Millard Fillmore’s Third Party Candidacy in 1856: Unique In American History In Many Ways!

The 1856 Presidential Election is unique in many ways.

It was the first national campaign of a political party, the Republican Party, which had been founded two years earlier in opposition to slavery and to its expansion.

The Republican Party replaced the moribund Whig Party, and many of the latter’s members had joined the new party. John C. Fremont was its nominee for President, and lost by about 500,000 popular votes margin to Democratic nominee James Buchanan.

The Democratic Party, bitterly divided over slavery, was on its way to a victory in a divided country, but it would be the last Democratic Party victory until Grover Cleveland squeaked out a narrow victory three decades later in 1884. Its nominee was James Buchanan, who won the election with 174 electoral votes to 114 for Fremont.

It was also a time of a “comeback” by the last Whig President, Millard Fillmore, who had succeeded Zachary Taylor upon his death in 1850, and had signed the Compromise of 1850 and opened up relations with the Japanese Kingdom.

Fillmore would go on to win the 8 electoral votes of Maryland, the only electoral votes Fillmore ever won for the Presidency, as he was denied the nomination of his party for a full term in 1852, the last national campaign of the Whigs.

Fillmore became the first of two former Presidents to win electoral votes and states after being President, the other being Theodore Roosevelt on the Progressive (Bull Moose) party line in 1912, when he won six states and 88 electoral votes.

Former President Martin Van Buren had run on a third party, the Free Soil Party of 1848, won ten percent of the popular vote, but won no states or electoral votes.

But Fillmore actually won 21.5 percent of the total national popular vote in 1856, winning about 873,000 total votes, running on the American (Know Nothing) party line, campaigning against Catholic immigration from Germany and Ireland, which would not add to his stature, unfortunately! Ironically, Fillmore was not present at the convention that nominated him, and never actually joined the American Party, but he accepted the nomination, nevertheless, and he ran as a nativist, not good for his historical reputation!