After Whig Millard Fillmore wasn’t nominated to run for re-election, the Democrats won the presidency with Franklin Pierce, from New Hampshire. Despite being a northerner, Pierce was sympathetic to the south. His Presidency was dominated by one major decision, his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas’ brain child. Eager to organize the land that the transcontinental railroad was set to go through, Congress replaced the Missouri Compromise of 1820 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Instead of dividing all open territory into slave and non-slave, this Act sought to use popular sovereignty to decide if a new territory would allow slavery. Douglas thought this was a way to settle the tension the issue created in Congress by taking it out of their hands.
Instead, it encouraged pro- and anti- slavery radicals to move into the territories so that they could be there for the vote. Extremists for both sides poured into both and essentially civil war (though not yet THE Civil War) erupted. Violence between the two groups was widespread. Kansas was called “bleeding Kansas” and an opponent of slavery called John Brown first made national news when he and his sons killed five pro-slavery farmers with broadswords.
In addition to further dividing the country and move it closer to civil war, the Act had another important impact. Opposition to the act formed the Republican party. The Whig party was destroyed by the Compromise of 1850 and most northern Whigs joined this new party committed to stopping the expansion of slavery. The election of the first Republican president in 1860 would prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and start America’s bloody Civil War.
As for Pierce, like the other Presidents in his era, he was not nominated for re-election.