Political Career Before Presidency

The Republican Party and the 1856 Elections

First Republican Convention on February 22, 1856 in LaFayette Hall, Pittsburg. Source: Library of Congress.

The new Republican Party

The map shows free states and territories, slave states and slavery determined by popular sovereignty

A year after the Kansas-Nebraska Act the Whig party had almost disappeared. With no clear distinction between the major political parties many members of the Whigs began to look for other associations more compatible with their beliefs. There was a need to organize anti Kansas-Nebraska supporters and this new party attracted Whigs, radical antislavery supporters, Free Soilers, foreign born citizens and Know Nothings. Initially organized in the Northern states in 1854, it expanded and attracted mainly opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act .

First Republican National Convention

Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia where the first Republican National Convention took place in 1856.

The Republican Party had its first national convention in Philadelphia from June 17 to 19, 1856. The party nominated their first presidential candidate, John Fremont, who was known as “Pathmaker of the West” because of his explorations of the Rocky Mountains. William Dayton was chosen as a vice-president nominee. Lincoln knew the Republican Party faced serious challenges as it lacked organization.

For the 1856 presidential election, Democrats nominated James Buchanan, a former secretary of State. The Nativists, now called the American Party nominated ex-president Millard Fillmore.

With the antislavery vote split, the Democrats won the presidential election and James Buchanan was elected the 15th President of the United States.

After the 1856 presidential elections, Lincoln kept a low political profile and returned to his law practice.