The Election of 1856 took place during the Civil War, with the country split over the issue of slavery. Traditional parties faced a struggle, and a new party was formed who was completely opposed to the extension of slavery to new territories.

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Democrats: Democratic Party leaders wanted a candidate who, unlike President Pierce, was not closely associated with the question of "Bleeding Kansas." They chose James Buchanan of Pennsylvania. he was a reliable party stalwart who, as a minister to England, had been safely out of the country during recent controversies. The Democratic party endorsed the idea of "Popular Sovereigntyā€¯ as an approach to dealing with slavery.

: The Republicans, participating in their first presidential contest, denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery but also endorsed a Whiggish program of internal improvements, thus combining the idealism of antislavery with the economic aspirations of the North. They nominated John C. Fremont, who had made a national reputation as an explorer of the Far West and who had absolutely no political record. They stood strongly against the expansion of slavery.

Know Nothings
:The Know Nothing Party (The Native American Party) began to break apart, but nominated former president Millard Fillmore, who also recieved the endorsement of a sad remnant of the Whig Party. The Know Nothings ignored the slavery issue in favor of anti-immigration policies.

James Buchanan: Represented Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives and later the Senate. He served as Secretary of State under the presidency of James K. Polk. He served as the Minister to the United Kingdom. James Buchanan's nomination in the Election of 1856 was a compromise between the two sides of the slavery issue and occurred while he was away on business.

John C. Fremont
: Military officer, explorer. He was the first candidate of the Republican Party in running for the office of President of the United States, and the first presidential candidate of a major party to run on a platform opposing slavery.John C. Fremont opposition to slavery won him the nomination.

Millard Fillmore: Served as the 13th President of the United States. Millard Fillmore was the was the second vice president to assume the title of Presidency upon the death of a sitting president.

After a heated, even frenzied campaign, Buchanan won a narrow victory over Fremont and Fillmore. A slight shift of votes in Pennsylvania and Illinois would have elected the Republican candidate. Particularly ominous was that Fremont had attracted virtually no votes at all in the South while outpolling all other candidates in the North. At the time of his inauguration, Buchanan was, at age sixty -five, the oldest president, except for William Henry Harrison, ever to have taken office. Whether because of age and physical infirmities of because of a more fundamental weakness of character, he was a painfully timid and indecisive president at a critical moment in history.

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In the year Buchanan took office, a financial panic struck the country, followed by a depression that lasted several years. In the North, the depression strengthened the Republican Party because distressed manufacturers, workers, and farmers came to believe that the hard times were the result of the unsound policies of southern-controlled Democratic administrations. They expressed their frustrations by moving into an alliance with antislavery elements and thus into the Republican party.