1856 Democratic National Convention

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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 - June 6, 1856
City Cincinnati, Ohio
Venue Smith 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 United States Democratic Party. Held from June 2 to June 6, 1856, prior to the November elections, at Smith & Nixon's Hall in Cincinnati, on the Ohio River in Ohio, it was the first national party nominating convention outside the "Original Thirteen States". The party nominated U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, James Buchanan for President (denying re-nomination for President Franklin Pierce) and former Representative John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for Vice President.


The Democratic 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 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 chair) settled a dispute on Missouri delegations, but needed more time for the thorny problem of New York's competing delegations.

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 Pacific road was failed by a vote of 120 to 154 against.

On June 5, after the New York problem was finally settled by splitting the vote down the middle, nominations for President saw four men who at one time or another were nominated by the party for the Chief Executive office: James Buchanan of Pennsylvania (1856), President Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire, (1852), Senator Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, (1860), and Senator Lewis Cass, of Michigan, (1848) were all put forward. On the first ballot, Buchanan led with 135½, President Pierce - 122½, Douglas - 33, and Cass - 5 (4 from the unhappy California delegation). The fourteen ballots taken that day saw the President's totals fall, mostly to the benefit of Senator Douglas.

On June 6, President Pierce's name was withdrawn and two more ballots taken without result (two-thirds majority being necessary). William A. Richardson, who had nominated Douglas, withdrew the Senator's candidacy and Buchanan received the presidential nomination on the 17th ballot. When it came time to choose a vice presidential running-mate, eleven names were placed in nomination; but the convention chose former Representative John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, even though he had withdrawn his name when nominated. As Vermont's David Allen Smalley stated, "no Democrat has a right to refuse his services when his country calls". Second in total votes at the conclusion of a first ballot; the stampede was on in the second as state after state voted for Breckinridge.


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.


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Preceded by
Democratic National Conventions Succeeded by