1856 Chicago mayoral election

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Chicago mayoral election, 1856
← 1855 March 10, 1856 1857 →
  Thomas-dyer (1).jpg Francis-sherman (1).jpg
Candidate Thomas Dyer Francis Cornwall Sherman
Party Nebraska Democrat Anti-Nebraska Democrat
Popular vote 4,712 4,138
Percentage 53.24% 46.76%

Mayor before election

Levi Boone
Know Nothing

Elected Mayor

Thomas Dyer

In the 1856 Chicago mayoral election Thomas Dyer defeated former mayor Francis Cornwall Sherman.[1] The race was shaped by the divisive national political debate surrounding the issue of slavery, particularly debate surrounding the controversial Kansas–Nebraska Act. The election was treated by many as a referendum on the Kansas-Nebraska Act.[2]

The election was held on March 10.[3]


First-term incumbent Know Nothing mayor Levi Boone did not seek reelection. His tenure had been very unpopular, and his anti-immigrant policies had led to a strong blowback from Chicago's immigrant community.[4]

Taking place several years prior to the start of the American Civil War, the election was shaped by the tenuous national debate surrounding slavery. The campaign was particularly shaped by debate surrounding the Kansas–Nebraska Act (such as whether or not popular sovereignty should be applied in determining the status of new states as slave or free states).[5] The debate was so central to the election that rather than affiliate with traditional political parties, both (Democratic) candidates for mayor instead ran under the banner of "Pro-Nebraska" (Dyer) and Anti-Nebraska (Sherman).[5]

Democratic US Senator Stephen A. Douglas, an author of the Nebraska-Kansas Act who was seeking the 1856 Democratic presidential nomination and who would be up for reelection as a senator in two years, sought to bolster his electoral prospects by utilizing the Chicago mayoral election to illustrate popular support in Illinois for his stance on slavery (he was a prominent supporter of applying the principle of popular sovereignty to slavery).[5] Douglas strongly backed Dyer and sought to frame the mayoral race as a referendum about his stance on slavery.[5] He and his allies had much to gain by making that the key issue of the election.[5][6]

In February 1856, two organizations that sided with Douglas' side of the debate had nominated separate candidates. "Douglas Democracy" nominated L. M. Keith, and a fusion organization that included "Nebraska Democrats" nominated Dyer.[7][8][2] However, Keith refused to accept the mayoral nomination, thus Dyer was also supported by "Douglas Democracy" (who voted by acclamation to support his candidacy).[7]

Dyer was nominated alongside a ticket of candidates for other municipal offices.[2] Sherman was not. However, his candidacy was supported by the Know Nothings, who placed his name atop their own ticket.[2][9]

The campaign was very contentious.[7] Individuals on either side of the debate resorted to issuing character attacks against those on the opposing side.[7] Among incidents that arose from the political tension was a public fight between Sherman-supporting Chicago Journal editor C. L. Wilson and Dyer-supporting United States District Attorney Thomas Hoyne in late-February, which resulted in them both tumbling through a plate-glass window at the Illinois State Bank Building.[7][2]

Sherman was regarded to be the "anti-slavery extension" candidate, and received the backing of many Whig Party members.[7]

Dyer's campaign was considered to be well-funded.[7]

It was alleged that Douglas Democrats, in an effort to stack the vote in Dyer's favor, brought in as many as 1,500 Irish voters from neighboring Bridgeport, which was then outside the city limits, to vote illegally in the election as well as German voters.[5] It was believed that German voters were inclined to support the "Pro Nebraska" ticket not out of their stance on the issue of the Nebraska Act but the presence of liquor candidates on the ticket.[2] Similar allegations had previously arisen in the previous election.[10][11] If that is true for the 1856 election, electoral fraud would have contributed to Dyer's margin of victory.


Thomas Dyer
Francis Cornwall Sherman
Political parties


1856 Chicago mayoral election[7]
Party Candidate Votes %
Nebraska Democrat Thomas Dyer 4,712 53.24
Anti-Nebraska Democrat Francis Cornwall Sherman 4,138 46.76
Turnout 8,850


  1. ^ "RaceID=486035". Our Campaigns. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Property Rules: Political Economy in Chicago, 1833-1872 by Robin L. Einhorn
  3. ^ https://www.chipublib.org/mayor-thomas-dyer-biography/
  4. ^ Gunderson, Erica (August 12, 2016). "Original Chicago Cocktail: Bridgeport's Revenge". WTTW.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "CHICAGO'S MAYORS". Genealogy Trails. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  6. ^ "Thomas Dyer v F C Sherman Mayoral race Dyer a Douglas man". Chicago Weekly Tribune. 23 Feb 1856.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Goodspeed, Weston A. (Feb 6, 2017). The History of Cook County, Illinois. Jazzybee Verlag.
  8. ^ a b Making an Antislavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle over Freedom By Graham A. Peck
  9. ^ Hansen, Stephen, and Paul Nygard. “Stephen A. Douglas, the Know-Nothings, and the Democratic Party in Illinois, 1854-1858.” Illinois Historical Journal, vol. 87, no. 2, 1994, pp. 109–130. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40192832.
  10. ^ "Bridgeport: Politics". UIC.edu. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  11. ^ Richard Lawrence Miller (2012). Lincoln and His World: Volume 4, The Path to the Presidency, 1854–1860. McFarland. pp. 63–4. ISBN 9780786488124.
  12. ^ Larned, Johney (December 2005). Though Silent They Speak: The Larned Family History. ISBN 9781599260280.