In 1850, Vice President Millard Fillmore assumed the presidency when President Zachary Taylor died, apparently from gastroenteritis. During Fillmore’s term, Henry Clay offered the Compromise of 1850 in an effort to solve the territorial slavery problem. Among its provisions were the admission of California as a free state and the end of the slave trade in Washington D.C. To appease the South, there were stricter fugitive slave laws requiring the return of runaway slaves to their masters. Allowing for popular sovereignty, Utah and New Mexico were organized as territories without mention of slavery. Although both major parties’ platforms endorsed the Compromise of 1850, each side had difficulty in selecting a presidential nominee.An election ticket for Franklin Pierce, the National Democratic candidate, published in the Providence Post on October 26, 1852View fullscreenMore information

The Whig Party, bypassing potential candidates Daniel Webster and President Fillmore, took 53 ballots to select another military hero as their candidate. General Winfield Scott had been a successful commander in the Mexican War. Although Scott promised strict enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Whigs could not unify their party on this issue. Among the potential Democratic nominees were Stephen Douglas, James Buchanan, and Lewis Cass. After 49 ballots, the Democrats again selected another “dark horse” candidate. Although he was a northerner opposed to slavery, Franklin Pierce supported the Compromise of 1850 and the Democrats appeared united behind him as their candidate. The Free Soil Party selected U.S. senator John Hale.

Since the parties had similar platforms regarding the slavery issue, the election centered on personalities. Despite Whig Party attacks on Franklin Pierce’s character, he won easily, receiving 234 electoral votes (50.8 percent of the popular vote) to 42 (43.9 percent) for Scott. Hale received only 5 percent of the popular vote. The election marked the end of the Whigs as a viable political party. Virginia cast its 15 electoral votes for Franklin Pierce.

Source: "Getting the Message Out: Presidential Campaign Memorabilia from the Collection of Allen A. Frey."  The Virginia Historical Society.  Accessed: May 23, 2016.

Anonymous. 1852. "Grand, National, Democratic Banner – Press Onward." N. Currier Lith. & Pub. Lithograph, Hand-Colored. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 

John Childs. 1852. "Social Qualities of Our Candidate." Lithograph. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540