Title: The Contenders For the presidential election of 1856, the Democrats nominated JamesBuchanan and John Breckenridge, the newly formed Republican party nominatedJohn Fremont and William Drayton, the American or Know-Nothing partynominated former president Millard Fillmore and Andrew Donelson, and theAbolition Party nominated Gerrit Smith and Samuel McFarland. Buchanan started his political career as a state representative inPennsylvania, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1821,appointed minister to Russia in 1832, and elected US Senator in 1834.
He wasappointed Secretary of State in 1845 by President Polkand in that capacity helped forge the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, whichended the Mexican War. He was appointed by President Polk as minister toGreat Britain in 1853. As such, he, along with the American ministers toSpain and France, issued the Ostend Manifesto, which recommended theannexation of Cuba to the United States.
This endeared him to southerners,who assumed Cuba would be a slave state.He was one of several northerners supported over the years by southernDemocrats for being amenable to slaveholders’ interests, a situationoriginating with Martin van Buren.Buchanan’s two major rivals for the nomination, Franklin Pierce andStephen Douglas, were both politically tainted by the bloodshed in Kansas.Buchanan was untainted, since he had been abroad during most of thecontroversy.
Even so, he did not secure the nomination until the seventeenthballot.Fremont was best known as an explorer and a war hero. He surveyed theland between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, explored the Oregon Trailterritories and crossed the Sierra Madres into the Sacramento Valley. As acaptain in the Army, he returned to California and helped the settlersoverthrow Mexican rule in what became known as the Bear Flag Revolution, asidebar to the Mexican War. He was elected as one of California’s first twoSenators.The infant Republican party was born from the ashes of the Whig party,which had suffered spontaneous combustion as a result of the slavery issue.The party’s convention was a farce; only northern states and a few borderslave states sent delegates.
Sticking to their Whig roots, they nominated awar hero, albeit a minor one. William Drayton’s runner-up for the VP slotwas Abraham Lincoln. Fillmore, having been the thirteenth president following the death ofZachary Taylor, found himself representing the American party after manynorthern delegates left the convention over a rift caused by the slaveryissue.
Their objection was that the party platform was not strong enoughagainst the spread of slavery. Theparty’s vice presidential nominee was a nephew of Andrew Jackson and theeditor of the Washington Union. The party, also known as the Know-Nothings,was extremely antagonistic towards immigrants, Catholics and other assortedminorities. The party was born in 1850, when several covert “NativeAmerican” societies joined together, their secret password being “I knownothing.”Smith was nominated by the Abolition party in New York, which hadnominated Frederick Douglass for New York secretary of state the year beforeunder the label New York Liberty Party. The Campaign: Neither Buchanan nor Fremont campaigned themselves.Republicans declared Buchanan dead of lockjaw.
Fremont, however, had asplendid campaign substitute, his beautiful wife Jessie, prompting “OhJessie!” campaign buttons. The Democrats tried desperately to avoid theslavery issue altogether, opting instead to pursue the conservative effortto preserve the Union. The Republicans, on the other hand, actively attackedslavery. Their campaign slogan was “Free Soil, Free Men, Freedom, Fremont”.Shields-West, pgs 78 & 80The self-serving efforts of Stephen Douglas did more to mold thecampaign of 1856 than did any other single event. Although he did notintentionally destroy the North-South balance created by theCompromise of 1850, his focused quest for the White House caused him to makesome foolish choices. Douglas coveted a rail head in Chicago for the newtranscontinental railroad.
This would make Chicago a major trade center forthe country, not unlike New York City when the Erie Canal was completed. Heknew increased economic power for his home state would translate asincreased political power for him.The South, on the other hand, wanted the