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Why the Whig Party Collapsed

Why the Whig Party Collapsed


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In the mid-19th-century, the two most powerful political parties in the United States were the Democrats and the Whigs. In two presidential elections, 1840 and 1848, Americans voted a Whig into the White House. And some of the most prominent political voices of the contentious pre-Civil War era were Whigs, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and a one-term Illinois congressman named Abraham Lincoln.

But for all of their prominence and power, the Whigs couldn’t keep it together. The all-consuming issue of slavery was the Whigs’ ultimate undoing, pitting Northern and Southern Whigs against each other, and scattering Whig leadership to upstart third parties like the Know Nothings and the Republicans.

Over the course of a little more than 20 years, the Whig party experienced a meteoric political rise that was rivaled only by its abrupt and total collapse.

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Who Were the Whigs?

The Whigs were a loose coalition of diverse political interests—Anti-Masons, National Republicans, disillusioned Democrats—united by a shared hatred of President Andrew Jackson. To the Whigs, Jackson was “King Andrew the First,” a despot who usurped power from Congress to serve his own populist ideals.

The Whigs formed in 1834 in response to Jackson’s refusal to fund the second National Bank. They took their name from a British anti-monarchist party that was revived in Colonial America as “American Whigs.” Clay, known as “the great compromiser,” was the Whigs’ most influential and vocal early leader.

The Jacksonian Democrats painted the Whigs as a party of wealthy Northern elites who wanted to sidestep the will of the people, but the Whigs actually defied a singular identity. There were Protestant moral reformers who wanted to pass prohibition laws aimed at Catholic immigrants. There were defenders of Native Americans angered at Jackson’s relocation orders that led to the infamous Trail of Tears. And while there was a strong anti-slavery sentiment among some Whigs, it wasn’t an abolitionist party.

Like the Democratic party before the Civil War, the Whigs were a “bisectional” party that drew voters from both the North and South, explains Philip Wallach, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Both parties therefore had an interest in keeping slavery off the national agenda as much as possible,” says Wallach. “But in the case of the Whig party, it just couldn’t find any way of dealing with the slavery issue that would satisfy both its Northern and Southern wings.”

READ MORE: How Andrew Jackson Rode a Populist Wave Into the White House

Both Whig Presidents Die While in Office

Even before slavery tore apart the Whig party, the Whigs faced a string of bad luck.

After four separate Whig-affiliated candidates lost the 1836 election to Jackson’s Democratic successor, Martin Van Buren, the Whigs finally won the presidency in 1840 with William Henry Harrison. But Harrison famously died from pneumonia after only 32 days in office, handing the White House to his vice president, John Tyler, a former Democrat who wasn’t a Whig party loyalist.

“Tyler served almost four full years as president, and for nearly all those years he was a man without a party,” says Wallach. “Tyler’s presidency turned out to be a major detriment to the Whig party’s ability to put down solid roots.”

Tyler, known to detractors as “His Accidency,” was such a disappointment to the Whigs—he vetoed Whig-sponsored national banking and tariff bills—that the Whigs took the extraordinary step of expelling him from the party while Tyler was still in office.

READ MORE: Why John Tyler Was a Reviled President

In the 1844 election, Clay was nominated again as the Whig candidate and lost to James K. Polk. So in 1848, the Whigs chose Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican-American War and a owner of enslaved people.

Taylor won the election, but also died two years into his presidency, leaving it in the hands of Millard Fillmore, an anti-slavery Northerner. Taylor and Fillmore never saw eye to eye politically and Fillmore’s new policies did little to solidify the Whig party after Taylor’s sudden demise.

Death continued to haunt the Whig party into the 1850s. Clay, the stalwart Whig leader who inspired Lincoln and other prominent politicians to join the party, died in 1852, as did Daniel Webster.

“These men are considered two of the most important legislators who never became president,” says Wallach. “Their deaths didn’t help the forward momentum of the Whig party.”

Fallout from the Compromise of 1850

In 1849, California petitioned to join the Union as a free state, which threatened to upset the delicate power balance between free and slaveholding states. In one of his last major political maneuvers, Henry Clay brokered the Compromise of 1850, a series of five bills which welcomed California as a free state, but also strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act that legally required Northern states to prosecute and return runaway slaves.

The Compromise of 1850, signed into law by Fillmore, was immediately and wildly unpopular with both Northern and Southern Whigs, who each had their own grievances.

“Because Fillmore hitched his wagon to the unpopular Compromise of 1850, he found himself thrown out as the Whig nominee in the 1852 party convention,” says Wallach. It took 53 separate votes before the convention delegates finally agreed on a candidate, General Winfield Scott.

Going into the 1852 election, Whigs still considered themselves the party to beat, but “Old Fuss and Feathers,” as Scott was derisively known, was shellacked in the general election by the Democrats (he only won 42 electoral votes), dealing the Whigs a bruising blow from which they never recovered.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Rise of the Republicans

The divisive slavery issue came to a head again in 1854 with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which authorized new territories and states to decide for themselves if they wanted to allow slavery.

Anti-slavery Whigs, deciding that their party wasn’t sufficiently committed to halting the spread of slavery, splintered off and formed the Republican party along with anti-slavery Democrats. Among the former prominent Whigs who turned Republican were Thaddeus Stevens, William Seward and Abraham Lincoln.

Meanwhile, other Whigs were getting swept up in anti-immigrant, nativist movements like the Know Nothings, a secret society that grew to become a political force in the 1850s. Fillmore, who had been dumped by the Whigs in 1852, ran in 1856 as the nominee of the American Party, the political wing of the Know Nothings. Many conservative Whigs followed him.

1856 was the last election in which the Whigs fielded a candidate, but former Whig William Seward, who went on to serve as Lincoln’s secretary of state, pronounced the party’s eulogy in 1855: “Let, then, the Whig party pass. It committed a grievous fault, and grievously hath it answered it. Let it march out of the field, therefore, with all the honors.”

“It’s remarkable how fast it all fell apart for the Whigs,” says Wallach. “From right before the 1852 election thinking they were in good shape, to 1854 being clearly obsolete and in 1855 literally going out of business.

“It’s pretty striking.”


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The End of the Party

The Whig party ran, for some years, mostly in strong second place to the Democrats. They elected William Henry Harrison, in the famous "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" campaign of nonsense, copied from the Jackson Democrats, but Harrison (the hero of Tippecanoe) died just days into his presidency, and was succeded by Tyler, one of the anti-Jackson democrats, who showed himself to be basically a firm Democrat, and was "read out of the Whig party". They also elected Zachary Taylor (another war hero and no politician) who was died fairly early in the term, making Millard Filmore president.

After the Jackson era, the Whig party drifted towards its strongest elements, the national improvements men. That tendency was strongest by far in the North the South being in those days almost purely agrarian.

In the 1850s when the nation became increasingly divided over slavery, a new Republican party formed, primarily to keep slavery quarantined off in the South, while Southern sentiment was for their right to move, with their way of life, into any new territory. Their methods of agriculture and their best cash crops tended to deplete the soil, so that Southerners were among the most aggressive Western expansionists.

The Republican Party, while it also attracted many anti-slavery Democrats, drew off so many Whigs that they effectively killed the Whig party. The Whigs were also badly hurt by the short-lived Native American or Know-Nothing party, which was primarily anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic. This party was strong in urban areas, which had also been a Whig stronghold. The last year the Whigs had a presidential candidate was in 1856.


Why did the Whig Party collapse?

The Whigs were also badly hurt by the short-lived Native American or Know-Nothing party, which was primarily anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic.

That is just part of the answer of course. Here is another account, again too simplistic:

  • For a brief time, many Americans supported the nativist Know-Nothing Party, concerned that the Know-Nothings might represent the only truly national party possible, largely united by a general fear of Catholic immigrants.
  • But in the end, the issue over slavery proved stronger than fears over non-protestant immigrants, and southerners lined up behind the Democratic party and northerners behind the Republican party.
  • Sectional party systems replaced a national party.

This seems to be the definitive detailed account. Try this book too. Most of the time, however, parties do not collapse but rather party members fall in line, fearing the costs of the alternatives, including the costs to their careers.


Contents

During the 1790s, the first major U.S. parties arose in the form of the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson. After 1815, the Democratic-Republicans emerged as the sole major party at the national level but became increasingly polarized. A nationalist wing, led by Henry Clay, favored policies such as the Second Bank of the United States and the implementation of a protective tariff. A second group, the Old Republicans, opposed these policies, instead favoring a strict interpretation of the Constitution and a weak federal government. [11]

In the 1824 presidential election, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, and General Andrew Jackson all sought the presidency as members of the Democratic-Republican Party. [12] Crawford favored state sovereignty and a strict constructionist view of the Constitution, while Clay and Adams favored high tariffs and the national bank [13] regionalism played a central role, with Jackson strongest in the West. Jackson won a plurality of the popular and electoral vote in the 1824 election, but not a majority. The House of Representatives had to decide. Speaker Clay supported Adams, who was elected as president by the House, and Clay was appointed as Secretary of State. Jackson called it a "corrupt bargain". [14]

In the years following the 1824 election, former members of the Democratic-Republican Party split into hostile factions. Supporters of President Adams and Clay joined with many former Federalists such as Daniel Webster to form a group informally known as the "Adams party". [15] Meanwhile, supporters of Jackson, Crawford, and Vice President John C. Calhoun joined together to oppose the Adams administration's nationalist agenda, becoming informally known as "Jacksonians". [15] Due in part to the superior organization (by Martin Van Buren) of the Jacksonians, Jackson defeated Adams in the 1828 presidential election, taking 56 percent of the popular vote. [16] Clay became the leader of the National Republican Party, which opposed President Jackson. By the early 1830s, the Jacksonians organized into the new Democratic Party. [17]

Despite Jackson's decisive victory in the 1828 election, National Republicans initially believed that Jackson's party would collapse once Jackson took office. Vice President Calhoun split from the administration in 1831, but differences over the tariff prevented Calhoun's followers from joining the National Republicans. [17] Meanwhile, the Anti-Masonic Party formed following the disappearance and possible murder of William Morgan in 1826. [18] The Anti-Masonic movement, strongest in the Northeast, gave rise to or expanded the use of many innovations which became accepted practice among other parties, including nominating conventions and party newspapers. [19] Clay rejected overtures from the Anti-Masonic Party, and his attempt to convince Calhoun to serve as his running mate failed, leaving the opposition to Jackson split among different leaders when the National Republicans nominated Clay for president. [18]

Hoping to make the national bank a key issue of the 1832 election, the National Republicans convinced national bank president Nicholas Biddle to request an extension of the national bank's charter, but their strategy backfired when Jackson successfully portrayed his veto of the recharter as a victory for the people against an elitist institution. [20] Jackson won another decisive victory in the 1832 presidential election, taking 55 percent of the national popular vote and 88 percent of the popular vote in the slave states south of Kentucky and Maryland. [21] Clay's defeat discredited the National Republican Party, encouraging those opposed to Jackson to seek to create a more effective opposition party. [22] Jackson by 1832 was determined to destroy the bank (the Second Bank of the United States), which Whigs supported. [23] [24]

Creation, 1833–1836 Edit

Shortly after Jackson's re-election, South Carolina passed a measure to "nullify" the Tariff of 1832, beginning the Nullification Crisis. Jackson strongly denied the right of South Carolina to nullify federal law, but the crisis was resolved after Congress passed the Tariff of 1833. [25] The Nullification Crisis briefly scrambled the partisan divisions that had emerged after 1824, as many within the Jacksonian coalition opposed President Jackson's threats of force against South Carolina, while some opposition leaders like Daniel Webster supported them. [26] In South Carolina and other states, those opposed to Jackson began to form small "Whig" parties. [25] The Whig label implicitly compared "King Andrew" to King George III, the King of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. [27]

