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James Buchanan Wins Election of 1856


James Buchanan was a northerner who said he would protect the South's rights.

James Buchanan was a northerner who said he would protect the South's rights.


From VOA Learning English, this is The Making of a Nation.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

The election of 1856 focused on the issue of slavery in Kansas territory. For several years, settlers in Kansas struggled over whether to permit slavery. Some wanted to make slavery legal in Kansas. But most did not. Disputes over the legalization of slavery turned violent.

The Democrats were the main party at the time. Their leader, President Franklin Pierce, held the White House.

Pierce wanted to be reelected for a second term. Many northern Democrats, however, objected to his support of a pro-slavery legislature in Kansas. Other Democrats did not think he was the strongest candidate. Many in his own party said they would nominate “anybody but Pierce.”

Pierce’s main opponent was James Buchanan of Pennsylvania. Buchanan had a long political career as a congressman, senator and secretary of state.

The Democratic Party leadership met in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. Their meeting was the first time a political party held its national convention that far west.

After several days of voting, James Buchanan received the party’s nomination. Franklin Pierce would not be president again. The 1856 election was the first time an American political party did not nominate a president who wanted to seek reelection.


A Secret, Anti-Immigrant Party Challenges the Democrats

Two other major parties of the time also proposed presidential candidates.

One was the Know-Nothing Party. It began as a secret, anti-immigrant organization. Party members feared too many people from other countries were coming to live in the United States. The Know-Nothings were especially concerned about the rising number of Catholic immigrants.

Party members did not want to admit they belonged to the group. When asked, they said, "I know nothing." And that is how the organization got its name.


Republicans Unite Against Slavery

The other party, the Republican Party, formed after Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The Act said settlers in Kansas and Nebraska could decide for themselves whether they wanted slavery to be legal. The Act was disputed because it replaced a previous law that banned slavery forever in the territories.

Michael Holt is a historian. He says the Kansas-Nebraska Act is perhaps the single most important law passed by Congress.

“For no other law, no other law, ever passed by Congress has been responsible for the creation of a new political party that has proved to be a permanent fixture in America’s two party system.”

Republican Party members came almost entirely from northern states. They opposed slavery for either moral or economic reasons.

For the 1856 election, Republicans nominated John Frémont.

Frémont had explored the American West. He had briefly represented California in the U.S. Senate. He was young and exciting. Republicans thought he was the right man to lead their young and exciting party.

But Frémont could not expect to win any votes in the slave states of the South. James Buchanan, on the other hand, had said the constitutional rights of the southern states should be protected – including the right to own slaves. When all the votes were counted, Buchanan won the election.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

This is The Making of a Nation from VOA Learning English.

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