National Political Map documenting the high-stakes Election of 1856

NATIONAL POLITICAL MAP OF THE UNITED STATES. New York: A[dolphus] Ranney, 195 Broadway / Chicago: Rufus Blanchard, 52 La Salle St., [July-October, 1856.]
Lithograph, 36 ½”h x 29 5/8”w, wash color. Toned and somewhat mottled, mended cracks and tears, and restorations primarily affecting blank margins but also small areas of printed image. Lined on verso.

A rare persuasive map issued during the 1856 presidential campaign, suggesting the threat posed by the extension of slavery into the West after the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act established two new territories and repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had hitherto prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Purchase north of 36° 30’. Instead, the 1854 Act explicitly specified that the new territories would resolve the slavery question locally. Rather than calming the waters by devolving the slavery issue to local control, the Act inflamed the country and was a major step towards civil war. On the ground the most visible consequence was open warfare between Free and Slave Staters in “Bleeding Kansas.” Politically, the most important result was the realignment of national politics along North-South fault lines, the demise of the Whigs and the birth of the Republican Party, which in June 1856 nominated John C. Fremont as its first Presidential candidate. Conservative and southern Whigs formed the short-lived American Party and nominated Millard Fillmore, while the Democrats chose James Buchanan, the eventual winner.

Published during the 1856 campaign, this wonderful thematic map depicts the United States with relatively up-to-date state and territorial boundaries, with the line of the Missouri Compromise clearly shown. Free states are in blue wash color, slave states in yellow, and the western territories pink, with Kansas a darker pink to emphasize that its fate hung in the balance (The map does not exactly match the boundaries of the future Confederacy, as Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and the future West Virginia remained under Union control, though Missouri in particular experienced considerable violence.) Though the chances of the northerly territories admitting slavery was practically nil, the overall color scheme could easily have given a casual viewer the impression of a small cluster of free states in the Northeast in peril of being overwhelmed by the growing “Slave Power” emanating from the South.

The visual interest of the map is enhanced by half-length portraits of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Its informational value is increased by columns of text reprinting the platforms of the three major parties and the candidates’ letters accepting their nomination, as well as several statistical tables, most notably a table of electors by state at center left and a “Tabular View Of The Chief Statistics Of Each State In The Union, Compiled From The United States Census of 1850.” From these, a careful reader could get the message that the southern states, while decidedly behind the North on all demographic, cultural and economic measures, were able to advance their agenda because they wielded disproportionate power at the Federal level.

The lead publisher of the National Political Map was Adolphus Ranney of New York, who advertised himself as a “publisher and wholesale and retail dealer, in maps, books, charts, & prints.” A contemporary add in the American Phrenological Journal offers the map for 25 cents “in sheet form” and 50 cents in “pocket form.” The ad argues that “Politicians of all parties wishing to have before them material for being fully posted at a single glance, must possess as copy of this Map.”

Eberstadt 110:234. OCLC 60034895 (Harvard, Library of Congress, Princeton and SMU only). This firm recently sold another example of the map to a private collector in Massachusetts. Not in Mode, Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection.



Toned, with mended cracks and tears, areas of border in facsimile. Trimmed close on three sides.