Jackson's decision to remove government deposits from the national bank [a] ended any possibility of a Webster-Jackson alliance and helped to solidify partisan lines. [30] The removal of the deposits drew opposition from both pro-bank National Republicans and states' rights Southerners like Willie Person Mangum of North Carolina, the latter of whom accused Jackson of flouting the Constitution. [31] In late 1833, Clay began to hold a series of dinners with opposition leaders in order to settle on a candidate to oppose Martin Van Buren, the likely Democratic nominee in the 1836 presidential election. While Jackson's opponents could not agree on a single presidential candidate, they coordinated in the Senate to oppose Jackson's initiatives. [32] Historian Michael Holt writes that the "birth of the Whig Party" can be dated to Clay and his allies taking control of the Senate in December 1833. [1]

The National Republicans, including Clay and Webster, formed the core of the Whig Party, but many Anti-Masons like William H. Seward of New York and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania also joined. Several prominent Democrats defected to the Whigs, including Mangum, former Attorney General John Berrien, and John Tyler of Virginia. [27] The Whig Party's first major action was to censure Jackson for the removal of the national bank deposits, thereby establishing opposition to Jackson's executive power as the organizing principle of the new party. [33]

In doing so, the Whigs were able to shed the elitist image that had persistently hindered the National Republicans. [34] Throughout 1834 and 1835, the Whigs successfully incorporated National Republican and Anti-Masonic state-level organizations and established new state party organizations in Southern states like North Carolina and Georgia. [35] The Anti-Masonic heritage to the Whigs included a distrust of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering by party bosses, instead of encouraging direct appeals to the people through gigantic rallies, parades, and rhetorical rabble-rousing. [36]

Rise, 1836–1841 Edit

Early successes in various states made many Whigs optimistic about victory in 1836, but an improving economy bolstered Van Buren's standing ahead of the election. [37] The Whigs also faced the difficulty of uniting former National Republicans, Anti-Masons, and states' rights Southerners around one candidate, and the party suffered an early blow when Calhoun announced that he would refuse to support any candidate opposed to the doctrine of nullification. [38] Northern Whigs cast aside both Clay and Webster in favor of General William Henry Harrison, a former senator who had led U.S. forces in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. [39]

Though he had not previously been affiliated with the National Republicans, Harrison indicated that he shared the party's concerns over Jackson's executive power and favored federal investments in infrastructure. [40] Southern Whigs coalesced around Senator Hugh Lawson White, a long-time Jackson ally who opposed Van Buren's candidacy. [41] Ultimately, Van Buren won a majority of the electoral and popular vote in the 1836 election, though the Whigs improved on Clay's 1832 performance in the South and West. [42]

Shortly after Van Buren took office, an economic crisis known as the Panic of 1837 struck the nation. [43] Land prices plummeted, industries laid-off employees, and banks failed. According to historian Daniel Walker Howe, the economic crisis of the late 1830s and early 1840s was the most severe recession in U.S. history until the Great Depression. [44] Van Buren's economic response centered on establishing the Independent Treasury system, essentially a series of vaults that would hold government deposits. [45] As the debate over the Independent Treasury continued, William Cabell Rives and some other Democrats who favored a more activist government defected to the Whig Party, while Calhoun and his followers joined the Democratic Party. [46] Whig leaders agreed to hold the party's first national convention in December 1839 in order to select the Whig presidential nominee. [47]

By early 1838, Clay had emerged as the front-runner due to his support in the South and his spirited opposition to Van Buren's Independent Treasury. [48] A recovering economy convinced other Whigs to support Harrison, who was generally seen as the Whig candidate best able to win over Democrats and new voters. [49] With the crucial support of Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Thurlow Weed of New York, Harrison won the presidential nomination on the fifth ballot of the 1839 Whig National Convention. [50]

For vice president, the Whigs nominated John Tyler, a former states' rights Democrat selected for the Whig ticket primarily because other Southern supporters of Clay refused to serve as Harrison's running mate. [51] Log cabins and hard cider became the dominant symbols of the Whig campaign as the party sought to portray Harrison as a man of the people. [52] The Whigs also assailed Van Buren's handling of the economy and argued that traditional Whig policies such as the restoration of a national bank and the implementation of protective tariff rates would help to restore the economy. [53] With the economy still in a downturn, Harrison decisively defeated Van Buren, taking a wide majority of the electoral vote and just under 53 percent of the popular vote. [54]

Harrison and Tyler, 1841–1845 Edit

With the election of the first Whig presidential administration in the party's history, Clay and his allies prepared to pass ambitious domestic policies such as the restoration of the national bank, the distribution of federal land sales revenue to the states, a national bankruptcy law, and increased tariff rates. [55] Harrison died just one month into his term, thereby elevating Vice President Tyler to the presidency. [56] Tyler had never accepted much of the Whig economic program and he soon clashed with Clay and other congressional Whigs. [56] In August 1841, Tyler vetoed Clay's national bank bill, holding that the bill was unconstitutional. [57]

Congress passed a second bill based on an earlier proposal made by Treasury Secretary Ewing that was tailored to address Tyler's constitutional concerns, but Tyler vetoed that bill as well. [58] In response, every Cabinet member but Webster resigned, and the Whig congressional caucus expelled Tyler from the party on September 13, 1841. [59] The Whigs later began impeachment proceedings against Tyler, but they ultimately declined to impeach him because they believed that his likely acquittal would devastate the party. [60]

Beginning in mid-1842, Tyler increasingly began to court Democrats, appointing them to his Cabinet and other positions. [61] At the same time, many Whig state organizations repudiated the Tyler administration and endorsed Clay as the party's candidate in the 1844 presidential election. [62] After Webster resigned from the Cabinet in May 1843 following the conclusion of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, Tyler made the annexation of Texas his key priority. The annexation of Texas was widely viewed as a pro-slavery initiative as it would add another slave state to the union, and most leaders of both parties opposed opening the question of annexation in 1843 due to the fear of stoking the debate over slavery. Tyler was nonetheless determined to pursue annexation because he believed that the British conspired to abolish slavery in Texas [b] and because he saw the issue as a means to reelection, either through the Democratic Party or through a new party. [64] In April 1844, Secretary of State John C. Calhoun reached a treaty with Texas providing for the annexation of that country. [65]

Clay and Van Buren, the two front-runners for major-party presidential nominations in the 1844 election, both announced their opposition to annexation, and the Senate blocked the annexation treaty. [66] To the surprise of Clay and other Whigs, the 1844 Democratic National Convention rejected Van Buren in favor of James K. Polk and established a platform calling for the acquisition of both Texas and Oregon Country. [67] Having won the presidential nomination at the 1844 Whig National Convention unopposed, Clay and other Whigs were initially confident that they would defeat the divided Democrats and their relatively obscure candidate. [68]

However, Southern voters responded to Polk's calls for annexation, while in the North, Democrats benefited from the growing animosity towards the Whig Party among Catholic and foreign-born voters. [69] Ultimately, Polk won the election, taking 49.5% of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote the swing of just over one percent of the vote in New York would have given Clay the victory. [70]

Polk and the Mexican–American War, 1845–1849 Edit

In the final weeks of Tyler's presidency, a small group of Southern Whigs joined with congressional Democrats to pass a joint resolution providing for the annexation of Texas, and Texas subsequently became a state in 1845. [71] Following the annexation of Texas, Polk began preparations for a potential war with Mexico, which still regarded Texas as a part of its republic and contended that Texas's true southern border was the Nueces River rather than the Rio Grande. [72] After a skirmish known as the Thornton Affair broke out on the northern side of the Rio Grande, [73] Polk called on Congress to declare war against Mexico, arguing that Mexico had invaded American territory by crossing the Rio Grande. [74]

Many Whigs argued that Polk had provoked war with Mexico by sending a force under General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande, but only a minority of Whigs voted against the declaration of war as they feared that opposing the war would be politically unpopular. [75] Polk received the declaration of war against Mexico and also pushed through the restoration of the Independent Treasury System and a bill that reduced tariffs opposition to the passage of these Democratic policies helped to reunify and reinvigorate the Whigs. [76]

In August 1846, Polk asked Congress to appropriate $2 million in hopes of using that money as a down payment for the purchase of California in a treaty with Mexico. [77] Democratic Congressman David Wilmot of Pennsylvania offered an amendment known as the Wilmot Proviso, which would ban slavery in any newly acquired lands. [78] The Wilmot Proviso passed the House with the support of both Northern Whigs and Northern Democrats, breaking the normal pattern of partisan division in congressional votes, but it was defeated in the Senate. [79]

Nonetheless, clear divisions remained between the two parties on territorial acquisitions, as most Democrats joined Polk in seeking to acquire vast tracts of land from Mexico, but most Whigs opposed territorial growth. [80] In February 1848, Mexican and U.S. negotiators reached the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which provided for the cession of Alta California and New Mexico. [81] Despite Whig objections to the acquisition of Mexican territory, the treaty was ratified with the support of a majority of the Democratic and Whig senators Whigs voted for the treaty largely because ratification brought the war to an immediate end. [82]

During the war, Whig leaders like John J. Crittenden of Kentucky began to look to General Taylor as a presidential candidate in the hopes that the party could run on Taylor's personal popularity rather than economic issues. [83] Taylor's candidacy faced significant resistance in the Whig Party due to his lack of public commitment to Whig policies and his association with the Mexican-American War. [84] In late 1847, Clay emerged as Taylor's main opponent for the Whig nomination, appealing especially to Northern Whigs with his opposition to the war and the acquisition of new territory. [85]

With strong backing from slave state delegates, Taylor won the presidential nomination on the fourth ballot of the 1848 Whig National Convention. [86] For vice president, the Whigs nominated Millard Fillmore of New York, a pro-Clay Northerner. [87] Anti-slavery Northern Whigs disaffected with Taylor joined together with Democratic supporters of Martin Van Buren and some members of the Liberty Party to found the new Free Soil Party the party nominated a ticket of Van Buren and Whig Charles Francis Adams Sr. and campaigned against the spread of slavery into the territories. [88]

The Whig campaign in the North received a boost when Taylor released a public letter in which he stated that he favored Whig principles and would defer to Congress after taking office, thereby reassuring some wavering Whigs. [89] During the campaign, Northern Whig leaders touted traditional Whig policies like support for infrastructure spending and increased tariff rates, [90] but Southern Whigs largely eschewed economic policy, instead emphasizing that Taylor's status as a slaveholder meant that he could be trusted on the issue of slavery more so than Democratic candidate Lewis Cass of Michigan. [91] Ultimately, Taylor won the election with a majority of the electoral vote and a plurality of the popular vote. Taylor improved on Clay's 1844 performance in the South and benefited from the defection of many Democrats to Van Buren in the North. [92]

Taylor and Fillmore, 1849–1853 Edit

Reflecting the Taylor administration's desire to find a middle ground between traditional Whig and Democratic policies, Secretary of the Treasury William M. Meredith issued a report calling for an increase in tariff rates, but not to the levels seen under the Tariff of 1842. [93] Even Meredith's moderate policies were not adopted, and, partly due to the strong economic growth of the late 1840s and late 1850s, traditional Whig economic stances would increasingly lose their salience after 1848. [94] When Taylor assumed office, the organization of state and territorial governments and the status of slavery in the Mexican Cession remained the major issue facing Congress. [95]

To sidestep the issue of the Wilmot Proviso, the Taylor administration proposed that the lands of the Mexican Cession be admitted as states without first organizing territorial governments thus, slavery in the area would be left to the discretion of state governments rather than the federal government. [96] In January 1850, Senator Clay introduced a separate proposal which included the admission of California as a free state, the cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief, the establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories, a ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia for sale, and a more stringent fugitive slave law. [97]

Taylor died in July 1850 and was succeeded by Vice President Fillmore. [98] In contrast to John Tyler, Fillmore's legitimacy and authority as president were widely accepted by members of Congress and the public. [99] Fillmore accepted the resignation of Taylor's entire Cabinet [100] and appointed Whig leaders like Crittenden, Thomas Corwin of Ohio, and Webster, whose support for the Compromise had outraged his Massachusetts constituents. [101] With the support of Fillmore and a bipartisan and bi-sectional coalition, a Senate bill providing for a final settlement of Texas's borders won passage shortly after Fillmore took office. [102]

The Senate quickly moved onto the other major issues, passing bills that provided for the admission of California, the organization of New Mexico Territory, and the establishment of a new fugitive slave law. [103] Passage of what became known as the Compromise of 1850 soon followed in the House of Representatives. [104] Though the future of slavery in New Mexico, Utah, and other territories remained unclear, Fillmore himself described the Compromise of 1850 as a "final settlement" of sectional issues. [105]

