Fillmore in 1856??

The result of the OTL 1856 election was a clear victory for Democrat James Buchanan (45%, 174 electoral votes), with Republican John Frémont second (33%, 111 EV), and American ("Know-Nothing") Millard Fillmore a very distant third (22%, 8 EV).

However, on reviewing the details, I noticed something. Buchanan carried four states (Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois) by narrow margins. (3.4%, 4.4%, 5.1%, 3.9%). Those states had 41 EV. If something had shifted 3% of the popular vote from Buchanan to Fillmore (in the South) and Frémont (elsewhere), Buchanan would still win the popular vote by a wide margin (42% to 35% and 23%), but he would lose Illinois to Frémont and the other three to Fillmore. Buchanan would have only 131 EV, less than a majority.

[Wbat could that something be? It's been speculated (and there were rumors at the time) that Buchanan was homosexual. His alleged partner, Senator William King of Alabama, had died in 1853, and Buchanan was 65 - rather old for making whoopee. So the rumors were ignored. But suppose during his tenure as US Minister of Britain (1853-1856), Buchanan had become infatuated with an unscrupulous younger man, who exploited the relationship for gain. This scandal became known in the US in October 1856, in time to shift the election slightly.]

The choice of President would devolve on the House of Representatives. This would be be the incumbent House, elected in 1854-1855. Party affiliation was very fluid at the time. This Congress saw the disintegration of the Whig Party, the momentary rise of the Know-Nothings, and the coalescence of northern ex-Whigs, many northern Know-Nothings, and some Free-Soil Democrats into the Republican Party, which became the plurality of the House and elected the Speaker.

My research indicates that the various proto-Republicans controlled 13 free state delegations; pro-Southern Democrats controlled 9 slave states and California; Know-Nothings and ex-Whigs controlled 4 slave states; 2 slave states were split between ex-Whigs and Democrats; Iowa had 1 Democrat and 1 Republican; and Illinois had 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans (but those Democrats were followers of Stephen Douglas, who if not then but soon after was a bitter enemy of Buchanan).

It looks to me like neither Buchanan nor Frémont could get support of the necessary 16 delegations. But Fillmore could cobble together a majority if Border State ex-Whigs can work with the Republicans.

The big question is whether the slave-state ex-Whigs - even those from Border states - would bolt to Buchanan rather than vote for a candidate whom the Republicans will also vote for - even their own candidate. I'd say that's a bit far to go.

So how would the Fillmore administration proceed? Fillmore wanted to placate the South, but I can't see him continuing Pierce's connivance to make Kansas a slave state (as Buchanan did); nor secretly encouraging Taney to issue the Dred Scott decision. Buchanan's OTL policy emboldened the extreme pro-slavery Democrats to make demands that split the party, and of course he used his presidential position to obstruct the nomination of Douglas in 1860.

However, getting back to Fillmore, the first question is: who would he appoint to his cabinet (and to federal patronage positions throughout the country)? This is something he has to do. He'd appoint former Whigs like himself. He'd be expected to appoint "Americans", i.e.declared Know-Nothings, but there wouldn't be enough of them, especially in the north.

There would also be the question of Fillmore's support for the Knw-Nothing platform, in particular its call for restrictions on immigration and naturalization. Fillmore himself was not a nativist.

So Fillmore might be in a position similar to Tyler - a President at odds with his own nominal party's positions, and with very limited patronage following.

OTOH, holding the Presidency, the American Party would attract a lot of those who OTL went into the Republican Party.

Would the American Party even survive to 1860? It might splinter, with Southerners rejecting Fillmore's contacts with even mildly anti-slavery northern ex-Whigs, and nativists bolting over immigration issues.

Meanwhile the Democrats would rally around Douglas, who would be nominated in 1860. Without Dred Scott, Kansas, and Buchanan, the Fire-Eaters wouldn't split the Democrats. Fewer Free-Soilers would bolt to the Republicans (without Buchanan, the Democrats are not actively anti-Free-Soil).

Thus 1860 would be a repeat of 1856, with Douglas in a stronger position and the ex-Whigs and Republicans more disorganized. Douglas would win, and any secession crisis put off for at least another four years.
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