John Bell
by Drew E. VandeCreek, Ph.D.

John Bell (1797-1869) was a prosperous Kentucky slaveholder and politician nominated for the presidency by the short-lived Constitutional Union Party in 1860. Beginning his political career as a Jacksonian Democrat, Bell soon became disenchanted with Old Hickory and joined the new Whig Party. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1827 to 1841, including a brief tenure as Speaker (1834-5). After service as Secretary of War in William Henry Harrison's brief administration, Bell resigned the office in a dispute with Harrison's successor John Tyler. Bell won election to the United States Senate in 1847 and served until 1859.

In 1860 he emerged as a presidential nominee when the Constitutional Union Party organized in reaction to the widening sectional crisis over the expansion of slavery. While southern Democrats and Northern Republicans fanned the sectional crisis by accusing each other of attempting to upset the nation's delicate sectional political balance, Bell's followers hoped that “no political principle but the Constitution of the country, the union of the states and the enforcement of laws” would be sufficient to preserve the Union.

Edward Everett of Massachusetts, the president of Harvard University, joined Bell on the 1860 presidential ticket, which carried Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia in amassing 39 electoral votes.