Following the passage of the Compromise of 1850, Fillmore's enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 became the central issue of his administration. [106] The Whig Party became badly split between pro-Compromise Whigs like Fillmore and Webster and anti-Compromise Whigs like William Seward, who demanded the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. [107]

Though Fillmore's enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act made him unpopular among many in the North, he retained considerable support in the South. Meanwhile, Secretary Webster had long coveted the presidency and, though in poor health, planned a final attempt to gain the White House. [108] A third candidate emerged in the form of General Winfield Scott, who won the backing of many Northerners but whose association with Senator William Seward made him unacceptable to Southern Whigs. [108]

On the first presidential ballot of the 1852 Whig National Convention, Fillmore received 133 of the necessary 147 votes, while Scott won 131 and Webster won 29. Fillmore and Webster's supporters were unable to broker a deal to unite behind either candidate, and Scott won the nomination on the 53rd ballot. [109] The 1852 Democratic National Convention nominated a dark horse candidate in the form of former New Hampshire senator Franklin Pierce, a Northerner sympathetic to the Southern view on slavery. [110]

As the Whig and Democratic national conventions had approved similar platforms, the 1852 election focused largely on the personalities of Scott and Pierce. [111] The 1852 elections proved to be disastrous for the Whig Party, as Scott was defeated by a wide margin and the Whigs lost several congressional and state elections. [112] Scott amassed more votes than Taylor had in most Northern states, but Democrats benefited from a surge of new voters in the North and the collapse of Whig strength in much of the South. [113]

Collapse, 1853–1856 Edit

Despite their decisive loss in the 1852 elections, most Whig leaders believed the party could recover during the Pierce presidency in much the same way that it had recovered under President Polk. [114] However, the strong economy still prevented the Whig economic program from regaining salience, and the party failed to develop an effective platform on which to campaign. [115] The debate over the 1854 Kansas–Nebraska Act, which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery in territories north of the 36°30′ parallel, shook up traditional partisan alignments. [116]

Across the Northern states, opposition to the Kansas–Nebraska Act gave rise to anti-Nebraska coalitions consisting of Democrats focused on this opposition along with Free Soilers and Whigs. In Michigan and Wisconsin, these two coalitions labeled themselves as the Republican Party, but similar groups in other states initially took on different names. [117] Like their Free Soil predecessors, Republican leaders generally did not call for the abolition of slavery but instead sought to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories. [118]

Another political coalition appeared in the form of the nativist and anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement, which eventually organized itself into the American Party. [116] Both the Republican Party and the Know-Nothings portrayed themselves as the natural Whig heirs in the battle against Democratic executive tyranny, but the Republicans focused on the "Slave Power" and the Know-Nothings focused on the supposed danger of mass immigration and a Catholic conspiracy. While the Republican Party almost exclusively appealed to Northerners, the Know-Nothings gathered many adherents in both the North and South some individuals joined both groups even while they remained part of the Whig Party or the Democratic Party. [119]

Congressional Democrats suffered huge losses in the mid-term elections of 1854, as voters provided support to a wide array of new parties opposed to the Democratic Party. [120] Though several successful congressional candidates had campaigned only as Whigs, most congressional candidates who were not affiliated with the Democratic Party had campaigned either independently of the Whig Party or in collusion with another party. [121] As cooperation between Northern and Southern Whigs increasingly appeared to be impossible, leaders from both sections continued to abandon the party. [122] Though he did not share the nativist views of the Know-Nothings, in 1855 Fillmore became a member of the Know-Nothing movement and encouraged his Whig followers to join as well. [123] In September 1855, Seward led his faction of Whigs into the Republican Party, effectively marking the end of the Whig Party as an independent and significant political force. [2] Thus, the 1856 presidential election became a three-sided contest between Democrats, Know-Nothings, and Republicans. [124]

The Know Nothing National Convention nominated Fillmore for president, but disagreements over the party platform's stance on slavery caused many Northern Know-Nothings to abandon the party. [125] Meanwhile, the 1856 Republican National Convention chose John C. Frémont as the party's presidential candidate. [126] The defection of many Northern Know-Nothings, combined with the caning of Charles Sumner and other events that stoked sectional tensions, bolstered Republicans throughout the North. [127] During his campaign, Fillmore minimized the issue of nativism, instead of attempting to use his campaign as a platform for unionism and a revival of the Whig Party. [128]

Seeking to rally support from Whigs who had yet to join another party, Fillmore and his allies organized the sparsely-attended 1856 Whig National Convention, which nominated Fillmore for president. [129] Ultimately, Democrat James Buchanan won the election with a majority of the electoral vote and 45 percent of the popular vote Frémont won most of the remaining electoral votes and took 33 percent of the popular vote, while Fillmore won 22 percent of the popular vote and just eight electoral votes. Fillmore largely retained Taylor and Scott voters in the South, but most former Whigs in the North voted for Frémont rather than Fillmore. [130]

Fillmore's American Party collapsed after the 1856 election, and many former Whigs who refused to join the Democratic Party or the Republican Party organized themselves into a loose coalition known as the Opposition Party. [131] For the 1860 presidential election, Senator John J. Crittenden and other unionist conservatives formed the Constitutional Union Party. [132] The party nominated a ticket consisting of John Bell, a long-time Whig Senator, and Edward Everett, who had succeeded Daniel Webster as Fillmore's Secretary of State. [133] With the nomination of two former Whigs, many regarded the Constitutional Union Party as a continuation of the Whig Party one Southern newspaper called the new party the "ghost of the old Whig Party". [134]

The party campaigned on preserving the union and took an official non-stance on slavery. [135] The Constitutional Union ticket won a plurality of the vote in three states, but Bell finished in fourth place in the national popular vote behind Republican Abraham Lincoln, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, and pro-Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge. [136] In the North, most former Whigs, including the vast majority of those who had voted for Fillmore in 1856, voted for Lincoln in 1860. [137]

In the secession crisis that followed Lincoln's election, Southern Democrats generally led secession efforts, while Southern former Whigs generally opposed immediate secession. [138] During the American Civil War, former Whigs formed the core of a "proto-party" in the Confederacy that was opposed to the Jefferson Davis administration. [139] In the Reconstruction Era, many former Whigs tried to regroup in the South, calling themselves "conservatives" and hoping to reconnect with ex-Whigs in the North. Thus in Virginia and elsewhere moderate, nationalist, and economically innovative ex-Whigs used the party name “Conservative” in order to avoid identification with the Democratic Party. [140] The Conservative Party ultimately merged into the Democratic Party in the South, but ex-Whigs continued to promote modernization policies such as large-scale railroad construction and the founding of public schools. [141] [ page needed ]

The Whig Party vanished after the 1850s, but Whiggism as a modernizing policy orientation persisted for decades. [142] It played a major role in shaping the modernizing policies of the state governments during Reconstruction. [141] [ page needed ] During the Lincoln Administration, ex-Whigs dominated the Republican Party and enacted much of their American System. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester A. Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison were Whigs before switching to the Republican Party, from which they were elected to office. In the long run, the United States adopted Whiggish economic policies coupled with a Democratic strong presidency. [143]

Whig thought Edit

Historian Frank Towers writes that "Democrats stood for the 'sovereignty of the people' as expressed in popular demonstrations, constitutional conventions, and majority rule as a general principle of governing, whereas Whigs advocated the rule of law, written and unchanging constitutions, and protections for minority interests against majority tyranny." [144] Historian Daniel Walker Howe argues the Whigs were modernizers, "who attached a great deal of importance to protecting property, maintaining social order, and preserving a distinct cultural heritage, three characteristic conservative concerns". [145] The Whigs themselves adopted the word "conservative", which they associated with "'law and order', social caution, and moral restraint". [146] Political scientists John H. Aldrich and John D. Griffin note that the labeling of Whig ideology as conservative is "somewhat [counterintuitive] for those who associate a small role for government rather than a pro-business orientation with conservatism". [147]

Historian John Ashworth writes that the two parties were polarized on important questions of economic development, describing their competition as a "clash of democracy with capitalism". [148] Whigs held that the government had a duty to promote economic prosperity for the people, especially during economic downturns. [5] The Whigs further believed that individual regions of the country lacked the capital necessary for economic growth, and thus the federal government should subsidize large infrastructure projects and promote policies to facilitate the operations of banks and corporations. [6]

Democrats, by contrast, argued that government action would inevitably favor the privileged few thus, Democrats held that government should intervene in the economy as little as possible, especially at the federal level. [5] Gregory Bowen notes that the two parties were polar opposite and highly ideological: "At the heart of Democratic ideology was a militant egalitarianism which contrasted sharply with the Whigs' support for equality of opportunity to produce a meritocratic society." [149] Democrats glorified individualism while Whigs said it was a dangerous impulse that must be subordinated to the greater good of an organic society they called for individuals to restrain themselves and focus on doing their duty. [150]

Howe characterizes the Whigs' anti-individualism as an "Aristotlean" desire to perfect human nature by subordinating animal impulses to reason and self-control. Historian John Burt expands on Howe's argument, noting that Whigs "saw unmediated expressions of popular will in roughly the same way as they saw unmediated compulsions of appetite. [a]s a person driven by appetites is not free but the slave of the body, so a polity driven by popular will is not free but the slave of whatever urgencies drive King Numbers". The Whigs opposed President Jackson because they saw him as a demagogue recklessly exploiting the will of the majority, and they supported a strong Congress as a means of restraining that will within the bounds of a stable, constitutional framework. [151]

Despite their differences, both parties sought to portray themselves as the true protectors of an American political tradition of equality and self-government. [152] Though their Democratic rivals cast them as a continuation of the Federalists, the Whig Party's ideology was rooted in the agenda proposed by Clay and other nationalist Democratic-Republican Party leaders in the aftermath of the War of 1812. Many of these nationalist ideas were influenced by the economic program of Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton, but after the War of 1812 they were also supported by President James Madison, one of the founders of the Democratic-Republican Party. [11]

Unlike their Democratic rivals, many Whigs held an aversion to party organization that was rooted in a traditional American wariness of political parties. Whig opposition to parties waned after the 1830s, but many leading Whigs, including Webster and John Quincy Adams, never fully gave up their independence in favor of a party label. [153] The Whigs were also deeply committed to preventing executive tyranny, which they saw as an existential threat to republican self-government. [154]

Whig thought was typically rooted in evangelical Christianity, as expressed in the Second Great Awakening. Whigs linked moral progress and material progress— each needed the other. They supported Protestant religiosity and missions while being fearful of Catholics. Whigs believed that a higher stage of morality would be achieved when America brought wealth and opportunity to everyone. Colleges and public schools would promote upward social mobility, discouraging immorality and dissipation. The rapid business expansion was good, not the moral danger Democrats warned about. [155] One Whig, Horace Mann, played a pivotal role in establishing a public school system in Massachusetts that would be emulated by most states. [156]

Whig policies Edit

The Whigs celebrated Clay's vision of the American System, which promoted rapid economic and industrial growth in the United States through support for a national bank, high tariffs, a distribution policy, and federal funding for infrastructure projects. [157] After the Second Bank of the United States lost its federal charter in 1836, the Whigs favored the restoration of a national bank that could provide a uniform currency, ensure a consistent supply of credit, and attract private investors. [158] Through high tariffs, Clay and other Whigs hoped to generate revenue and encourage the establishment of domestic manufacturing, thereby freeing the United States from dependence on foreign imports. [159]

High tariffs were also designed to prevent a negative balance of trade and prevent the flow of currency and credit from the country. [6] Whigs generally opposed Democratic efforts to reduce federal land prices, implement a "preemption" policy that would allow squatters the right to purchase land before it came to auction and transfer ownership of western lands to the states. Instead, Whigs favored a "distribution" policy that would distribute revenues from federal land sales to the states [160] states could then invest that money in education, infrastructure projects, and other priorities. [161] The Whigs supported federally-financed internal improvements on the belief that only the federal government could construct the transportation system necessary for uniting the country commercially and culturally. [162]

