John Bell was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on 15th February, 1797. A member of the Democratic Party he worked as a lawyer until being elected as a to House of Representatives (1827-41). He joined the Whig Party and President William Harrison appointed him as Secretary of War in 1841.
Bell returned to politics when he was elected as U.S. senator for Tennessee in 1847. Although a large slaveowner, Bell opposed efforts to expand slavery and voted against the Kansas-Nebraska bill in 1854.
Southern slaveholders were outraged when in 1860 the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate in 1860. They looked to the Democratic Party to defend its interests but when it met in Charleston in April, 1860, it selected, Stephen A. Douglas, as its presidential candidate. Unhappy with this decision, Southern delegates decided to hold another convention in Baltimore in June, where they selected John Beckenridge of Kentucky as their candidate. The situation was further complicated when Bell and other Southerners formed the Constitutional Union Party.
Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election with 1,866,462 votes (18 free states) and beat Stephen A. Douglas (1,375,157 - 1 slave state), John Beckenridge (847,953 - 13 slave states) and Bell (589,581 - 3 slave states).