The Whig Party Essay, Research Paper
Politics is a diverse and quickly changing facet of civilized society. Politics in America, at least in the current times, focuses on a two party system (although other parties are not discouraged from presenting candidates, and many often do, the political arena is generally dominated by two major parties). This dichotomy exists due to the public?s desire to simplify all competitions to one man against the other. This was not always the case. In the early part of the 1800?s, the concept of political parties in America was just reaching its nativity. If he were asked his political persuasion, The American of the 1820?s and 1830?s would probably tell you he was a Jeffersonist, or a Republican. Disjointed and factitious as it was, there was considered to be but one major political party in this nation. As the 1800?s drew on however, this disunion became greater and threatened, then eventually led to the separation and creation of distinctive ideological camps. Some Republicans followed Andrew Jackson?s exhortations and formed the Democratic Republican party whose domination peaked when Jackson was elected president. The other party, the National Republican party, whose members include people such as Henry Clay, strove to unseat the Democratic Republican power. This second party was the forebearer of the Whig party of America, a major party who was concerned with the executive?s growing power.
The year is 1833. The place, Washington DC The National Republicans had disbanded due to Jackson?s win in the presidential race. The former National Republican leaders had banded again to fight the power and influence of Jackson, who they dubbed “King Andrew”. The Leaders decide to take the name of the Whigs, after the former British party established a century before to fight the absolute monarchy. They were not alone. A group of staunch anti-Jacksonist New York planters known as the Anti-Masons had always strived to become a major political party. The were known as Anti-Masons for their religious disagreements with secret societies such as the freemasons. They saw their chance at big time politics and opposing Jackson with the National Republicans. Jackson had alienated many a planter with his anti nullification policy of his second term (1832-1836). Being avid state right?s men, they were very reluctant to join with any existing party with a name containing “national”. These planters were some of the first to don the name “Whigs” since it gave them license to call Jacksonists “Tories”, meaning loyal to the monarchy, a term synonymous with traitor since the Revolutionary war.
Despite the Whig party?s drawing under it?s banner such notable figures as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, William P. Mangum, Samuel Southard, Robert Toombs, Daniel Webster, and William Seward, The Whig party could not manage to win the 1836 presidential election. Communication was a slow and laborious process and, as the election approached, the Whigs were not yet cohesive enough to produce a single candidate, and so they decided produced three. The candidates were Gen. William Henry Harrison of Ohio, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and Hugh L. White of Tennessee. The party had no real platform on which to run, but just a loose ideological outline, the staples of American Whiggery, which each candidate was to flesh out on their own. These were strengthening of national unity, a protective tariff, the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, a reform of the spoils system, and limitations to the power of the chief executive. The Whigs pulled 124 electoral votes combined, versus the Democratic Republicans who won with 170 electoral votes for Martin Van Buren.
The Whig party began to grow in size and influence. The Anti-masons had fluidly integrated and lost their identity as separate ideology. Alienated Jacksonian defectors never ceased to leak from the Democratic Republican party. Jackson?s alienation of nullification once again dissuaded some major political leaders from his party, driving them instead to the Whigs. These leaders brought with them loyal voters, and the power of the Whig party swelled. The National Bank had been dealt a death blow by the replacement of the secretary of the treasury, and this caused some of it?s main proponents to abandon Democratic Republicanism for Whiggery. Even northern and southern Whigs were unified. Time only sealed this union, as the industrial revolution came about. Northern Whigs produced textiles, and Southern Whigs produced the cotton needed for it. Being that the Whigs were liberally spread across the young nation, with no specific central power base, neither was in the minority and both got along quite well politically. In New England, as well as other areas, the Whigs were almost universally supported by the clergy, and rarely was there a university professor who was not clearly a Whig. The Whigs also had the support of the “Squirarchy”, the richest and most influential of the farmers. Although, as previously stated, the Whigs had no clear single power house between North and South, it is found that wherever New Englanders went, they brought Whiggery with them.
As the 30?s progressed and drew to an end, the Whigs were becoming a strong and cohesive party, on the verge of capturing the presidency. All it?s separate factions had integrated and it was ready for action. This is not to say that all of Whiggery was entirely unanimous on every subject, but if a subject could be referred back to limiting the “near monarchic rule” of the executive branch, unity could be found. The Whigs felt that they and they alone had inherited Jefferson?s ideology and that they were the only republicans, all others were Tories. They professed John Locke as almost a John the Revelatory and the Treaties on Government as the Bible of Whiggery.