Aside from the Whig economic program, various other issues confronted the Whig Party. Temperance never became a purely partisan issue between Whigs and Democrats, but Whigs tended to be more favorable to state prohibition laws than were Democrats. [163] Similarly, opinions on immigration did not break down strictly on party lines, but Whigs tended to have less favorable views towards immigration, partly because most recent immigrants aligned with the Democratic Party. [164]

In the mid-1840s, a group of Whigs unsuccessfully pushed a bill that would have implemented new paperwork requirements for naturalization and monitored the movements of immigrants in the United States more closely. The unwillingness of Whig leaders to push for more far-reaching changes, such as an extension of the five-year naturalization period, encouraged some Whigs to join nativist third parties. [165]

Whigs were less in favor of expansionism than their Democratic counterparts, and Whigs tended to oppose the Mexican–American War and the acquisition of new territories like Cuba. [166] John Mack Faragher writes that Democrats sought to balance the rising power of industrialization in the United States by following "Thomas Jefferson's vision of establishing agriculture in the new territories", while Whigs were content to develop the country within its present borders and feared that expansion would cause a divisive debate over slavery in the territories. [167]

Political scientist A. James Reichley writes that the Democrats and Whigs were "political institutions of a kind that had never existed before in history" because they commanded mass membership among voters and continued to function between elections. [168] Both parties drew support from voters of various classes, occupations, religions, and ethnicities. [169] Nonetheless, the Whig Party was based among middle-class conservatives. [170] [ incomplete short citation ] The central fault line between the parties concerned the emerging market economy, as Whigs embraced the economic and social changes caused by the market economy and Democrats rejected them. [171]

Whigs drew strength from the economic elites in both Northern cities and Southern plantation regions, but they also attracted support from other classes in most cities. [172] In many states, local rivalries pushed groups into one party or the other, though areas that favored internal improvements tended to favor Whigs. Catholics overwhelmingly voted Democrat, while Protestants were split between the two parties. Recent Irish and German immigrants generally supported the Democrats, but recent immigrants from England, Scotland, and Wales tended to support the Whigs. [173]

Although the Whigs and the rival Democratic Party established party structures that were unprecedented in terms of mass membership and continued functionality, both parties were still essentially coalitions of state party organizations and lacked strong cohesion at the national level. [174] The Whigs built on the strength of National Republicans and the Anti-Masonic Party to build up party organizations in Delaware, Maryland, and much of New England. [175]

Appealing to voters with a mix of economic and social policies, the Whigs established capable party organizations in Northeastern states like New York and Pennsylvania. [176] Unlike the Federalists and the National Republicans, the Whigs were competitive in the South, building strong state parties in Tennessee and Kentucky, and competitive parties in Louisiana, Georgia, and Virginia. [177] By emphasizing their moral conservatism, the Whigs were also able to expand into the Old Northwest and win elections in a state like Ohio and Indiana. [178] The Whigs were generally not as competitive in Democratic strongholds like New Hampshire, [179] Maine, Illinois, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas. [180]

Party leaders Edit

Henry Clay of Kentucky was the congressional leader of the party from the time of its formation in 1833 until his resignation from the Senate in 1842, and he remained an important Whig leader until his death in 1852. [181] His frequent rival for leadership of the party was Daniel Webster, who represented Massachusetts in the Senate and served as Secretary of State under three Whig presidents. [182] Clay and Webster each repeatedly sought the Whig presidential nomination, but, excepting Clay's nomination in 1844, the Whigs consistently nominated individuals who had served as generals, specifically William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and Winfield Scott. Harrison, Taylor, John Tyler, and Millard Fillmore all served as president, though Tyler was expelled from the Whig Party shortly after taking office in 1841. Benjamin Robbins Curtis was the lone Whig to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, [183] though later Supreme Court justices like John Marshall Harlan affiliated with the Whig Party early in their career before joining the Court as members of another party. [184]

During the time of the party's existence, numerous other Whig leaders emerged, including Truman Smith of Connecticut, who Holt describes as "the Whigs' closest equivalent to a modern national party chairman" for his efforts to raise money, deliver the Whig message, and build up the party nationwide. [185] In New York, William Seward and Thurlow Weed established an influential organization and competed with Millard Fillmore's faction of the party. [186] John M. Clayton of Delaware and John C. Crittenden of Kentucky were important border state Whigs who were influential in the Taylor administration. [187]

Supreme Court Justice John McLean of Ohio commanded a following in the party and was a perennial aspirant for the Whig presidential nomination, but he maintained his independence from the party and never ran for office as a Whig candidate. [188] Thomas Corwin of Ohio emerged in the 1840s as a leading opponent of the Mexican-American War, and he later served as Fillmore's Secretary of the Treasury. [189] William Cabell Rives of Virginia joined the Whig Party over dissatisfaction with Van Buren's handling of the Independent Treasury, and he became a prominent conservative Whig. [190]

In Georgia, future Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens and Robert Toombs competed for influence with their intra-party rival, John M. Berrien. [191] Future Republican President Abraham Lincoln served a single term as a Whig Congressman representing Illinois. [192]

One strength of the Whigs was a superb network of newspapers—their leading editor was Horace Greeley of the powerful New-York Daily Tribune. [ citation needed ] The Boston Atlas, under the leadership of Richard Haughton and Richard Hildreth, also emerged as an important Whig paper. [193] Influenced by the writings of Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, Henry Charles Carey became the leading Whig economist in the 1830s. Other prominent Whig-aligned intellectuals and public figures include journalist John G. Palfrey of the North American Review, novelist John P. Kennedy, and historian William H. Prescott. [194]

Factions Edit

The Whigs suffered greatly from factionalism throughout their existence as well as weak party loyalty that stood in contrast to the strong party discipline that was the hallmark of a tight Democratic Party organization. [195] Forged out of opposition to Jackson's perceived executive tyranny, the early Whig Party was divided between former National Republicans who favored federal measures to promote economic development and Southern states' rights advocates who wished to keep federal intervention in the economy to a minimum. [196] By the 1840s, Southern Whigs like John M. Berrien of Georgia and John Botts of Virginia endorsed interventionist measures, but other Southern Whigs like William Cabell Rives of Virginia actively sought to shift the party away from economic nationalism. [197]

The Whig Party faced persistent sectional divisions regarding slavery. Northern Whigs tended to be more anti-slavery than Northern Democrats, but during the 1830s Southern Whigs tended to more pro-slavery than their Democratic counterparts. [198] By the late 1840s, Southern Democrats had become more insistent regarding the expansion of slavery, and more open to the prospect of secession than their Whig counterparts. [199] Northern Whigs divided into two major factions concerning slavery: the anti-slavery Conscience Whigs and the pro-South Cotton Whigs. While the "Consciences" were noted for their moral opposition to slavery–many, like John Quincy Adams, brought over their crusading fervor from Anti-Masonic days [200]

The other faction was tied to the cotton-based textile industry, which depended on Southern cotton. They de-emphasized the slavery issue. In Massachusetts, notable Consciences included Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson and Charles Francis Adams while the Cottons were led by such figures as Edward Everett, Robert C. Winthrop and Abbott Lawrence. [201] During the mid-1850s, several Conscience leaders played an important role in the founding of the Republican Party. [202]


US History

Before the Civil War the collapse of the Whig Party and the formation of the Free Soil and the Republican parties showed that
a. opposing views on slavery affected national unity
b. Americans were united in their political views
c. major political parties received most of their support in the South
d. Americans were divided over the issue of unlimited coinage of silver

I'll be glad to check your answer.

oh yes sorry I think it is A but I'm not sure to be honest


Contents

End of the First Party System Edit

During the 1790s, the first major U.S. parties arose in the form of the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Thomas Jefferson. Federalist strength declined after the 1800 presidential election and especially after the War of 1812, leaving the Democratic-Republicans as the sole major party. After 1815, the Democratic-Republicans became increasingly polarized. A nationalist wing, led by Henry Clay, favored policies such as the Second Bank of the United States, the implementation of a protective tariff. A second group, the Old Republicans, opposed these policies, instead favoring a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution and a weak federal government. [1]

In the 1824 presidential election, the Democratic-Republican congressional nominating caucus nominated Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford for president, but Clay, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, and General Andrew Jackson all ignored the results of the caucus and sought the presidency. [2] Crawford favored state sovereignty and a strict constructionist view of the Constitution, while Calhoun (who ultimately dropped out of the race), Clay, and Adams all favored high tariffs and the national bank. [3] While the other candidates based their candidacies on their long tenure as congressmen, ambassadors, or members of the Cabinet, Jackson's appeal rested on his military service, especially in the Battle of New Orleans. [4] Jackson won a plurality of the popular and electoral vote in the 1824 election, but, with Clay's support, Adams was elected as president in a contingent election held in the House of Representatives. [5]

National Republicans Edit

In the years following the 1824 election, the Democratic-Republican Party split into two groups. Supporters of President Adams and Clay joined with many former Federalists such as Daniel Webster to form a group informally known as the "Adams party". [6] Meanwhile, supporters of Jackson, Calhoun, [a] and Crawford joined together to oppose the Adams administration's nationalist agenda, becoming informally known as "Jackonians". [6] Outside of New England, many of the Adams administration's allies defined themselves more in their opposition to Jackson than in their support of Adams. [8] Due in part to the superior organization and unity of his fledgling party, Jackson defeated President Adams in the 1828 presidential election, taking 56 percent of the popular vote. [9] With the defeat of Adams, Clay emerged as the leader of the National Republican Party, a political party opposed to Jackson followers of Jackson, meanwhile, organized into the Democratic Party. [10]

Despite Jackson's decisive victory in the 1828 election, National Republicans initially believed that Jackson's party would collapse once Jackson took office. Vice President Calhoun split from the administration in 1831, but differences over the tariff prevented Calhoun's followers from joining the National Republicans. Other actions of the administration, including a policy of Indian removal, the Maysville Road veto, and acceptance of tariffs and some federally-funded infrastructure projects, solidified Jackson's popularity. [11] Meanwhile, the Anti-Masonic Party formed following the disappearance and possible murder of William Morgan in 1826. Clay rejected overtures from the Anti-Masonic Party, and his attempt to convince Calhoun to serve as his running mate failed, leaving the opposition to Jackson split among different leaders when the National Republicans nominated Clay for president. [12]

Hoping to make the national bank a key issue of the 1832 election, the National Republicans convinced national bank president Nicholas Biddle to request an extension of the national bank's charter, but their strategy backfired when Jackson successfully portrayed his veto of the recharter as a victory for the people against an elitist institution. [13] Jackson won another decisive victory in the 1832 presidential election, taking 55 percent of the national popular vote and 88 percent of the popular vote in the slave states south of Kentucky and Maryland. [14] Clay's defeat discredited the National Republican Party, encouraging those opposed to Jackson to seek to create a more effective opposition party. [15]

Shortly after Jackson's re-election, South Carolina passed a measure to "nullify" the Tariff of 1832, beginning the Nullification Crisis. Jackson strongly denied the right of South Carolina to nullify federal law, but the crisis was resolved after Congress passed the Tariff of 1833. [16] The Nullification Crisis briefly scrambled the partisan divisions that had emerged after 1824, as many within the Jacksonian coalition opposed President Jackson's threats of force against South Carolina, while some opposition leaders like Daniel Webster supported them. [17] In South Carolina and other states, those opposed to Jackson began to form small "Whig" parties. [18] The Whig label implicitly compared "King Andrew" to King George III, the King of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. [19]

Jackson's decision to remove government deposits from the national bank [b] ended any possibility of a Webster-Jackson alliance and helped to solidify partisan lines. [22] The removal of the deposits drew opposition from both pro-bank National Republicans and states' rights Southerners like Willie Person Mangum of North Carolina, the latter of whom accused Jackson of flouting the Constitution. [23] In late 1833, Clay began to hold a series of dinners with opposition leaders in order to settle on a candidate to oppose Martin Van Buren, the likely Democratic nominee in the 1836 presidential election. While Jackson's opponents could not agree on a single presidential candidate, they coordinated in the Senate to oppose Jackson's initiatives. [24] Historian Michael Holt writes that the "birth of the Whig Party" can be dated to Clay and his allies taking control of the Senate in December 1833. [25]

