Convention nominates Robert Field Stockton for President. Northern Anti-slavery Americans form the North American Party, also called “Northern Bolters” or “republican Sympathizers”
- June 17-19, 1856: Republican National Convention convenes at Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention nominates on the 2nd ballot, John C. Frémont (California) for President and William L. Dayton (New Jersey) for Vice President. The first Republican Party Convention; the party’s platform supports Congress regulating slavery in the territories; criticizes Ostend Manifesto, admission of Kansas as a free state.
- June 12-20, 1856: North American Party Convention, New York City
- August 1, 1856: “Bleeding Kansas” continues.
- August 13, 1856: Beecher’s Bible armed Free State supporters from the North East come to Kansas and attack town of Franklin.
- August 24-26, 1856: “400 to 600 hundred pro-slavery Missourians attack John Brown and 40 defenders.” Battle of Osawatomie, the entire settlement except for four homes is burned, and “John Brown’s son Frederick is killed.”
- August 30, 1856: Pro-slavery supporters drive Brown and 40 others from Osawatomie. Guerilla attacks continue.
- September 11, 1856: New territorial governor John W. Geary is appointed to Kansas in hopes of squelching the violence.
- September 17-18, 1856: 5th and last Whig National Convention convenes at Hall of the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The Whig Party endorses the American Know-Nothing Party candidates.
- 1856: Democrats call the Republicans “Black Republicans”; Governor Wise of Virginia claims “If Frémont is elected, there will be a revolution.” The south would secede and there would be civil war;
- 1856: Eastern businessmen fear the Republicans’ affect on the economy; they contribute huge amounts of money to the Democratic Party for their victory; Republicans could not compete in donations.
- November 4, 1856: Election Day, Democrats James Buchanan is elected President and John Breckenridge elected is Vice President.
- December 3, 1856: Presidential Electors cast the electoral votes in their state capitals.
- January 15, 1857: “The State of Disunion Convention, contemplating the peaceful separation of North and South, is held in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society supports this gathering. William Lloyd Garrison delivers a speech avowing “No union with slaveholders.””
- February 11, 1857: Joint session of Congress assembles to count the electoral vote.