Presidential election of 1856
Results by county, indicating the percentage for the winning candidate. Shades of blue are for Buchanan (Democratic), shades of red are for Frémont (Republican), and shades of yellow are for Fillmore (Know Nothing).
Buchanan's service abroad conveniently placed him outside of the country while the debate over the Kansas–Nebraska Act roiled the nation. While Buchanan did not overtly seek the presidency, he most deliberately chose not to discourage the movement on his behalf, something that was well within his power on many occasions. The 1856 Democratic National Convention met in June 1856, writing a platform that largely reflected Buchanan's views, including support for the Fugitive Slave Law, an end to anti-slavery agitation, and U.S. "ascendancy in the Gulf of Mexico." President Pierce hoped for re-nomination, while Senator Stephen A. Douglas also loomed as a strong candidate. Buchanan led on the first ballot, boosted by the support of powerful Senators John Slidell, Jesse Bright, and Thomas F. Bayard, who presented Buchanan as an experienced leader who could appeal to the North and South. Buchanan won the nomination after seventeen ballots, and was joined on the ticket by John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.
An anti-Buchanan political cartoon from the 1856 election
Buchanan faced not just one but two candidates in the general election: former Whig President Millard Fillmore ran as the American Party (or "Know-Nothing") candidate, while John C. Frémont ran as the Republican nominee. Sticking with the convention of the times, Buchanan did not himself campaign, but he wrote letters and pledged to uphold the Democratic platform. In the election, Buchanan carried every slave state except for Maryland, as well as five free states, including his home state of Pennsylvania. He won 45 percent of the popular vote and, most importantly, won the electoral vote, taking 174 electoral votes compared to Frémont's 114 electoral votes and Fillmore's 8 electoral votes. Buchanan's election made him the first, and so far only, president from Pennsylvania. He would also be the last person born in the 18th century to serve as president. In his victory speech, Buchanan denounced Republicans, calling the Republican Party a "dangerous" and "geopraphical" party that had unfairly attacked the South. President-elect Buchanan would also state, "the object of my administration will be to destroy sectional party, North or South, and to restore harmony to the Union under a national and conservative government." He set about this initially by maintaining a sectional balance in his appointments and persuading the people to accept constitutional law as the Supreme Court interpreted it. The court was considering the legality of restricting slavery in the territories and two justices had hinted to Buchanan their findings.