The National Republicans, including Clay and Webster, formed the core of the Whig Party, but many Anti-Masons like William H. Seward of New York and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania also joined. Several prominent Democrats defected to the Whigs, including Mangum, former Attorney General John Berrien, and John Tyler of Virginia. [19] The Whig Party's first major action was to censure Jackson for the removal of the national bank deposits, thereby establishing opposition to Jackson's executive power as the organizing principle of the new party. [26] In doing so, the Whigs were able to shed the elitist image that had persistently hindered the National Republicans. [27] Throughout 1834 and 1835, the Whigs successfully incorporated National Republican and Anti-Masonic state-level organizations and established new state party organizations in Southern states like North Carolina and Georgia. [28]

Van Buren and the election of 1836 Edit

Early successes in various states made many Whigs optimistic about victory in 1836, but an improving economy bolstered Van Buren's standing ahead of the election. [29] The Whigs also faced the difficulty of uniting former National Republicans, Anti-Masons, and states' rights Southerners around one candidate, and the party suffered an early blow when Calhoun announced that he would refuse to support any candidate opposed to the doctrine of nullification. [30] As party leaders were unable to organize a presidential nominating convention, legislative caucuses in the states instead nominated candidates, resulting in the nomination of multiple Whig candidates for president. The presence of multiple Whig presidential candidates in the 1836 election was a reflection of a divided party rather than the result of a concerted strategy by party leaders, though some Whigs did express hope that nominating multiple candidates would force a contingent election in the House of Representatives by denying Van Buren a majority of the electoral vote. [31]

Northern Whigs cast aside both Clay and Webster in favor of General William Henry Harrison, a former senator who had led U.S. forces in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. Though he had not previously been affiliated with the National Republicans, Harrison indicated that he shared the party's concerns over Jackson's executive power and favored federal investments in infrastructure. Though he was eclipsed by Harrison, Webster remained in the race, but only as the Whig candidate in his home state of Massachusetts. [32] Southern Whigs coalesced around Senator Hugh Lawson White, a long-time Jackson ally who opposed Van Buren's candidacy. Capitalizing on opposition to Van Buren and the growing prominence of the abolitionist movement, White and his followers helped establish and grow Whig party organizations throughout the South. [33] Ultimately, Van Buren won a majority of the electoral and popular vote in the 1836 election, though the Whigs improved on Clay's 1832 performance in the South and West. Harrison won Kentucky and several Northern states, White carried Tennessee and Georgia, Webster won his home state, and Willie Mangum won South Carolina's eleven electoral votes. [34]

Shortly after Van Buren took office, an economic crisis known as the Panic of 1837 struck the nation. [35] Land prices plummeted, industries laid off employees, and banks failed. According to historian Daniel Walker Howe, the economic crisis of the late 1830s and early 1840s was the most severe recession in U.S. history until the Great Depression. [36] Van Buren's economic response centered on establishing the Independent Treasury system, essentially a series of vaults that would hold government deposits. [37] As the debate over the Independent Treasury continued, William Cabell Rives and some other Democrats who favored a more activist government defected to the Whig Party, while Calhoun and his followers joined the Democratic Party. [38] The Whigs experienced a series of electoral successes in 1837 and 1838, sparking hopes that the party could win the upcoming 1840 presidential election. [39] Whig leaders agreed to hold the party's first national convention in December 1839 in order to select the Whig presidential nominee. [40]

Election of 1840 Edit

By early 1838, Clay had emerged as the front-runner due to his support in the South and his spirited opposition to Van Buren's Independent Treasury. [41] However, a recovering economy convinced other Whigs to support Harrison, who was generally seen as the Whig candidate best able to win over Democrats and new voters. [42] Another candidate emerged in the form of General Winfield Scott, who earned acclaim for avoiding tensions with Britain during the Rebellions of 1837–1838 in Canada. [43] Clay led on the first ballot of the 1839 Whig National Convention, but, with the crucial support of Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania and Thurlow Weed of New York, Harrison won the Whig nomination on the fifth ballot. [44] For vice president, the Whigs nominated John Tyler, a former states' rights Democrat chosen to be on the ticket primarily because other Southern supporters of Clay refused to serve as Harrison's running mate. [45]

Log cabins and hard cider became the dominant symbols of the Whig campaign as the party sought to portray Harrison as a man of the people. [46] The Whigs also assailed Van Buren's handling of the economy and argued that traditional Whig policies such as the restoration of a national bank and the implementation of protective tariff rates would help to restore the economy. [47] Harrison himself avoided taking strong stances on issues like the national bank, but he pledged to serve only a single term, promised to defer to Congress on most matters of policy, and attacked Van Buren's alleged executive tyranny. [48] With the economy still in a downturn, Harrison decisively defeated Van Buren, taking a wide majority of the electoral vote and just under 53 percent of the popular vote. Voter turnout jumped from 57.8 percent in 1836 to 80.2 percent in 1840, with Whigs capturing a decisive majority of these new voters. In concurrent elections, the Whigs took control of Congress. [49]

Tyler administration Edit

With the election of the first Whig presidential administration in the party's history, Clay and his allies prepared to pass ambitious domestic policies such as the restoration of the national bank, the distribution of federal land sales revenue to the states, a national bankruptcy law, and increased tariff rates. [50] Harrison took office in 1841 and appointed Webster as Secretary of State Clay chose to remain in the Senate, but Clay allies John J. Crittenden, Thomas Ewing, and John Bell all joined Harrison's Cabinet. [51] Harrison died just one month into his term, thereby elevating Vice President Tyler to the presidency. [52] Tyler supported some parts of the Whig legislative program, including the repeal of Van Buren's Independent Treasury system [53] and the passage of the Preemption Act of 1841, which was the first law in U.S. history that allowed for voluntary bankruptcy. [54] Despite those points of agreement, Tyler had never accepted much of the Whig economic program and he soon clashed with Clay and other congressional Whigs. [55]

Following the repeal of the Independent Treasury, the Whigs turned their attention to the creation of a new national bank. [56] Tyler vetoed Clay's national bank bill in August 1841, holding that the bill was unconstitutional. [57] Congress passed a second bill based on an earlier proposal made by Treasury Secretary Ewing that was tailored to address Tyler's constitutional concerns, but Tyler vetoed that bill as well. [58] In response, every Cabinet member but Webster resigned, and the Whig congressional caucus expelled Tyler from the party on September 13, 1841. [59] Tyler quickly assembled a new Cabinet consisting of states' rights and anti-Clay Whigs, purged allies of Clay from federal positions, and began a campaign to win over various Whig leaders, including journalists Thurlow Weed and Horace Greeley. [60]

Due to the ongoing economic troubles of the Panic of 1837, as well as the relatively low tariff rates set by the Tariff of 1833, the government faced a growing budget deficit. [61] Whigs in Congress, led by the House Ways and Means Chairman Millard Fillmore, passed in each house a bill restoring tariffs to the levels set by the Tariff of 1832. Tyler signed the Tariff of 1842 on August 30, 1842, but vetoed a separate bill to restore the policy of distributing federal land sales revenue to the states. [62] Shortly afterwards, the Whigs began impeachment proceedings against Tyler, but they ultimately declined to impeach him because they believed that his likely acquittal would devastate the party. [63] The Whigs lost numerous races in the 1842 mid-term elections, as the country continued to suffer from the effects of the Panic of 1837. The Whigs had promised "relief and reform," and voters punished the party for the lack of change. [64] According to historian Michael C. Holt, the failure of the Whigs to enact their policies after their sweeping victories in the 1840 elections permanently damaged the party's credibility and discouraged Whig voters from turning out for elections in the 1840s and 1850s. [65] Discontent with the Whig Party also helped fuel the rise of the Liberty Party, an abolitionist third party consisting largely of former Whigs. [66]

Election of 1844 Edit

Beginning in mid-1842, Tyler increasingly began to court Democrats, appointing them to his Cabinet and other positions. [67] At the same time, many Whig state organizations repudiated the Tyler administration and endorsed Clay as the party's candidate in the 1844 presidential election. [68] After Webster resigned from the Cabinet in May 1843 following the conclusion of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty, Tyler made the annexation of Texas his key priority. The annexation of Texas was widely viewed as a pro-slavery initiative as it would add another slave state to the union, and most leaders of both parties opposed opening the question of annexation in 1843 due to the fear of stoking the debate over slavery. Tyler was nonetheless determined to pursue annexation because he believed that the British conspired to abolish slavery in Texas [c] and because he saw the issue as a means to reelection, either through the Democratic Party or through a new party. [70] In April 1844, Secretary of State John C. Calhoun reached a treaty with Texas providing for the annexation of that country. [71]

Clay and Van Buren, the two front-runners for major party presidential nominations in the 1844 election, both announced their opposition to annexation, and the Senate blocked the annexation treaty. [72] To the surprise of Clay and other Whigs, the 1844 Democratic National Convention rejected Van Buren in favor of James K. Polk and established a platform calling for the acquisition of both Texas and Oregon Country. [73] A protege of Andrew Jackson, Polk had hoped to win the vice presidential nomination prior to the convention, but Democratic delegates instead made Polk the first "dark horse" presidential nominee in U.S. history. [74] Having won the presidential nomination at the 1844 Whig National Convention unopposed, Clay and other Whigs were initially confident that they would defeat the divided Democrats and their relatively obscure candidate. [75] However, Democratic leaders were able to convince all three of Van Buren, Calhoun, and Tyler to support Polk, bolstering the Democratic campaign. [76] Ultimately, Polk won the election, taking 49.5 of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote the swing of just over one percent of the vote in New York would have given Clay the victory. [77] Southern voters responded to Polk's calls for annexation, while in the North, Democrats benefited from the growing anomisoty towards the Whig Party among Catholic and foreign-born voters. [78] Though Clay refrained from making nativist appeals during the campaign, [79] his running mate, Theodore Frelinghuysen, was publicly associated with nativist and anti-Catholic groups. [80]

Polk administration Edit

In the final weeks of Tyler's presidency, a small group of Southern Whigs joined with congressional Democrats to pass a joint resolution providing for the annexation of Texas. Texas subsequently became a state in 1845. [81] Following the annexation of Texas, Polk began preparations for a potential war with Mexico, which still regarded Texas as a part of its republic and contended that Texas's true southern border was the Nueces River rather than the Rio Grande River. [82] In April, a skirmish known as the Thornton Affair broke out on the northern side of the Rio Grande River, ending in the death or capture of dozens of American soldiers. [83] In a subsequent message to Congress asking for a declaration of war, Polk explained his decision to send Taylor to the Rio Grande, and argued that Mexico had invaded American territory by crossing the Rio Grande River. [84] Many Whigs argued that Polk had provoked war with Mexico by sending Taylor to the Rio Grande, but most Whigs feared that opposing the war would be politically unpopular, so only a minority of Whigs voted against the declaration of war. [85] As the war continued, most Whigs continually praised the soldiers fighting the war and approved military appropriations bills, but at the same time attacked Polk's handling of the war as both incompetent and tyrannical. [86]

Taylor won a series of battles against Mexican forces in Northern Mexico, but victories in that theater failed to convince the Mexican government to agree to the territorial concessions sought by Polk. [87] While the war in Mexico continued, Polk submitted a treaty providing for the partition of Oregon Country with Britain the Senate ratified the Oregon Treaty in a 41–14 vote, with opposition coming from those who sought the full territory. [88] Polk also pushed through the restoration of the Independent Treasury System and a bill that reduced tariffs opposition to the passage of these Democratic policies helped to reunify and reinvigorate the Whigs. [89] The Whigs won numerous congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative seats in the 1846 elections, boosting the party's hopes of winning the presidency in 1848. [90]

