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1856 State of the Union Address

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 1856 State of the Union Address was given by Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States. It was presented to the 34th United States Congress by the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives. He said, "it is necessary only to say that the internal prosperity of the country, its continuous and steady advancement in wealth and population and in private as well as public well-being, attest the wisdom of our institutions and the predominant spirit of intelligence and patriotism which, notwithstanding occasional irregularities of opinion or action resulting from popular freedom, has distinguished and characterized the people of America." [1] He also stated, "In the long series of acts of indirect aggression, the first was the strenuous agitation by citizens of the Northern States, in Congress and out of it, of the question of Negro emancipation in the Southern States." President Pierce supported the Kansas-Nebraska act. This neutralized the issue of slavery in the central states, and did not say whether to allow it or not.

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>> Now, Radicals are the ones who create the Republican Party in its initial phase in 1854, '55. And in 1856 the Republican Party holds its national convention. They nominate John C. Fremont, a well-known -- a guy named "The Pathfinder" who was a Western explorer and had been fighting -- helped to conquer California for the United States in the Mexican War. They nominate Fremont for president. The platform of the Republican Party in 1856 is all about slavery. It has almost nothing. There's no economic policy in it, except for a mention that we ought to build more railroads. Nothing about tariffs. Nothing about homesteads. It's slavery. They condemn it in a famous, or infamous, phrase talking about the Mormons in Utah: they condemn slavery and polygamy as the "twin relics of barbarism." Twin relics of barbarism. See, that's the Radical language, "barbarism" is what slavery is. Why they went after the Mormons, I don't know. But anyway, they attack the Ostend Manifesto, which was a manifesto issued by a few Southern American diplomats, claiming that the United States ought to basically just invade and take over Cuba as a slave state; they denounced that notion. And they talk a lot about the civil war in Kansas, which I'll talk about next time. So it's a pretty radical platform. Now, the Republican Party is new, it's not tremendously organized. It does -- one of the things that happens in 1856 that boosts Republican support is -- let's see if we can find this image. Yes, here we go. The assault in the Senate on Charles Sumner. This is Sumner being beaten on the floor of the Senate by Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina. Brooks had given a speech called -- sorry, Sumner had given a speech called "The Crime Against Kansas" in which he made many negative comments about Senator Butler of South Carolina. Brooks, who was a cousin or relative of Butler, came into the Senate floor the next day, after the session was over, in order to confront Sumner. He generously waited until the lobby had cleared of ladies, he later said. And then he went up behind Sumner, who was sitting at his desk and said, "I have read your speech over twice. It is a libel on South Carolina and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine." As Sumner tried to get up from his desk, Brooks started pounding him on the head with this cane, this walking cane of his, raining down blows. Brooks later said the cane broke under the impact, but he continued hitting him. He said, "It made a great deal more noise after the stick was broken. I wore out my cane completely, but saved the head, which is gold." Sumner -- eventually other members of the Senate rushed in and stopped this. Sumner became a hero in the North, or a martyr, a victim, and was reelected to the Senate by Massachusetts even though he was injured so severely that he could not take his seat again for three more years. Brooks became a hero in the South. The reaction to this assault is a good symbol of how the sections were dividing. There were many dinners given in Brooks' honor in South Carolina, and he was given gold canes to replace the one he had broken in this... And Brooks said, and there were books about it, that this was all a reflection of honor. The notion of family honor was a major, you know, feature of Southern culture. Defending the honor of your kinsman, your relative, the reputation of your state. And you were sort of allowed to do that in an aggressive manner. And it was sort of a form of manliness, you know, to go out there and defend your honor in this violent way. Now, of course, another way of looking at it is sneaking up behind someone and banging them over the head doesn't seem very honorable. He might have tried to do it from the front at least. But, you know, he was pretty clever. Anyway, but many -- this outraged quite a few people in the North who were not sympathizers of Sumner. But anyway, in the end, let's see if we can find our map of the election. Here we go. Fremont is the Republican candidate. James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, who we'll talk about next time, is the Democratic candidate. And the Know-Nothings ran ex-president Millard Fillmore. So there are three parties running. If you just look at this map, the first thing that you see is how sectional it is: the red or orange states are carried by Fremont. All the other green states are carried by the Democrats, Buchanan, with the exception -- you can't really see it -- of Maryland, which is carried by Fillmore. But let's dig a little deeper into this. First of all, it's a remarkable accomplishment for a party which barely existed a year before. They get a third of the popular vote and about 40 percent of the electoral vote. But notice the Republicans have not swept the entire North. They have lost Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. That is what we call the Lower North, in contradistinction to the Upper North -- more conservative, many southern-born people living in southern Indiana, southern Illinois. These are places on the border with slave states. They share some cultural elements in common with the slave states. Looking at this map, it's pretty clear that to win in 1860 the Republicans are going to have to carry the Lower North, right? If they can win those states they lost -- Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois -- they will win the next election. The balance of power in those states is the Fillmore voters. Buchanan did not get a majority there; he got a plurality. But there was a large vote of mostly of former Whigs, conservative Whigs, who would not go over to the Democrats but did not want to join the Republican Party, either, because they thought it was exacerbating sectional divisions. So they went with Fillmore less on the anti-immigrant sentiment than on a more unionist sentiment. Fillmore also did very well in the Upper South -- in Virginia, in Kentucky -- again, for the same reason. That border area of the Lower North and the Upper South is far more moderate, so to speak, on the slavery issue than the Upper North and the Deep South. So the election of 1856 continues Democratic control of the national administration. But the Republicans certainly have great grounds for optimism after doing so well, after only existing for a year or so.


Preceded by
1855 State of the Union Address
State of the Union addresses
Succeeded by
1857 State of the Union Address
This page was last edited on 2 September 2020, at 07:22
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