By nominating John C. Frémont - whose father was a Catholic and who had himself been married by a Catholic priest – the Republicans dismayed some of their nativist supporters. But Frémont’s nomination was a calculated gamble to attract ex-Democrats. The established Republican leaders, Seward and Chase, were radicals whose notoriety might offend timid voters. The dashing young Frémont, by contrast, had little political experience but had won popularity by his explorations in the West and his role in the California Bear Flag Revolt against Mexican rule.
“Availability” also dictated the Democratic nomination of James Buchanan. The incumbent, Pierce, and the party’s most prominent leader, Douglas, were too closely identified with the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Buchanan had the good fortune to have been out of the country as minister to Britain during the previous three years. After sixteen deadlocked ballots at the Democratic convention, Douglas withdrew in favor of Buchanan. The platform reiterated all the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian states’ rights planks, coming out against any government role in the economy or in social reform. It also reaffirmed the Fugitive Slave Law, denounced the Republicans as abolitionists in disguise, and endorsed popular sovereignty in the territories.