In August 1846, Polk asked Congress to appropriate $2 million in hopes of using that money as a down payment for the purchase of California in a treaty with Mexico. [91] Polk's request ignited opposition to the war, as Polk had never before made public his desire to annex parts of Mexico, aside from lands claimed by Texas. [91] Representative David Wilmot (D-Pennsylvania) offered an amendment known as the Wilmot Proviso, which would ban slavery in any newly acquired lands. [92] The Wilmot Proviso passed the House with the support of Northern Whigs and Northern Democrats, breaking the normal pattern of partisan division in congressional votes, but it was defeated in the Senate. [93] Nonetheless, clear divisions remained between the two parties on territorial acquisitions. Most Democrats joined Polk in seeking to acquire vast tracts of land from Mexico, but most Whigs opposed territorial growth, either because they wanted to prevent the spread of slavery or because they feared the debate over the status of slavery in the new territories would be divisive. [94]

An army under General Winfield Scott captured Mexico City in September 1847, marking the end of major military operations in the war. [95] In February 1848, Mexican and U.S. negotiators reached the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which provided for the cession of Alta California and New Mexico. [96] Despite Whig objections to the acquisition of Mexican territory, the treaty was ratified with the support of majorities of both Democrat and Whig senators. The Whigs voted for the treaty largely because ratification brought the war to an immediate end. [97] Differences over slavery prevented Congress from passing any legislation to organize territorial governments in the Mexican Cession, as Northerners sought to exclude it and Southerners sought to allow it in the newly acquired territories. [98]

Election of 1848 Edit

With the economy improving during Polk's presidency, Whig leaders like John J. Crittenden of Kentucky began to look to General Taylor as a presidential candidates in the hopes that the party could run on Taylor's personal popularity rather than economic issues. [99] Taylor and his allies carefully cultivated his reputation as a plain-spoken man who put the good of the country above partisan squabbling. [100] His candidacy faced significant resistance in the Whig Party due to his lack of public commitment to Whig policies and his association with the Mexican-American War. [101] In late 1847, Clay emerged as Taylor's main opponent for the Whig nomination, appealing especially to Northern Whigs with his opposition to the war and the acquisition of new territory. [102] The ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo badly damaged Clay's candidacy in North, as Clay was unwilling to endorse the Wilmot Proviso but could no longer campaign on a platform opposed to territorial acquisition. [103] Many anti-Clay Northerners backed the candidacy of Winfield Scott, who had distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War and who, unlike Taylor, had a long association with the Whig Party. [104]

Taylor won 85 of the 111 slave state delegates on the first presidential ballot of the 1848 Whig National Convention, while free state delegates spread their votes among Clay, Taylor, Scott, and Webster. [105] Taylor clinched the nomination on the fourth ballot after several delegates from both sections switched their support from Clay to Taylor. [106] For vice president, the Whigs nominated Millard Fillmore of New York, a pro-Clay Northerner. [107] Honoring his pledge to serve only one term, Polk declined to seek re-election in 1848, [108] and the Democrats nominated Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan. Cass drew support from some Northern and Southern Democrats with his doctrine of popular sovereignty, under which each territory would decide the legal status of slavery. [109] Anti-slavery Northern Whigs disaffected with Taylor joined together with Democratic supporters of Martin Van Buren and some members of the Liberty Party to found the new Free Soil Party the party nominated a ticket of Van Buren and Whig Charles Francis Adams Sr. and campaigned against the spread of slavery into the territories. [110]

The Whig campaign in the North received a boost when Taylor released a public letter in which he stated that he favored Whig principles and would defer to Congress after taking office, thereby reassuring some wavering Whigs. [111] During the campaign, Northern Whig leaders touted traditional Whig policies like support for infrastructure spending and increased tariff rates, [112] but Southern Whigs largely eschewed economic policy, instead emphasizing that Taylor's status as a slaveholder meant that he could be trusted on the issue of slavery more so than Cass. [113] Ultimately, Taylor won the election with a majority of the electoral vote and a plurality of the popular vote. Taylor improved on Clay's performance in the South and benefited from the defection of many Democrats to Van Buren in the North. [114]

Taylor administration Edit

Upon taking office, Taylor and his allies attempted to transform the Whig Party into a new organization centered on Taylor and centrist positions on issues like slavery and the tariff. [115] In making Cabinet selections, Taylor selected individuals who were moderate on the issue of slavery and who had supported Taylor over Clay and other Whig leaders prior to the 1848 Whig convention. [116] With Crittenden unwilling to leave his position as governor of Kentucky, Taylor appointed Crittenden's ally, John M. Clayton of Delaware, to the key position of Secretary of State. [117] Reflecting the administration's desire to find a middle ground between traditional Whig and Democratic policies, Secretary of the Treasury William M. Meredith issued a report calling for an increase in tariff rates, but not to the levels seen under the Tariff of 1842. In part due do the federal deficits in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, Meredith's report largely abandoned the traditional Whig policy of favoring federally-funded internal improvements. [118] Meredith's policies were not adopted, and, partly due to the strong economic growth of the late 1840s and late 1850s, traditional Whig economic stances would increasingly lose their salience after 1848. [119]

When Taylor assumed office, the organization of state and territorial governments and the status of slavery in the Mexican Cession remained the major issue facing Congress. [120] To sidestep the issue of the Wilmot Proviso, the Taylor administration proposed that the lands of the Mexican Cession be admitted as states without first organizing territorial governments thus, slavery in the area would be left to the discretion of state governments rather than the federal government. [121] Taylor's plan was complicated by several factors, including Democratic control of Congress, ongoing sectional tensions over the status of slavery, and Texas's claim to all land in the Mexican Cession east of the Rio Grande River. [122] In January 1850, Senator Clay introduced a separate proposal which included the admission of California as a free state, the cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief, the establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories, a ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia for sale, and a more stringent fugitive slave law. [123] Clay's proposal won the backing of many Southern and Northern leaders, [124] but Taylor opposed Clay's plan, since he favored granting California statehood immediately and denied the legitimacy of Texas's claims over New Mexico. [125]

Fillmore and the Compromise of 1850 Edit

Taylor died in July 1850 and was succeeded by Vice President Fillmore. [126] In contrast to John Tyler, Fillmore's legitimacy and authority as president was widely accepted by members of Congress and the public. [127] Partly to indicate his independence from Taylor, Fillmore accepted the resignation of Taylor's entire Cabinet and set about building a new one. [128] The new president hoped to use the process of selecting the cabinet to re-unify the Whig Party, and he sought to balance the cabinet among North and South, pro-compromise and anti-compromise, and pro-Taylor and anti-Taylor. [129] Among those who joined Fillmore's Cabinet were Crittenden, Thomas Corwin of Ohio, and Webster, whose support for the Compromise had outraged his Massachusetts constituents. [130] Webster emerged as both the most controversial and most important figure in Fillmore's Cabinet. [131] Meanwhile, with the apparent collapse of his proposed compromise, Clay took a temporary leave from the Senate, and Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois took the lead in advocating for a compromise based largely on Clay's proposals. [132]

In an August 1850 message, Fillmore urged Congress to settle the Texas–New Mexico boundary dispute as quickly as possible. [133] With Fillmore's support, a Senate bill providing for a final settlement of Texas's borders won passage days after Fillmore delivered his message. Under the terms of the bill, the U.S. would assume Texas's debts, while Texas's northern border was set at the 36° 30' parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian. The bill attracted the support of a bipartisan coalition of Whigs and Democrats from both sections, though most opposition to the bill came from the South. [134] The Senate quickly moved onto the other major issues, passing bills that provided for the admission of California, the organization of New Mexico Territory, and the establishment of a new fugitive slave law. [135] Passage of what became known as the Compromise of 1850 soon followed in the House of Representatives. [136] Though the future of slavery in New Mexico, Utah, and other territories remained unclear, Fillmore himself described the Compromise of 1850 as a "final settlement" of sectional issues. [137]

Following the passage of the Compromise of 1850, Fillmore's enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 became the central issue of his administration. The Fugitive Slave Act created the first national system of law enforcement by appointing federal commissioner in every county to hear fugitive slave cases and enforce the fugitive slave law. Many in the North felt that the Fugitive Slave Act effectively brought slavery into their home states, and while the abolitionist movement remained weak, many Northerners increasingly came to detest slavery. [138] The Whig Party became badly split between pro-Compromise Whigs like Fillmore and Webster and anti-Compromise Whigs like William Seward, who demanded the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. [139] In the Deep South, most Whigs joined with pro-Compromise Democrats to form a unionist party during the 1850 elections, decisively defeating their opponents and ending any threat of Southern secession in 1850. [140] Though Webster hoped to supplant the Whig Party with a new Union Party, the unionist movement did not spread outside the Deep South and had largely collapsed by 1852. [141]

Election of 1852 Edit

Though Fillmore's enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act made him unpopular among many in the North, he retained considerable support from the South, where he was seen as the only candidate capable of uniting the party. Meanwhile, Secretary Webster had long coveted the presidency and, though in poor health, planned a final attempt to gain the White House. [142] Fillmore was sympathetic to the ambitions of his longtime friend, but was reluctant to rule out accepting the party's 1852 nomination, as he feared doing so would allow Seward to gain control of the party. [142] A third candidate emerged in the form of General Winfield Scott, who, like previously successful Whig presidential nominees William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, had earned fame for his martial accomplishments. Scott had supported the Compromise of 1850, but his association with Senator William Seward of New York made him unacceptable to Southern Whigs. Thus, approaching the June 1852 Whig National Convention in Baltimore, the major candidates were Fillmore, Webster, and Scott. [142] On the convention's first presidential ballot, Fillmore received 133 of the necessary 147 votes, while Scott won 131 and Webster won 29. Fillmore and Webster supporters sought to broker a deal to unite behind either candidate, but they were unsuccessful and balloting continued. [143] On the 48th ballot, Webster delegates began to defect to Scott, and the general gained the nomination on the 53rd ballot. [143] For vice president, the Whigs nominated Secretary of the Navy William Alexander Graham of North Carolina. [144]

The 1852 Democratic National Convention nominated a dark horse candidate in the form of former New Hampshire senator Franklin Pierce, who had been out of national politics for nearly a decade before 1852. The nomination of Pierce, a Northerner sympathetic to the Southern view on slavery, united Democrats from both the North and South. [145] As the Whig and Democratic national conventions had approved similar platforms, the 1852 election focused largely on the personalities of Scott and Pierce. [146] Though most Free Soil leaders favored Scott over Pierce, the party once again ran a presidential ticket in 1852, nominating Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire for president. At the same time, some pro-Compromise Whigs and nativist groups ran Webster on an independent ticket. [d] Both candidacies cut into Scott's base of support and signaled Whig discontent in the North. [148] The 1852 elections proved to be disastrous for the Whig Party, as Scott was defeated by a wide margin and the Whigs lost several congressional and state elections. [149] Scott won just four states and 44 percent of the popular vote, while Pierce won just under 51 percent of the popular vote and a large majority of the electoral vote. [150] Scott amassed more votes than Taylor had in most Northern states, but Democrats benefited from a surge of new voters in the North and the collapse of Whig strength in much of the South. [151]

Pierce administration Edit

Despite their decisive loss in the 1852 elections, most Whig leaders believed the party could recover during the Pierce presidency in much the same way that it had recovered under President Polk. [152] However, the strong economy still prevented the Whig economic program from regaining salience, and the party failed to develop an effective platform on which to campaign. [153] The debate over the 1854 Kansas–Nebraska Act, which effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery in territories north of the 36°30′ parallel, shook up traditional partisan alignments. [154] The party divided along sectional lines, as Southern Whigs supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act and Northern Whigs strongly opposed it. [155]

Across the Northern states, the Kansas–Nebraska Act gave rise to anti-Nebraska coalitions consisting of Free Soilers, Whigs, and Democrats opposed to the Kansas–Nebraska Act. In Michigan and Wisconsin, these two coalitions labeled themselves as the Republican Party, but similar groups in other states initially took on different names. [156] Like their Free Soil predecessors, Republican leaders generally did not call for the abolition of slavery, but instead sought to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories. [157] Another political coalition appeared in the form of the nativist and anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement, which eventually organized itself into the American Party. [154] Both the Republican Party and the Know Nothings portrayed themselves as the natural Whig heirs in the battle against Democratic executive tyranny, but the Republicans focused on the "Slave Power" and the Know Nothings focused on the supposed danger of mass immigration and a Catholic conspiracy. While the Republican Party almost exclusively appealed to Northerners, the Know Nothings gathered many adherents in both the North and South some individuals joined both groups even while they remained part of the Whig Party or the Democratic Party. [158]

