*Party division totals are based on election day results.
Slavery was never more politically divisive than during the 36th Congress (1859–1861), and Democrats could do little to bridge the widening sectional gap in their party. It took 44 ballots before New Jersey’s William Pennington won election as House Speaker. Both the House and Senate investigated John Brown’s failed 1859 raid the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), and tried unsuccessfully to pass compromise legislation before the country erupted in civil war. Amid a tense lame-duck session in the winter of 1860–1861, southern states, led by South Carolina, began seceding from the Union.