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Presidential Election of 1856: A Resource Guide

Democrat James Buchanan was elected president in 1856, defeating Republican John C. Frémont and American Party (Know-Nothing) nominee Millard Fillmore. This guide provides access to digital materials, links to external websites, and a print bibliography.


In 1856, Democrat James Buchanan was elected president in a three-way contest, defeating Republican John C. Frémont and American Party (Know-Nothing) nominee Millard Fillmore. After passage of the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the debate over the expansion of slavery into the territories was the dominant issue of the campaign.

Buchanan, a former Secretary of State and ambassador to Great Britain, was from Pennsylvania, although he had ideological ties to the South and supported the right of individual states and territories to decide the slavery question. The new Republican Party, which was founded in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, nominated John C. Frémont, a famous Western explorer and former senator from California. Former president Millard Fillmore was the American Party (Know-Nothing) candidate, a nativist party that was anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant. The Whig Party also endorsed Fillmore for president.

The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a wide variety of material associated with the presidential election of 1856, including manuscripts, broadsides, prints, political cartoons, sheet music, newspaper articles, and government documents. This guide compiles links to digital materials related to the presidential election of 1856 that are available throughout the Library of Congress website. In addition, it provides links to external websites focusing on the 1856 election and a selected bibliography.

1856 Presidential Election Results [1]

Political Party Presidential Nominee VP Nominee Electoral College Popular Vote
Democratic James Buchanan John C. Breckinridge 174 1,836,072
Republican John C. Fremont William L. Dayton 114 1,342,345
American (Know-Nothing)-Whig Millard Fillmore Andrew Jackson Donelson 8 873,053


1. Presidential Elections, 1789-2008. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010), 133, 223.