What is George Washington's Worst Mistake
Election year 1856: The worst US president in history
Finally, the Democrats, among whom there were many proponents of slavery, especially among the southern party members, sent in a lawyer who had nothing to do with the whole Kansas-Nebraska business. James Buchanan had been ambassador to Great Britain since 1853, had previously served as envoy to Russia as well as foreign minister and held many national offices. The 65-year-old had offered himself a number of times as a presidential candidate but never got enough support. He was considered a "doughface" - a dough face - that is, a democrat from the north who was ideologically close to the south. Now he should get the presidency for the Democrats and create a new political start in the messed up situation.
New staff in the White House was also necessary because the old one had no longer proven to be able to win a majority. President Franklin Pierce's term was overshadowed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The law had shaken the whole country too much and even led to bloody unrest. Since 1854, a proxy war raged in Kansas between opponents and advocates of slavery. Both parties - often organized by associations - sent supporters to the sparsely populated territory in order to gain the upper hand in a referendum. As soon as the rumor got around that 20,000 anti-activists were on the way, several thousand armed southerners and troops from neighboring Missouri immediately set off. Violent attacks and killings occurred on both sides. Entire villages were plundered, settlers massacred, and press facilities destroyed. Political votes could not change anything, as the "visitors" who were in favor of slavery manipulated them significantly. Electoral tourists who were not among the official residents of Kansas hoisted a government with invalid votes, which met with clear rejection of the opponents of slavery.
"Bleeding Kansas" - as the events on the territory are collectively called to this day - additionally heated the political climate in the entire country. There were even violent clashes between Democratic and Republican politicians: after Senator Charles Sumner of the Free-Soilers had sharply criticized slavery and its supporters in a speech three days earlier, South Carolina Democratic MP Preston Brooks beat him up on May 22nd in the Capitol so violently with a walking stick that he had to suspend his political office for three years for health reasons. Brooks was hailed as a patriot in the south for what he did. Pro-slavery MPs even wore rings around their necks on chains made from the golden knob of his walking stick.
Conspiracies, insults and fake news
It is hardly surprising that the irritable mood also had an impact on the election campaign - often in the form of lies and insinuations. Above all, Frémont met with desolate and unfounded accusations. The "Know-nothings" claimed, for example, that he was not born in America and that, according to the law, he could not become president. (Frémont was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1813.) Similar allegations were faced 150 years later by Barack Obama and in 2020 by Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris.
No less dangerous was the claim that the adventurer was Catholic - which would have cost him many votes if only it had been true. Because at that time America was mainly Protestant. Like his mother, Frémont belonged to the Episcopal Church. Among the supporters of the anti-immigrant American Party, the conspiracy narrative was widespread that the large number of Irish immigrants during this period was not due to poor harvests on the "Green Island", but that the Pope wanted to infiltrate the United States through the Catholic Irish. Other rumors related to Frémont's endeavors during the war and ranged from corruption to allegedly illegally ordered shootings.
The Republicans also attacked the Democratic candidate personally, making fun of his older age and bachelorhood, for example. Alluding to a brief statement by Buchanan that ten cents a day is a sufficient daily wage for a worker, they nicknamed him "Ten Cent Jimmy." Presumably due to an eye condition, he had a habit of tilting his head slightly to the left. His opponents claimed that this came from a failed suicide attempt.
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