America in the 1850s


What was a dough-faced Democrat?

The expression was coined sometime in the 1850s and applied to politicians like President Franklin Pierce (in office 1853–1857) and President James C. Buchanan (in office 1857–1861). A dough-faced Democrat was a party regular who came from the North, but who favored the politics of the South.

Franklin Pierce did not fit the bill entirely, but he was a Northern man who believed that compromise was essential to holding the Union together, and if he had to accommodate the South on the slave issue, then so be it. Pierce sent quite a few federal troops to Boston to make sure that Anthony Burns was returned to slavery. James C. Buchanan, elected president in 1856, fit the stereotype much more closely than his predecessor. Throughout a distinguished, sometimes even brilliant, career in diplomacy and administration, Buchanan had made a point of befriending the Southern states. When he was inaugurated in 1857, Buchanan continued that trend and eventually became known as the worst president of his time (some historians believe he has been maligned). Even though “dough-faced Democrat” was a rather silly expression, “black Republican,” which emerged a few years later, was even worse.


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