1856 Federal Election

Date: From 1856-08-04 to 1857-11-04

Occurring two years after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and amidst increasingly growing sectional tensions, the election of 1856 was highly contentious. The emerging Republican Party ran their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, while the Democrats attempted to minimize their growing association with the slaveholding class by running the moderate James Buchanan. The American Party also ran for its final presidential election, as Millard Fillmore's campaign proved disastrous and largely ended the Know-Nothing movement. Buchanan won the election but Fremont's strong performance in the North (and abysmal performance in the South) demonstrated to Republicans that they could win a presidential contest without carrying the South.

In the congressional election, the collapse of the American Party shifted a large number of seats to the Democrats, allowing them to regain a true majority in the House of Representatives. The Republicans, however, lost only eight seats and remained a viable opposition party while the American Party lost thirty-eight seats, holding only fourteen in the House and two in the Senate.

David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 254-66; Kenneth C. Martis, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress, 1789-1989 (New York: MacMillan, 1989), 109, 111.