Congressional Democrats suffered huge losses in the mid-term elections of 1854, as voters provided support to a wide array of new parties opposed to the Democratic Party. [159] Though several successful congressional candidates had campaigned only as Whigs, most congressional candidates who were not affiliated with the Democratic Party had campaigned either independently of the Whig Party or in fusion with another party. [160] As cooperation between Northern and Southern Whigs appeared increasingly unlikely, leaders from both sections continued to abandon the party. While Seward and many other Northern leaders increasingly gravitated towards the Republican Party, Fillmore and his allies settled on a strategy of using the Know Nothings as a vehicle for Fillmore's pro-union candidacy in the 1856 election. A smaller group of Northern Whig leaders, including Edward Everett, rejected both new parties and continued to adhere to the Whig Party. [161] In the South, most Whigs abandoned their party for the Know Nothings, though some joined the Democratic Party instead. [162]

1856 election Edit

Though he did not share the nativist views of the Know Nothings, in 1855 Fillmore became a member of the Know Nothing movement and encouraged his Whig followers to join as well. [163] Seeking to ensure the party would avoid the sectional tensions that had plagued the Whigs, the Know Nothings adopted a platform pledging not to repeal the Fugitive Slave Act or the Kansas-Nebraska Act. [164] In September 1855, Seward led his faction of Whigs into the Republican Party, effectively marking the end of the Whig Party as an independent and significant political force. Seward stated that the Whigs had been "a strong and vigorous party," but also a party that was "moved by panics and fears to emulate the Democratic Party in its practiced subserviency" to the Slave Power. [165] Thus, the 1856 presidential election became a three-sided contest between Democrats, Know Nothings, and Republicans. [166]

The Know Nothing National Convention nominated Fillmore for president, but disagreements over the party platform's stance on slavery caused many Northern Know Nothings to abandon the party. [167] Meanwhile, the 1856 Republican National Convention chose John C. Frémont as the party's presidential candidate. [168] The defection of many Northern Know Nothings, combined with the caning of Charles Sumner and other events that stoked sectional tensions, bolstered Republicans throughout the North. [169] During his campaign, Fillmore minimized the issue of nativism, instead attempting to use his campaign as a platform for unionism and a revival of the Whig Party. [170] Seeking to rally support from Whigs who had yet to join another party, Fillmore and his allies organized the sparsely-attended 1856 Whig National Convention, which nominated Fillmore for president. [171] Ultimately, Democrat James Buchanan won the election with a majority of the electoral vote and 45 percent of the popular vote Frémont won most of the remaining electoral votes and took 33 percent of the popular vote, while Fillmore won 21.6 percent of the popular vote and just eight electoral votes. Fillmore largely retained Taylor and Scott voters in the South, but most former Whigs in the North voted for Frémont rather than Fillmore. [172]


The Whigs and The Republicans

The last time a major Political Party broke apart was in the early 1850s when the Whig Party collapsed because of the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise was an effort by Party leaders to settle the various controversies between North and South with a classic set of tradeoffs. The Compromise was made possible by the death of President Zachary Taylor on 9 July 1850.

The Compromise of 1850 was consisted of five separate bills. The first was to organize the Territory of New Mexico which was part of the Mexican Cession of 1848 that Mexico ceded to the U.S. in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Texas claimed most of what is now New Mexico so the bill to organize the New Mexico Territory consisted of a payment to Texas for the land east of the Rio Grande River up to the modern border of Texas (this was approved by the Texas State Legislature). The Federal Government also assumed Texas’ debt resulting from its War of Independence from Mexico. In addition, slavery would be decided by the people of the Territory by Popular Sovereignty. This was a rejection of the Wilmot Proviso that would have banned slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War. It was proposed by David Wilmot (D-PA) in August of 1846. It passed in the House in 1846 and 1847 but was defeated in the Senate so it never became law. Although it was never passed by Congress it was very important to the Northern Anti-Slavery forces.

Below is the House vote on organizing the New Mexico Territory. The roll call split Southerners with many Southern Democrats opposing the bill. They opposed the reduction in the size of the slave state of Texas. However, most Southerners voted for the bill because they felt the tradeoff of reducing Texas was worth being rid of the Wilmot Proviso and the chance of organizing New Mexico as a Slave state.

In Contrast to the Southerners, most Northerners voted against the bill but enough Northerners voted with the Southerners to squeeze the bill through the House.

Second up was the admission of California as a Free state. This was an easy bill to pass simply because of the massive amount of gold flowing into the economy from California. The opposition was mainly from Southern Democrats.

The Utah Territory was organized on the same terms of New Mexico.

The most controversial part of the Compromise for Northerners was the Fugitive Slave Law. However, as shown below, it passed by a comfortable margin largely along sectional lines with significant Northern Democratic support but with substantial Northern Whig opposition.

Finally, the Slave Trade but not Slavery itself was abolished in the District of Columbia.

The Fugitive Slave Law roiled the Northern Whigs during 1851-52 and that marked the beginning of the unraveling of the Whig Party. The Party structure of the 32nd Congress (1851-52) simply collapsed as documented by Joel Silbey’s
The Shrine of Party: Congressional Voting Behavior, 1841-1852 and Poole and Rosenthal (1997) chapters 3 and 5. This is shown in the roll call vote below which reaffirmed the support of the House for the Fugitive Slave Law. Contrast this vote with those above. The spatial structure of the parties has begun to collapse. The absence of a “channel” between the two parties shows a lack of party line voting. Indeed, only 75% of the voting is accounted for by two dimensions in the 32nd.

What finally delivered the decisive blow to the Whig Party and set the course for bloody conflict until the Civil War itself broke out in April of 1861 was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The main dimension of conflict is now South (on the left of the first dimension) vs. North (on the right of the first dimension).

Finally, echoing the analysis in Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting (chapter 5) by 1858 the Whigs were gone and the Republican Party had emerged as the unquestioned second major party to oppose the Democrats. The roll call below was on a proposal by the Democratic majority to postpone President Buchanan’s message on the admission of Kansas to the Union. The infamous Lecompton Constitution which was pro-slavery had lost in a referendum on 4 January 1858. The Kansas Constitution was accepted by the Senate but voted down in the House later in the year.

In the roll call below the Republican Party is on the anti-slavery (right side) of the first dimension and the pro-slavery forces are on the left side of the first dimension. The Whig Party was gone.

As we argued in our last post the Republican Party in the House seems very likely to split into two factions as the result of the 2016 elections. Many Republican voters (enough to make Donald Trump the nominee) are angry at the Republican “Establishment” for not stopping President Obama on a variety of issues. The various charges that Paul Ryan is some sort of secret agent of “The Establishment” echo craziness from the days of None Dare Call it Treason (1964) and A Choice Not an Echo (1964) with their conspiracy theories about Communists and New York Bankers.

Unlike in the 1850s there is no second dimension of Congressional voting. Almost all issues — including lifestyle and affective — have been drawn into the first dimension. The split in the Republican Party will occur on this strange dimension that mixes economic and the classic “social” issues. Below is a figure we used in an earlier post showing a smoothed histogram of the 114th House:

Suppose the split occurs somewhere to the right of Gowdy. Not everyone to the right of Gowdy listens to “talk radio from Area 51”. So some sorting out will occur between the two factions — traditional Republican Conservatives vs. “Conspiracy Republicans”. Assuming that Hillary Clinton wins the 2016 Presidential election, it is difficult to see how the Republican Party could ever again win the Presidency given the alienation of Hispanics, Blacks, and Social Liberals from the Republican Party. In addition, the traditional Internationalist Conservative Republicans will be willing to make deals with President Hillary Clinton to increase Defense Spending which will mean the end of the sequester. This will further divide the Republicans.

But what might finally trigger a realignment of the New Deal Party System are the obvious divisions in the Democratic Party that to this point have been papered over by their solid opposition to the Republicans. Income inequality has rapidly increased. The bottom 40% of the income distribution has not moved since the mid 1970s.

Where has the money gone? To the mega-rich, especially the denizens of Wall Street who looted the economy leading up the the Great Recession. The graph below shows the spectacular run-up in wages in the Financial Sector (including insurance) relative to other sectors of the economy. No wonder all of the smart mathematics graduates from the Ivy League were lured to Wall Street!

Finally, the runup in the share of income of the top 1% continues.

What does this rapid rise in inequality mean for a President Hillary Clinton? Well, like Willie Sutton, she will have to go where the money is if she is going to fund all of her promises. That means she will have to steeply raise taxes on her supporters on Wall Street and the socially liberal rich. Good Luck!


Origins

The Whigs were modernizers who saw President Andrew Jackson as a dangerous man on horseback with a reactionary opposition to the forces of social, economic and moral modernization. Most of the founders of the Whig party had supported Jeffersonian democracy and the Democratic-Republican Party. The Republicans who formed the Whig party, led by Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, drew on a Jeffersonian tradition of compromise and balance in government, national unity, territorial expansion, and support for a national transportation network and domestic manufacturing. Jacksonian’s looked to Jefferson for opposition to the National Bank and internal improvements and support of egalitarian democracy and state power. Despite the apparent unity of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans from 1800 to 1824, ultimately the American people preferred partisan opposition to popular political agreement.

As Jackson purged his opponents, vetoed internal improvements and killed the Second Bank of the United States, alarmed local elites fought back. In 1831 Henry Clay re-entered the Senate and started planning a new party. He defended national rather than sectional interests. Clay’s plan for distributing among the states the proceeds from the sale of lands in the public domain was intended to serve the nation by providing the states with funds for building roads and canals, which would stimulate growth and knit the sections together. His Jacksonian opponents, however, distrusted the federal government and opposed all federal aid for internal improvements and they again frustrated Clay’s plan. The “Tariff of Abominations” of 1828 had outraged Southern feelings the South’s leaders held that the high duties on foreign imports gave an advantage to the North (where the factories were located). Clay’s own high tariff schedule of 1832 further disturbed them, as did his stubborn defense of high duties as necessary to his “American System”. Clay however moved to pass the Compromise of 1833 which met Southern complaints by a gradual reduction of the rates on imports to a maximum of twenty percent. Controlling the Senate for a while, Whigs passed a censure motion denouncing Jackson’s arrogant assumption of executive power in the face of the true will of the people as represented by Congress.

Clay ran as a Whig in 1832 against Jackson, but carried only 49 electoral votes against Jackson’s 219. Clay and his Whig allies failed in repeated attempts to continue the Second Bank of the United States, which Jackson denounced as a monopoly and from which he abruptly removed all government deposits. Clay was the unquestioned leader of the Whig party nationwide and in Washington, but he was vulnerable to Jacksonian allegations that he associated with the upper class at a time when white males without property had the right to vote and wanted someone more like themselves. The Whigs nominated a war hero in 1840–and emphasized William Henry Harrison had given up the high life to live in a log cabin on the frontier. Harrison won.


How an Outsider President Killed a Party

The Whigs chose power over principles when they nominated Zachary Taylor in 1848. The party never recovered.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of eleven books, including, most recently, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. Earlier books include See How They Ran: The Changing Role of Presidential Candidates and the updated classic, History of American Presidential Elections. Follow Gil on Twitter @GilTroy.

It was summer, and a major U.S. political party had just chosen an inexperienced, unqualified, loutish, wealthy outsider with ambiguous party loyalties to be its presidential nominee. Some party luminaries thought he would help them win the general election. But many of the faithful were furious and mystified: How could their party compromise its ideals to such a degree?

Sound like 2016? This happened a century and a half ago.

Many have called Donald Trump’s unexpected takeover of a major political party unprecedented but it’s not. A similar scenario unfolded in 1848, when General Zachary Taylor, a roughhewn career soldier who had never even voted in a presidential election, conquered the Whig Party.

A look back at what happened that year is eye-opening—and offers warnings for those on both sides of the aisle. Democrats quick to dismiss Trump should beware: Taylor parlayed his outsider appeal to defeat Lewis Cass, an experienced former Cabinet secretary and senator. But Republicans should beware, too: Taylor is often ranked as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history—and, more seriously, the Whig Party never recovered from his victory. In fact, just a few years after Taylor was elected under the Whig banner, the party dissolved—undermined by the divisions that caused Taylor’s nomination in the first place, and also by the loss of faith that followed it.