The election of 1840 was to prove quite interesting for the Whigs. Their candidate, William Henry Harrison was a war hero, a General who one the battle at Tippecanoe. Harrison observed that the very forced which drove Jackson into office were now working for him. He thought that the old soldiers and pioneers would identify him as a kindred spirit due to his Tippecanoe victory. Now that John C. Calhoun had returned to the democrats, John Tyler was the most notable state-rights Whig. This made him the perfect running mate for Harrison so that the southern states could be won. The Whigs tried to convince the public that they were the only true Jeffersonians, and started to call the Democrats federalists. To seize the frontier vote, Harrison identified himself with such symbols as long cabins, and cider barrels. Bar owners called their establishments Log-Cabin Saloons. Seeing an angle in this, the democrats went for the temperance vote, drinking only pure water for toasts and mocking Whig “indulgence”. The Whigs promised the working man, “Harrison, two dollars a day, and roast beef”. The Church supported Harrison in a way that his fellow Whig leader Henry Clay never could be. Also abolitionists supported Harrison, whereas Clay was a slaveholder. Harrison won the election and was put into office for a whole month before he passed away.
The presidential term itself was not as successful as the election. The unity of all the factions which voted for Harrison quickly dissolved and after Harrison died, Tyler made it perfectly clear that the faction he represented was in no way part of the Whig party, merely an ally. Having no official party platform, Clay sought to create one by issuing a set of resolutions presented in the special sessions of congress in 1841. These were a call back to the old National Republican days and were quickly vetoed by states rights advocate Tyler. Tyler was then formal ejected from the Whig party.
Henry Clay, arguably the greatest Whig, saw nomination in the election of 1844. He dropped out however due to his total agreement with the policies of the Van Buren Democrats. This was not a very wise move. The southern Whigs felt he had given up to a “federalist”. The following election, 1848, saw another Whig victory. The nomination had come down to Zachary Taylor or Henry Clay. The party opted to go for Zachary Taylor due to his military background in the war with Mexico. Henry Clay was quoted as saying, “I wish I could kill a Mexican”. Millard Fillmore was to be vice president. Being as both president and vice president were firmly committed to slavery, the Southern Whigs were taken aback when Zachary Taylor advised admission of California with its free state Constitution. Matters only got worse when southern Whig leaders hinted at secession and Taylor boldly threatened to take to the field and hang those captured in the rebellion. Henry Clay stepped back into Whig affairs with his famous Compromise of 1850 in which he says that the Southern Whigs will learn to accept California?s free state constitution if all other states formed from former Mexican territories would not mention the idea of slavery at all in their constitutions. President Taylor flatly refused this compromise right up until he died, allowing Vice president Fillmore to complete the deal.
The Whigs found their greatest, noblest cause in preservation of the union. Truly for this the Whig party was created, maintained, and eventually destroyed. In 1850, there was a mid-century secession movement which the Whigs devoted all their energies to stopping. Although successful, their clinging to the Compromise they outlined spelled their doom as they did not concentrate on other important matters. The Party had been bred by compromise, as nullificationist leaders like John C. Calhoun and ultra-nationalists such as Daniel Webster were joined for the betterment of common goals. It has been said that it is no coincidence that the only succession movement of great success happened just prior to the dissolving of the American Whig party.
After concentrating it?s power on the secession conflict, the Whig party didn?t have time to organize a strong political campaign for the presidency in 1852. They were, at the time, the clear, dominate party. Their failing was the slipshod manner in which they ran the campaign of ?52. Banking on the old military hero premise, the Whigs sent as their candidate Gen. Winfield Scott. A wiser political move would have been to send a party hero who symbolized the party?s achievements such as Daniel Webster or Henry Clay. If either were sent, the presidency would have been theirs. Instead they suffered an ignominious defeat because of their no name candidate in an election which required a big star.
Two things saw the immediate termination of the Whig party. Again, the diversity from which the Whigs derived their strength was their undoing, only this time it was the final nail in the coffin. As state?s righters looked to succession and unionist strove for preservation of federation, they party was torn in many different directions. The other problem was, as time progressed, the Whigs came to represent the rich and as the upper class divided and became greatly factious, the lower classes remain a unified voice, led by the Jacksonian Democrats. Regardless, the Whigs introduced many important ideas to politic. The Whigs were among the first American career politicians. They also kept the union together for ten years, although the schisms between North and South demanded an event such as the civil war.
Scott, Franklin; The History of American Whiggery
Columbia Press; New York, New York; 1959
Andrews, Henry; The Whig Party
Massachusetts Political Press; Boston, Mass; 1994
Johnson, Nigel; American Political Parties
Bantom Press; Chicago, Illinois; 1987
Campbell, Richard; Political Movements and Parties of 1810-1860