What if Fremont had won the 1856 election?

For background, John Fremont was the first Presidential candidate of the Republican Party. He lost the 1856 election to the Democrat James Buchanan. As I’m assuming most people know, the second Republican Presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won in 1860 and several states seceded in response to his election.

But what if Fremont had won in 1856? One possible scenario might have been an early Dred Scott decision. The Supreme Court hearings on Dred Scott were held before the election but the court decided to postpone the delivery of their decision for several months. The controversial decision shifted public opinion in the north from the Democrats (who were seen as puppets of southern slave interests) to the Republicans. If Taney had issued the decision before the election, it might have swung several states to Fremont.

But just assume Fremont won. What would have been the results? Several southern states had threatened to secede if a Republican was elected - would they have followed through? Would it have been all of the same states that seceded in 1860? How would the outgoing Pierce have responded differently than the outgoing Buchanan did? How would Fremont have responded differently from Lincoln? Would it have still come to a war and how would that have been changed by starting four years earlier?

Fremont was a wingnut, more extreme than Lincoln and unstable to boot. I can easily imagine a secession in response to his election, and can also imagine him engaging in a more aggressive Civil War, though not necessarily successfully, as he was prone to eccentric actions as a military officer. Pierce was not that different from Buchanan, possibly weaker and more sympathetic to the South. True historians may be able to bring better arguments to bear, but all I can see from a Fremont presidency is a bloodier Civil War, with a divided Union at the end of it.

I agree that Fremont wouldn’t have been as effective as Lincoln was. (Which admittedly is an unfairly high bar. Very few politicians would have been as effective as Lincoln.) I see Fremont as being more equivalent to Jefferson Davis - somebody who would have tried to micromanage the running of the war because he thought he knew better than anyone else and who would have lets his personal feelings cloud his professional judgement.

Maybe disasterously so. Buchanan dithered over the secession crisis - he felt it was wrong for any states to secede but he refused to take any actions against the seceding states.

Pierce might have agreed with the secessionists and supported them.

This recent article from Salon unflatteringly compares Fremont to Sarah Palin and suggests a Fremont presidency would’ve likely been as much a disaster as Buchanan’s was. It looks as though the Election of 1856 was one of those years in which, as far the U.S. was concerned, the choice was lose-lose.

It wouldn’t have been the same decision hd they done so. Buchanan and Taney used some extemely dirty influence to change the decision. Had it been released beforehand, it would have been a much less interesting case with much less importance.

It would have been pretty much the same decision. Five “southern” judges were in general agreement with what Taney wrote. The problem was that they wanted a “northern” judge to join them in concurrence for political cover. That was where Buchanan came in - he put the strong arm on Justice Grier, who was a Pennsylvanian Democrat like Buchanan, to get him to concur. (One other northern justice, Samuel Nelson of New York, also ruled against Scott but he did so on the narrow and non-controversial jurisdictional grounds that Missouri law applied to the case not Illinois law.)

On the other hand General Winfield Scott will be in slightly better shape and thus may be able to take the field against the rebels instead of having to wait until Grant to have a good general.

He still would have been seventy and overweight, and not in any real shape to take the field.

I’m not really in agreement with that writer about his comparisons of Fremont and Palin. But he did bring up an interesting point about Fremont’s abolitionist views. When Fremont was a general early in the war he attempted to abolish slavery by fiat in the area he was in command of. He was overruled by Lincoln who realized that most northerners were against secession but did not support a war to abolish slavery at that point.

But if Fremont had been President, he wouldn’t have had anyone over his head to restrain him. He probably would have issued a general Emancipation Proclamation in the early days of a war. And while that might have been a moral victory, it would have seriously undermined the northern war effort.

You just proved my point. That would not have happened had Buchanan not been president-elect. Evidence clearly shows that the original decision was quite different, and pretty unimportant, comapred to the eventual Dred Scott.

Then apparently I misunderstood your point. The “original” decision (which was the one written by Nelson) was a moot point once Taney decided to write his own decision (a decision he had already made before the election). I think Taney would have issuing substantially the same decision with a 5-4 majority that he was able to issue with a 6-3 majority. Grier’s concurrence may have helped him somewhat but it wasn’t necessary.

Taney couldn’t have issued that decision, because even the majority-southern judges would not go along with it without at least a fig-leaf, which only Buchanan could provide.

Okay, I understand your position now. But I still disagree. My understanding was that Taney decided to write his own decision after reading the dissenting decision being written by Justice McLean. Taney felt that McLean was completely wrong (and while Taney wouldn’t admit it, McLean presented a strong legal case) and needed a much broader and stronger rebuttal than the narrow decision Nelson was writing.