Born in 1784 into a prominent Southern slaveholding family, Taylor was commissioned as an army officer at age 23. He first distinguished himself as a captain in the War of 1812 and gained even greater fame in the Second Seminole War, for which he earned the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” by bravely crossing a treacherous swamp with his men during the Battle of Okeechobee. The moniker suited this stocky, stern, undisciplined slob, who shared his men’s battlefield hardships and rarely dressed in military finery. With his signature straw hat, “he looks more like an old farmer going to market with eggs to sell,” one officer muttered.

It wasn’t until the Mexican-American War that Taylor, by then a major general, became a beloved national hero. Just days before Congress officially declared war on Mexico in May 1846, Taylor led U.S. troops to two victories over much larger Mexican forces at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. And in February 1847, Taylor’s force defeated Mexican troops despite being outnumbered 3 or 4 to 1 at the Battle of Buena Vista. After the victory, Taylor was toasted from Maine to Georgia. Americans sang, “Zachary Taylor was a brave old feller, Brigadier General, A, Number One/ He fought twenty thousand Mexicanoes/ Four thousand he killed, the rest they ‘cut and run.’”

Members of both major political parties at the time—the Democrats and the Whigs—started holding public celebrations lauding Taylor with elaborate toasts to George Washington, the republic and their new hero. They often culminated with formal resolutions amid loud “huzzahs” endorsing Taylor’s nomination for president in 1848. As the booze-fueled, red, white and blue political excitement grew, one Kentuckian exclaimed, shortly after Taylor’s Buena Vista victory, “I tell ye, General Taylor is going to be elected by spontaneous combustion.”

As an active soldier, Taylor demurred at first. All his life, Taylor had proudly refused to enroll in a political party, boasting that he never voted. As late as 1846, Taylor insisted the idea of becoming president “never entered my head … nor is it likely to enter the head of any sane person.” His wife was ill and he felt unqualified. And he preferred to tend to his vast landholdings and slaveholdings in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi—an inherited fortune augmented thanks to goodies showered on him after his war victories that made him one of the wealthiest Americans of his day.

Eventually, however, the political fervor swept up Taylor, too. In various letters that were quickly (and intentionally) publicized by the recipients, Taylor began explaining how “a sense of duty to the country” forced him to overcome his “repugnance” and permit people to advance his name. He might defer to the “spontaneous move of the people” but “without pledges” to stay true to any specific platform plank. He would only accept a nomination to be “president of the nation and not of a party.” A genuine nationalist who recognized how much Americans disliked professional politicians, Taylor placed himself above the “trading politicians … on both sides.”

Despite all this talk of staying away from one party or another, Taylor began inching toward the Whig Party, and the Whigs inched closer to him. At first glance, a general seemed to be a strange choice for the Whigs. Founded in the 1830s as a strained coalition of Southern states’ rights conservatives and Northern industrialists united mostly by disgust at Andrew Jackson’s expansion of presidential power, the Whig Party considered the war a disastrous result of presidential overreach. In fact, the popular backlash they stirred against Democratic President James K. Polk was so great that the Whigs seized control of Congress during the 1846 midterm election. But once America’s victory over Mexico triggered such enthusiasm, some Whigs calculated that running an extremely popular war hero like Taylor would prove to voters that the Whigs were patriotic, despite their anti-war stance.

Taylor also appealed to the Whigs’ founding fear of presidential power. In the letters he wrote, he invoked Whig doctrine, justifying a passive president who deferred to the people and the Congress.

And then, there was the slavery issue: Taylor’s ambiguous status as a slaveholder who dodged questions about the escalating slavery debate seemed to be a clever choice for a party increasingly divided over the South’s mass enslavement of blacks. The territory the U.S. acquired during the Mexican-American War only escalated the feud, sparking a major political debate over whether slavery would be allowed in the new territories. Both parties (each awkwardly uniting Northerners who disliked slavery with Southern slaveholders) had reason to seek safe candidates that year.

Still, many Whig loyalists mistrusted Taylor. He was crude, nonpartisan, unpresidential. Ohio Senator Thomas Corwin wondered how “sleeping 40 years in the woods and cultivating moss on the calves of his legs” qualified Taylor for the presidency. The great senator and former Secretary of State Daniel Webster called Taylor “an illiterate frontier colonel who hasn’t voted for 40 years.” Webster was so contemptuous he refused backroom deals to become Taylor’s running mate (unknowingly missing a chance to become president when Taylor died during his first term). Indeed, the biographer Holman Hamilton would pronounce Taylor “one of the strangest presidential candidates in all our annals … the first serious White House contender in history without the slightest experience in any sort of civil government.”

By the spring of 1848, now hungering for the nomination, Taylor tried mollifying these partisans. He professed his party loyalty in a ghostwritten letter that his brother-in-law John Allison knew to leak to the public. Still wary of making “pledges,” and boasting of his ignorance of political “details,” Taylor declared, “I am a Whig, but not an ultra Whig” in his first “Allison Letter” of April 22, 1848.

Taylor’s dithering annoyed the legendary ultra-Whig Henry Clay, who had lost a heartbreaking contest in 1844 to Polk and expected the 1848 nomination. “I wish I could slay a Mexican,” Clay grumbled, mocking celebrity soldiers not Hispanics. “The Whig party has been overthrown by a mere personal party,” he complained in June, vowing not to campaign if the party nominated this outsider. “Can I say that in [Taylor’s] hands Whig measures will be safe and secure, when he refused to pledge himself to their support?”

With Polk respecting his promise to serve only one term, at their convention in May the divided Democrats settled on General Lewis Cass, a former congressman, secretary of war and senator. The lumbering Michigander was considered a “doughface,” too malleable, a Northern man with Southern principles. His support for “popular sovereignty,” letting each new territory decide for itself on whether it would permit slavery, pleased the Democratic Party’s pro-slavery majority but infuriated abolitionists.

That June, during their convention at the Chinese Museum Building in Philadelphia the Whigs were torn over Taylor. On the first ballot, Taylor won 76 percent of the Southern vote, but 85 percent of the Northern delegates opposed him. A rival Mexican War hero, the Virginia-born General Winfield Scott, appealed to antislavery Whigs who hated Clay and Taylor because they were both slaveholders. On the fourth ballot, Taylor secured the nomination, beating Clay, Scott and Webster.

Taylor claimed he won on his own nonpartisan terms, without any promises. This victory signaled “confidence in my honesty, truthfulness and integrity never surpassed and rarely equaled [since George Washington],” Taylor boasted, 98 years before the originator of Trump-speak was born.

But the sectional animosity this outsider stirred was discouraging, especially since he was supposed to be capable of uniting the party and the nation. In the end, 62 percent of Taylor’s votes still came from Southern Whigs, who calculated that Taylor’s nomination would kill the abolitionist movement: “The political advantages which have been secured by Taylor’s nomination, are impossible to overestimate,” cheered one Southerner.

The nomination left many other Whigs dissatisfied. Even though the convention nominated the loyalist Millard Fillmore as vice president, many lamented that Taylor’s popularity had trumped party loyalty and principles. The party had not even drafted a platform for this undefined, unqualified leader. Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune pronounced the convention “a slaughterhouse of Whig principles.” The Jonesborough Whig did not know “which most to dispise, the vanity and insolence of Gen. Taylor, or the creeping servility” of the Whig Convention that nominated him.

Resisting pressure to run as an independent, but refusing to stump for Taylor, Henry Clay exclaimed, “I fear that the Whig party is dissolved and that no longer are there Whig principles to excite zeal and simulate exertion.” A New York Whig, claiming the convention “committed the double crime of suicide and paricide,” mourned, “The Whig party as such is dead. The very name will be abandoned, should Taylor be elected, for ‘the Taylor party.’”

And the party did indeed begin to dissolve. Almost immediately after the nomination, the self-proclaimed “Conscience Whigs” (anti-slavery Whigs) bolted, refusing to support a slaveholding candidate. Joining various other anti-slavery factions, including those that defected from the Democratic Party, the rebels formed The Free Soil Party and nominated former President Martin Van Buren.

Heading into the general election campaign, things didn’t look so good for Taylor. He started writing more and more letters crowing about his independence, disdaining party discipline, even saying he would have accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination too in his quest to be “president of the whole people.” His vanity and recklessness further dampened Whig enthusiasm.

But Fillmore’s desperate pleas to mollify alienated Whigs compelled Taylor to release a “Second Allison Letter” on September 4. In this missive, Taylor insisted he was following “good Whig doctrine” by saying “I would not be a partisan president and hence should not be a party candidate.” Taylor again hid behind his Army service, saying a soldier had to be nonpartisan, but also insisting everyone knew of his Whig inclinations. The letter “is precisely what we wanted,” Fillmore rejoiced. More important than Taylor’s words, the timing gave some Whigs an excuse to declare themselves satisfied. Even the New York Tribune’s Greeley eventually endorsed Taylor.

Meanwhile, in critical states like Ohio, Whig bosses and officeholders stressed “state matters” to stir local loyalties. And when it came to the divisive slavery issue, what the Democrats called the Whigs’ “two-faced” campaign worked: The Whigs in the South insisted that no slaveholder would abandon slavery, as Northern Whigs whispered that the passive Taylor would never veto a bill banning slavery in the new territories if it passed.

Blessed by an even more unpopular Democratic opponent whose party suffered more from the antislavery defections than the Whigs did, Taylor won—barely. He attracted only 47 percent of the popular vote, merely 60,000 more popular votes than Clay had in 1844, despite a population increase of 2 million. Turnout dropped from 78.9 percent in 1844 to 72.7 percent in 1848, reflecting public disgust with both candidates. Cass won 43 percent of the vote, and Van Buren won 10 percent. Taylor’s Electoral College margin of 36 was the slimmest in more than two decades. As hacks said the results “vindicated the wisdom of General Taylor’s nomination,” purists mourned the triumph of Taylor but not “our principles.” Greeley said losing in 1844 with a statesman like Clay strengthened Whig convictions: The 1848 election “demoralized” Whigs and undermined “the masses'” faith in the party. Greeley mourned this Pyrrhic victory: Whigs were “at once triumphant and undone.”

Greeley turned out to be right. Taylor was the last Whig president. His nomination had attempted to paper over the sectional tensions that would kill the party, but ultimately exacerbated them. Running a war hero mocked the Whig’s anti-war stand just as running a slaveholder failed to calm the divisive slavery issue. And, as a nonpartisan outsider, Taylor proved particularly unsuited to manage these internal party battles once elected.

Most dispiriting, Taylor, who made no pledges and had no principles, gave rank-and-file Whig voters nothing to champion, while alienating many of the most committed loyalists. In The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, the historian Michael Holt notes that Taylor’s victory triggered an “internal struggle for the soul of the Whig party”: was it more committed to seizing power or upholding principle? Underlying that debate was also a deeper question, still pressing today, about the role of fame, popularity, celebrity, in presidential campaigning—and American political leadership.

Unfortunately for the wobbling Whigs, Southerners then felt betrayed when Taylor took a nationalist approach brokering what became the Compromise of 1850. As a result, Holt writes, “Within a year of Taylor’s victory, hopes raised by Whigs’ performance in 1848 would be dashed. Within four years, they would be routed by” the Democrats. “Within eight, the Whig party would totally disappear as a functioning political organization.”

Neither destiny nor sorcery, history offers warning signs to avoid and points of light for inspiration. America’s modern two-party system is remarkably resilient. Republicans have recently enjoyed a surge in gubernatorial, congressional and state legislative wins. Still, Trump and the Republicans might want to study 1848 to see the damage even a winning insurgent can both signal and cause. And many Republicans might want to consider what is worse: the institutional problems mass defections by “Conscience Republicans” could bring about—or the moral ruin that could come from the ones who stay behind, choosing to pursue party power over principles.


Watch the video: Whigs vs. Tories - World History Block E (May 2022).


Comments:

  1. Lorin

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  2. Minris

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  3. Burkhart

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