1856 Democratic National Convention Article

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1856 Democratic National Convention
1856 presidential election
JamesBuchanan crop.jpg John C. Breckinridge by Nicola Marschall.jpg
Buchanan and Breckinridge
Date(s)June 2–6, 1856
City Cincinnati, Ohio
VenueSmith and Nixon's Hall
Presidential nominee James Buchanan of
Vice Presidential nominee John C. Breckinridge of
‹  1852  ·   1860 ›

The 1856 Democratic National Convention was the seventh political convention of the Democratic Party. Held from June 2 to June 6, 1856, at Smith & Nixon's Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, it was the first nominating convention to be held both in a city other than Baltimore and outside the original thirteen states. Incumbent President Franklin Pierce was denied renomination, becoming the only elected incumbent president to lose renomination in American history. [1] The party nominated James Buchanan, U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, for President, and former Representative John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for Vice President.


The Democratic Party was wounded from its devastating losses in the 1854–1855 midterm elections. The party faced continued North-South sectional division over slavery-related issues, especially the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 and subsequent violence known as " Bleeding Kansas" from the civil strife in the Kansas Territory during its campaign for statehood. Two notable Democratic politicians, President Pierce and Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, were seen as being at the center of the controversies, which led many party members to look elsewhere for a new compromise candidate for president.


Called to order at noon on Monday, June 2, by the National Committee chair Robert Milligan McLane, Samuel Medary was made the temporary president. The first day, the convention did little more than appoint committees on credentials, organization, and resolutions (writing a " platform").

On the second day the organization committee ( John L. Dawson chair) report was adopted and John Elliot Ward of Georgia was made the convention's president. The committee on credentials ( James A. Bayard, Jr. chair) settled a dispute over the Missouri delegation, but needed more time for the thorny problem of competing delegations from New York.

June 4 saw the adoption of a platform (former National Committee chair Benjamin F. Hallett headed the committee on resolutions); the domestic portions were supported unanimously, the foreign policy planks by large margins. A separately reported plank on a railroad to the Pacific coast failed by a vote of 120 to 154.

On June 5, the New York problem was finally settled by seating half of each of the competing delegations. Nominations for President were then made.

Presidential nomination

Presidential candidates

The four men nominated were all at one time or another nominated by the party for the Chief Executive office: James Buchanan of Pennsylvania (nominated in 1856), President Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire (1852), Senator Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois (1860), and Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan (1848). On the first ballot, Buchanan led with 135½ votes. Pierce had 122½, Douglas 33, and Cass 5 (4 from the unhappy California delegation). The fourteen ballots taken that day saw Pierce's totals fall, mostly to the benefit of Senator Douglas.

On June 6, Pierce's name was withdrawn. As a result, Pierce became the first and only person elected to the presidency to be denied renomination by his party. [2] On the 15th ballot, most of Pierce's delegates shifted to Douglas in an attempt to stop Buchanan. However, Douglas decided to withdraw from the uphill contest against Buchanan because he feared prolonged participation might endanger the party's chances in the general election. William A. Richardson, the delegate who had nominated Douglas, withdrew the Senator's name and Buchanan was nominated on the 17th ballot.

Presidential Ballot
Ballot 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th 15th 16th 17th
James Buchanan 135.5 139 139.5 141.5 140 155 143.5 147.5 146 147.5 147.5 148 150 152.5 168.5 168 296
Franklin Pierce 122.5 119.5 119 119 119.5 107.5 89 87 87 80.5 80 79 77.5 75 3.5 0 0
Stephen Douglas 33 31.5 32 30 31 28 58 56 56 62.5 63 63.5 63 63 118.5 122 0
Lewis Cass 5 6 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 7 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 5.5 4.5 6 0

Vice Presidential nomination

Vice Presidential candidates


Buchanan/Breckinridge campaign poster

Eleven candidates were nominated for the vice presidency, but a number of them attempted to withdraw themselves from consideration, among them the eventual nominee, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. Breckinridge supported fellow Kentuckian Linn Boyd for the vice presidential nomination. However, following a draft effort led by the delegation from Vermont, Breckinridge was nominated on the second ballot. As Vermont's David Allen Smalley stated, "No Democrat has a right to refuse his services when his country calls."

Vice Presidential Ballot
Ballot 1st Before Shifts 1st After Shifts 2nd After Shifts
John A. Quitman 60 59 -
John C. Breckinridge 37 51 296
Linn Boyd 33 33 -
James Bayard 31 31 -
Herschel V. Johnson 31 31 -
Aaron V. Brown 29 29 -
Benjamin Butler 27 27 -
James C. Dobbin 15 13 -
Thomas J. Rusk 15 7 -
Benjamin Fitzpatrick 13 11 -
Trusten Polk 5 5 -


The Buchanan-Breckinridge ticket went on to win the 1856 presidential election, defeating John C. Fremont with William L. Dayton from the new Republican Party, and a strong third party showing from the American Party of the " Know Nothings" represented by former President Millard Fillmore and Andrew J. Donelson.

See also


  1. ^ When Has A President Been Denied His Party's Nomination? NPR. 22 July 2009.
  2. ^ Rudin, Ken (July 22, 2009). "When Has A President Been Denied His Party's Nomination?". NPR. Retrieved February 10, 2017.

External links

Preceded by
Baltimore, Maryland
Democratic National Conventions Succeeded by
Baltimore, Maryland