This Day In History: June 6

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On June 6, 1856, the fifth and final day of the Democratic Party’s national convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, President Franklin Pierce becomes the first elected president of the United States not to be nominated by his party for a second term. Instead, the party chooses James Buchanan, who will go on to win the presidency in November.

Pierce faced serious opposition going into the convention. Challengers included not only Buchanan, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and onetime secretary of state, but also Stephen A. Douglas, a senator from Illinois later to gain fame in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and Lewis Cass, a senator from Michigan.

As the eventual outcome became increasingly clear, Pierce withdrew his name from consideration before the 15th ballot, throwing his support to Douglas. That proved of little help to Douglas, however, and Buchanan was chosen by a unanimous vote on the 17th ballot.

Pierce had become a divisive figure within his party in large part because of his support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, a law that had effectively halted the spread of slavery in the expanding nation. Douglas, the author of the law, had similarly damaged his political prospects, creating an opening for Buchanan. The Kansas-Nebraska Act is often cited as a major catalyst for the American Civil War, as well as for the rise of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party.

Pierce remains the only president who actively sought renomination but was not nominated for another term. Presidents John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Chester A. Arthur also failed to win renomination, but they had all been vice presidents who succeeded to the office on the death of the prior president rather than winning it on their own.