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Buchanan/Breckinridge Presidential Ticket, Broadside, 1856

Context

James Buchanan (D) served as America’s 15th president from 1857 to 1861. While he was in office, seven Southern states seceded from the Union. Originally from Pennsylvania, the only president with that claim, Buchanan began his political career in his home state’s legislature and went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. He morally opposed to slavery but believed it was protected by the U.S. Constitution. As he came into office, the Supreme Court was considering the legality of restricting slavery in the territories. In his Inaugural speech, Buchanan referred to the territorial question as "happily, a matter of but little practical importance" since the Supreme Court was about to settle it "speedily and finally."

As president, he tried to maintain peace between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups within the government, but tensions only escalated. In 1860, after the election of  Abraham Lincoln was elected to succeed Buchanan, South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy was soon established. In April 1861, a month after Buchanan left office, the Civil War began.

Learn more about Buchanan from WhiteHouse.gov

Citation: Democratic ticket : our principles, the constitution ... : for president James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania : for vice president John Breckinridge of Kentucky. Richmond, Va.: Lith. of Ritchie Dunnavant, 1856. Broadside 1856 .D38 BOX, Manuscripts & Special Collections, Library of Virginia

Standards

Social Studies: VS.1, VS.7, USI.1, USI.8, USI.9
English: 4.7, 5.7

Suggested Questions

Analyze: Take a look at the principles listed on the ticket:

- The Constitution
- The Sovereignty and equality of the States
- The repeal of the Missouri Restriction
- The people of the Territories in forming State Governments to adopt their own institutions.

How would you interpret each of these if you were a voter in 1856?

In His Shoes: Write a journal entry as if you were Jame Buchanan dealing with the first round of seceding states. Would you take some blame based on your political views? How would it sit with your personal beliefs about slavery?

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