September 19, 2009

Book Review: James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850’s Part Four

James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850's Part Four

How did the ‘Old Pubic Functionary’ get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if he was supposedly such a wreck? Michel F. Holt takes up this issue in “Another Look at the Election of 1856” where he argues that the Fillmore campaign had more to do with Buchanan’s win than most historians acknowledge. The common view is that since Buchanan was able to win the South and some of the north he was able to best his republican rival John C. Fremont. If we look at the actual facts of the election, Holt writes:
“Ultimately Buchanan won with 45 percent by caring every slave state but Maryland and five key northern states. Fremont swept the rest of the north and the plurality of that regions popular vote. Because Fremont won virtually no Southern votes, however he garnered only 33 percent of the nationwide popular poll. Fillmore took the remaining 21.6 percent of the popular vote 13.4 percent of the North’s and 43.9 percent of the South’s. Maryland was his soul trophy on the electoral vote column. 
The only other third party candidate to garner more votes than Fillmore was....
Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. His poor showing and split of the Know-nothings from the American party conventionally put Fillmore on the outside as a nonplayer. But Holt states that Fillmore had more than just a chance he could have really won. If Fillmore had been able to get a larger win in the North among would be Republicans, and been able to truly combine the Whig party and the American party he would have won, since he was the only other non-sectionalist on the ballot along with Buchanan. We have to remember that the Know-Nothing party split quite late in the election and that the Whigs held their own separate convention to nominate Fillmore in the fall of 1856.  Holt describes the decline of Whig party perfectly, “Staid, sober, respectable, and old men do not win popular elections or at least they had not since the emergence of Andrew Jackson.” (60)  

In the final paper, “James Buchanan, The Election of 1860, and the Demise of Jacksonion Politics”, Peter Kunpfer decides to place Buchanan in a central role of the 1860 election rather than on the outside, as have in the past. He states that Buchanan not only set the stage for the Republican party to take off, but for a new generation of politicians to take the reigns. Kunpfer also argues that even though Buchanan was never able to accurately judge the political landscape correctly, even after the civil war “labored to prove that the essential cause of the war was abolitionist fanaticism which had poised Northerners against the south and had driven southerners into the cardinal error of seceding the union” (162) he also kept the union together long enough to pass it off to the next president.

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