1853 1854 1855 - 1856 - 1857 1858 1859
1820s 1830s 1840s - 1850s - 1860s 1870s 1880s
Events of 1856
- January 8 – Borax deposits are discovered in large quantities by John Veatch.
- January 24 – U.S. President Franklin Pierce declares the new Free-State Topeka government in Bleeding Kansas to be in rebellion.
- January 26 – First Battle of Seattle (1856): Marines from the USS Decatur drive off American Indian attackers after an all day battle with settlers.
- January 29 – Queen Victoria institutes the Victoria Cross.
- February – The Tintic War breaks out in Utah.
- February 1 – Auburn University is first chartered as the East Alabama Male College.
- February 2 – Dallas, Texas is incorporated as a city.
- February 7 – The nawab of Oudh (Wajid Ali Shah) is exiled to Metiabruz.
- February 18 – The American Party (Know-Nothings) convene in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to nominate their first Presidential candidate, former President Millard Fillmore.
- March 5 – Fire destroys the Covent Garden Theatre in London.
- March 6 – Maryland Agricultural College (present-day University of Maryland, College Park) is chartered.
- March 9 – National Fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon is founded at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
- March 20 – Costa Rican troops rout Walker's soldiers.
- March 24 – Taiping Rebellion: Suspecting treachery on the part of East King Yang Xiuqing, Shi Dakai garrisons Anhui and begins his march back to the Heavenly Capital, having defeated a strong Xiang Army dettachment.
- March 31 – The Treaty of Paris (1856) is signed, ending the Crimean War.
- April 7 – Nelson College is founded in Nelson, New Zealand.
- April 10 – The Theta Chi Fraternity is founded at Norwich University.
- May 1 – Isabela Province is created in the Philippines in honor of Queen Isabela II of Spain.
- May 16 – The Vigilance Committee is founded in San Francisco, California. It lynches two gangsters, arrests most Democratic Party officials and disbands itself on August 18.
- May 21 – Lawrence, Kansas is captured and burned by pro-slavery forces (the "Sacking of Lawrence").
- May 22 – Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina beats Senator Charles Sumner with a cane in the hall of the United States Senate, for a speech Sumner had made attacking Southerners who sympathized with the pro-slavery violence in Kansas ("Bleeding Kansas"). Sumner is unable to return to duty for 3 years while he recovered; Brooks becomes a hero across the South.
- May 24 – Pottawatomie Massacre: A group of followers of radical abolitionist John Brown kill 5 homesteaders in Franklin County, Kansas.
- June 2 – Battle of Black Jack: Antislavery forces, led by John Brown, defeat proslavery forces in Bleeding Kansas.
- June 9 – 500 Mormons leave Iowa City, Iowa and head west for Salt Lake City, Utah, carrying all their possessions in two-wheeled handcarts.
- June 13 – Taiping Rebellion: Shi Dakai arrives at Nanjing.
- July 17 – The Great Train Wreck of 1856 (the worst railroad calamity in the world to date) occurs near Philadelphia, PA, USA.
- July 31 – Christchurch, New Zealand is chartered as a city.
- August 10 – A hurricane destroys Last Island, Louisiana, leaving 400 dead. The whole island is broken up into several smaller islands by the storm.
- August 30 – Battle of Osawatomie: Proslavery forces defeat antislavery forces in Bleeding Kansas.
- September 1 – Seton Hall University is founded by Archdiocese of Newark Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, a cousin of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and nephew of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
- September 2 – Taiping Rebellion: Wei Changhui and Qin Rigang assassinate Yang Xiuqing.
- October 8 – The Second Opium War between several western powers and China begins with the Arrow Incident on the Pearl River.
- November 1 – Anglo-Persian War: War is declared between Great Britain and Persia.
- November 4 – U.S. presidential election, 1856: Democrat James Buchanan defeats former President Millard Fillmore, representing a coalition of "Know-Nothings" and Whigs, and John C. Frémont of the fledgling Republican Party, to become the 15th President of the United States.
- November 11 – Taiping Rebellion: Shi Dakai arrives at the Heavenly Capital once more with 100,000 men and demands that Wei Changhui and Qin Rigang be executed. Shi subsequently becomes head of the government.
- November 17 – American Old West: On the Sonoita River in present-day southern Arizona, the United States Army establishes Fort Buchanan in order to help control new land acquired in the Gadsden Purchase.
- November 21 – Niagara University is founded in Niagara Falls, New York.
- November 27 – The Coup of 1856 leads to Luxembourg's unilateral adoption of a new, reactionary constitution, as King-Grand Duke William III signs the new constitution without the Chamber of Deputies' consent.
- December 9 – Bushehr surrenders to the British.
- May 6 - Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychiatrist (d. 1939)
- July 10 - Nikola Tesla, Serb-American inventor (d. 1943)
- September 5 - Tom Watson - Georgia populist, anti-Jewish publisher (d. 1922)