Election year 1856


The year begins on a Tuesday. Around the world, leaders include Tsar Alexander II of Russia, age 37, ruling since March of 1855 when he ascended the throne upon the death of his father; Emperor Franz Joseph I of the Austrian Empire, age 25, ruling since 1848; Sultan Abdulmecid I of the Ottoman Empire, age 32, ruling since 1839; King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, age 60, ruling since1840; King Leopold I of Belgium, age 65, ruling since 1831; Queen Victoria of Great Britain, age 35, reigning since 1837, and mother of 8 children since becoming Queen; her current Prime Minister is Lord Palmerston, age 71, in office since 1855 and Her Majesty’s sixth Prime Minister since she ascended the throne; Emperor Napoleon III of France, age 47, ruling as emperor since December of 1852; King Kwahu Dua I of the Ashanti Empire of West Africa, age 59, reigning since 1834; Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia, age 38, ruling since February 1855; President Joseph Jenkin Roberts of Liberia, age 46, in office since 1848; Sultan Ali Babba bin Bello of the Sokoto Caliphate of West Africa, age 48, ruling since 1842; Emperor Xianfeng of China, age 48, reigning since 1850; Emperor Komei of Japan, age 24, reigning since 1846; President Franklin Pierce of the United States, age 51, member of the Democratic Party and in office since 1853.


Tsar Alexander II


Religious leaders include Pope Pius IX of the Roman Catholic Church, age 63, ruling since 1846; John Sumner, Archbishop of Canterbury of the Anglican Church, age 75, in office since 1848; Nathan Marcus Adler, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, age 53, in office since 1844; Pope Cyril IVof the Coptic Orthodox Church, age 40, in office since 1854; Cyril VII, Patriarch of Constantinople, age 80, in office since 1855. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow of the Russian Orthodox Church, age 73, in office since 1821; Khendrup Gyatso, the 11th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Bhuddhism, age 17, in office since 1842; Thomas Brownell, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, age 76, in office since 1852.

The Crimean War grinds on with England, France, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire pitted against the Russian Empire. Begun in October 1853, the total number of dead from both sides has reached in excess of 300,000. Cholera and typhus have taken more lives than the losses in battle. Citizens in England, France and Russia grow increasingly dissatisfied with the war and its seemingly endless stalemate. English nurse Florence Nightingale is gaining favorable notoriety in Europe and America. Despite the deadlock in Crimea, Russia has expansionist aims in Central Asia, moving toward Persia.


Crimean War fighting


Japan is taking steps to build relations with European powers. Over 30,000 Chinese immigrants have come to Australia. In response the Australian government has imposed a poll tax on every Chinese immigrant.

The population of the United States is approximately 28,212,000 with 9.2 people per square mile. In this antebellum religious period there are 1,348,000 Methodists; 569,000 Southern Baptists; 233,000 Presbyterians.

With 25,565 post offices in operation, the mail service will generate $6,920,000 in revenue and sell 126,045,000 stamps but will require $10,405,000 to operate. The Postmaster General is James Campbell, age 43, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic of Irish decent from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. [From 1829 until 1971 the Postmaster General serves as a member of the President’s Cabinet.] Over 320 daily newspapers are being published with an approximate daily circulation of 1,100,000 subscribers.

Railroads continue to expand with 22,076 miles of track in operation by the end of the year, 1471 miles, or 6.6% of which will be built during the calendar year. Merchant vessels include 4,199 sail-powered ships and 673 steam-powered ships.

This year the United States exports $327,000,000 of goods and materials while importing $315,000,000 from other countries, thus having a trade surplus of $12,000,000. Major imports include $24,000,000 of sugar, $22,000,000 of coffee and $7,000,000 of tea.

Of exports, 39.1% goes to the United Kingdom, 10.7% goes to France, 8.8% goes to Canada.

Of imports, 38.7% comes from the United Kingdom, 15.5% from France, 7.6% from Cuba, 6.6% from Canada.

The government issues 2440 patents.

The government receives $74,057,000 in revenue and spends $69,571,000, leaving a budget surplus of $4,486,000. The national debt stands at $31,974,000. Expenditures include $16,948,000 for the Army, $14,092,000 for the Navy, $1,954,000 for interest on the national debt, $1,298,000 for veterans’ pensions and $161,000 for improvements to harbors and rivers.

Members of the military on active duty include 15,715 in the Army, 8,681 in the Navy and 1,471 in the Marine Corps.

In Washington, D.C., the 34th Congress has been meeting in its first session which began December 3,1855 and last until August 18 of the year. In the Senate there are 34 Democrats, 13 members of the fading Whig Party and 7 members of various other parties. In the House of Representatives, Democrats hold 81 seats and members of various other parties hold 148. Since no party has a majority there has been a contentious battle in the selection of a Speaker of the House so the position will remain open until February 2 when Nathaniel Banks, age 40, from Massachusetts, will be selected in a compromise. Banks has been associated with the Democratic Party and for awhile with the American (Know Nothing) Party; however, his strong support of the abolition cause has led him into the new Republican Party. Important members of this Congress serving in the Senate include William H Seward of New York, Benjamin Wade of Ohio, Sam Houston of Texas, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Judah Benjamin of Louisiana, Robert Toombs of Georgia and Stephan A Douglas of Illinois. Those in the House include Joshua Giddings of Ohio, Schyler Colfax of Indiana, Rufus King of New York, Howell Cobb of Georgia, Preston Brooks of South Carolina and Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts.


President Franklin Pierce


The Democratic incumbent, Franklin Pierce, greatly desires to be renominated by his party. James Buchanan, U S Minister to Great Britain, and Senator Stephen A Douglas of Illinois also desire the Democratic nomination. The old Whig Party has splintered and for all practical purposes is dysfunctional and disappearing. A considerable number of men would like the nomination from the American [Know Nothing] Party, including Senator John Bell of Tennessee, Senator Sam Houston of Texas, Senator Kenneth Rayner of North Carolina, Senator John Clayton of Delaware, businessman George Law of New York, Representative Lewis Campbell of Ohio, former President Millard Fillmore and U S Supreme Court Justice John McLean from Ohio, among others. The American Party generally favors imposing limits on immigration and ending naturalization laws. A number of third parties, both pro-slavery and anti-slavery have arisen but the greatest growth is being seen in the new Republican Party. As the year begins no individual has yet given a strong public indication of interest in the Republican nomination.

Some American diplomats desire the acquisition of Cuba, by force if necessary. Since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, primarily the work of Senator Douglass, did away with most of the provisions of the Compromise of 1820, saying that Kansas Territory shall enter the union once the voters determine whether it shall be slave or free state, the Territory has turned into “Bleeding Kansas” with periodic violence between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. Based upon Reverend Henry Ward Beecher’s comment that a Sharps rifle is a better argument against slavery than the Bible, boxes of rifles marked “Beecher’s bibles” are sent to anti-slavery groups in Kansas.


Henry Ward Beecher


Agitation by women for political rights and social equality continues to grow, slowly but steadily. An increasing number of women participate openly in the abolitionist cause. The temperance advocacy book Ten Nights in a Barroom and What I Saw There by Timothy Arthur, along with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, both continue to be best sellers. Southern resentment to Stowe’s book remains unabated as Southerners insist that slaves are happy and contented.

A law passed in 1855 establishes that any child born in a foreign country to American parents is automatically an American citizen by virtue of the parents’ citizenship.

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