America in the 1850s

The Emergence of John Brown

Who ran in the presidential election of 1856?

The 1856 election was a contest between the Democratic Party, led by James C. Buchanan, and the Republican Party, led by John C. Frémont (1813–1890). A more interesting contrast would have been difficult to find.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1791, James C. Buchanan had been in politics so long that he sometimes referred to himself as the “Old Public Functionary.” He had been ambassador to France, to Russia, secretary of state, and a U.S. Senator for many terms. Buchanan was a “dough-faced” Democrat, meaning that though born and raised in the North, he often supported policies that favored the South.

Born in Savannah in 1813, John C. Frémont was the son of a French immigrant. Much of Frémont’s career had been spent as the leader of federal exploratory expeditions in the Far West, and his name was known to many, if not most, Americans. Frémont was a political opportunist, but he was genuine enough on the subject of slavery: he was dead set against it.


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