1952 Flag of the United States 1960
United States Presidential election, 1956
November 6, 1956
Barkley GeorgeCabot
Candidate Thomas R. Sullivan George Cabot
Party Democratic National
Running mate Charles D. Ewing Henry Roland

The United States Presidential election of 1956 was held on November 6, 1956, pitting Vermont Senator George Cabot of the National Party against former Secretary of State and Governor of Rhode Island Thomas Radcliffe Sullivan of the Democratic Party, a contest Sullivan wound up winning by a decisive margin. The election featured the first time that an incumbent President (Democrat Richard Russell) was defeated within his own party in an election year for the party nomination in a nomination determined partially by the primary system, and the first time since 1912 in which a Democrat had succeeded a Democrat, and the first time since the same era in which two consecutive terms were won by the Democratic Party.

Held during a period of high public frustration with the war in England and national strife due to the civil rights movement, the election was contested for the votes of white liberals as well as blacks supporting the drive to end segregation in the South. Due in part to a strong economy as well as the disciplined, optimistic and well-funded campaign of Sullivan, the Democrats were able to hold off a National Party suffering divisions of its own. The election featured the lowest turnout in the South of any election since the 1870s and 1880s.


The mid-1950's had seen a period of notable economic growth in the United States thanks to the dominant steel and manufacturing industry as well as the military armament sector, which had expanded during the Boer War and English Adventure. The transition of wartime responsibility had transferred nearly seamlessly from Prescott Bush to Richard Russell, but Americans were well aware of the costs in lives and materiel in England, and failed to see a direct correlation to the interests of America in a war being fought far overseas. Most Americans strongly associated the conflict with Russell, even though the initial deployment of troops had been approved by the outgoing Bush.

However, the disparity between rich and poor in the United States was only increasing during the mid-1950's, especially in the industrial Midwest, and racial conflicts in the South were reaching a tipping point. The staunch anti-desegregation stance of Russell and many of his fellow conservatives in the South resulted in mass defections to the National Party by black voters in the 1952 election, following a trend that had been ongoing for several decades.

The United States also found itself becoming more and more deeply involved in the Cold War, which had started in the 1940's and continued with strength as the English Adventure unfolded and it became apparent that the French global interests were no longer compatible with America's.

National Party Nomination

The National Party remained hopeful that their inroads with blacks in the South would help them carry an election, but their image as the party of the rich and entrenched damaged them in many parts of the country, despite their liberal stance on civil rights and conservative ideals on state's rights and basic economics. The last of the great "New England Nationalists," George Cabot, emerged as a frontrunner due to his lengthy experience in the Senate and his close friendships with many ranking politicians and his appeal to rising political names, such as the promising young Missourian, Richard Van Dyke.

Cabot was seen as "unbeatable" within Nationalist circles, and throughout early 1956 was challenged time and time again by Charles Sampson, the powerful Governor of Huron who had been a fierce opponent of Bush during his second term. Sampson was the leader of the more conservative wing of the National Party, and while he generated a great deal of support, Cabot wound up securing the nomination at the convention in Richmond, Virginia, and selected former Bush-era Attorney General Henry Roland of North Carolina as his running mate. Many believed that Sampson would have been a better running mate, but Cabot thought that Sampson's criticisms and divisive comments would be baggage on the campaign.

Democratic Party Nomination

President Richard Russell's unpopularity in the North came to become too overwhelming for the Southern bloc of the party to overcome. Russell had hinged his success to the overturning of a 1952 law mandating nationwide integration of all facilities that were currently segregated by the Supreme Court - however, the Supreme Court maintained the validity of the Bush-era law in 1954's Price v. United States, dealing a significant blow to Southern segregationists. An increasing number of people nationwide were in favor of a federal enforcement of desegregation by 1956, and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party saw an opportunity to pull black voters away from the National Party once again.

Former Secretary of State and Rhode Island Governor Thomas Sullivan emerged as the champion of the liberal wing, and he defeated Russell in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two primaries. Russell soon thereafter announced that he would not seek another term as President, choosing instead to retire to Georgia. Sullivan ran away from Southern conservatives in his campaign, portraying the Democrats as supportive of the same policies they had espoused during the Kennedy administration, including a potential health care subsidy for retirees that had mild bipartisan support amongst liberal Nationalists. Sullivan won a sweeping victory over Alabama Senator Lloyd Romar at the Democratic Convention in Chicago and was nominated on the second ballot. In a telling sign, 1956 was the first year in which the Democratic ticket did not have a Southerner on it, with Congressman Charles D. Ewing of California, a conservative Democrat, joining Sullivan on the ticket.

General Election Campaign