The Election of 1856


James Buchanan (174 electoral votes)
Charles Fremont (114 electoral votes)
Millard Fillmore (8 electoral votes)

The 1856 election was the first contested by the Republican and Democratic parties (the “third American party system”).   The Democratic Party nominated a Pennsylvanian sympathetic to the southern position on the slavery issue, James Buchanan.  The Republicans chose explorer John C. Frémont as their first candidate.  Frémont ran on a platform opposed to the expansion of slavery and the political power of slaveholders: “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Frémont.”  The Republicans won all their electoral votes in the North: Frémont did not even appear on the ballot in the southern states.  In his inaugural address, Buchanan asserted that the issue of slavery in the territories had now been “settled upon the principle of popular sovereignty.”  Just two days later, the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case re-ignited the issue.  The Court outraged much of the North by holding that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories; many Northerners, including Abraham Lincoln, feared that the Dred Scott would provide a precedent for future decisions prohibiting territorial legislatures, and even states, from excluding slavery.


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