December 5th, 2019


The Whig Campaign of 1836

By 1836 Andrew Jackson had served two full terms as President. He considered running for a third term, but opted against breaking the precedent set by George Washington. He had achieved a number of his goals including winning the so-called Bank War (in which he prevented the rechartering of the Bank of the United States). This policy would come back to haunt his successor when the panic of 1837 hit, but that wasn't something on voters minds yet in 1836, when it came time to select a successor for Jackson.

Jackson publicly endorsed a ticket consisting of his Vice President, Martin Van Buren of New York, and Representative Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, the latter of whom had gained popular favor for his role in the War of 1812. Although the nomination could have been contested, Jackson still maintained strong influence and control over his party, and there were no serious challenges at the Democratic Convention held in Baltimore in May of 1835, when Van Buren was unanimously selected as the Party's candidate on the first ballot.

The selection of his running mate was another matter. Several Southerners were opposed to Richard Johnson's nomination for Vice President because of Johnson's open relationship with his African-American slave. The scandal caused Virginia delegates to supported Senator William Cabell Rives against Johnson. Rives's candidacy failed to obtain sufficient support however and Johnson won the nomination for the second spot on the ticket by the required 2/3 majority, defeating Rives by a vote of 178 to 87.


The Whig Party was a new party that arose largely out of opposition to Jackson. Shortly after Jackson's re-election, South Carolina passed a measure to "nullify" the Tariff of 1832, beginning the Nullification Crisis. Jackson strongly opposed the right of South Carolina to nullify federal law, and even threatened to personally lead an army to bring the petulant state into line. The crisis was resolved after Congress passed the Tariff of 1833, but partisan divisions were created. Many of Jackson's former supporters opposed his threats of force against South Carolina. In South Carolina and other states, those opposed to Jackson began to form small "Whig" parties. The Whig label was used to compare "King Andrew" to King George III, the King of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution. Jackson decision to remove government deposits from the national bank resulted in further opposition. The move drew opposition from both pro-bank National Republicans and states' rights Southerners like Willie Person Mangum of North Carolina, who accused Jackson of ignoring the Constitution.

In late 1833, Henry 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. But Jackson's opponents could not agree on a single presidential candidate. They were able at least to coordinate opposition against Jackson in the Senate, taking control of the Senate in December 1833.

National Republicans Henry Clay and Daniel Webster formed the core of the Whig Party leadership. Anti-Masons like William H. Seward of New York and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania also joined the party. Some prominent Democrats defected to the Whigs, including Mangum, former Attorney General John Berrien, and John Tyler of Virginia.

The Whig Party's first major action was to censure Jackson for the removal of the national bank deposits. During 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. John C. Calhoun also temporarily joined the Whig coalition.

Unlike the Democrats, the Whigs did not hold a national convention in 1836. Instead, state legislatures and state conventions nominated separate candidates for president. Southern Nullifiers chose Tennessee Senator Hugh Lawson White as their candidate for the presidency in 1834 soon after his break with Jackson. White was a moderate on the states' rights issue, which made him acceptable in the South, but not in the North. The state legislatures of Alabama and Tennessee each also officially nominated White. The South Carolina state legislature nominated Senator Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina as their presidential candidate. By early 1835, Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster was building support among Northern Whigs. The Pennsylvania legislature nominated popular former general William Henry Harrison, who had led American forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The Whigs hoped that Harrison's reputation as a military hero could win voter support. Harrison soon displaced Webster as the preferred candidate of Northern Whigs.

Despite multiple candidates, there was only one Whig ticket in each state. The Whigs ended up with two main tickets: William Henry Harrison for president and Francis Granger for vice-president in the North and the border states, and Hugh Lawson White for president and John Tyler for vice-president in the middle and lower South. In Massachusetts, the ticket was Daniel Webster and Granger. In South Carolina, the ticket was Mangum for president and Tyler for vice-president.

The Whigs knew that no one candidate could win enough electoral votes to top those won by Van Buren. Instead they hoped that their various candidates would win enough states that Van Buren would be denied a majority of electoral college votes. In that case the House of Representatives would have to select a President, just as they did when John Quincy Adams was chosen in 1824 over Jackson, despite Jackson winning a plurality of electoral and popular votes. The Whigs were confident that whoever the House chose for President, that person would be a Whig and not Van Buren.

Voting took place from Thursday, November 3, to Wednesday, December 7, 1836. The Whigs attacked Van Buren on all sides, but Van Buren was known as the Little Magician and his superior organization carried the day, earning him a majority of electoral votes. Van Buren defeated Harrison by a 51-49% vote in the North, and he defeated White by a similar 51-49% margin in the South. He won 170 electoral votes compared to 73 for Harrison, 26 for White, 14 for Webster and 11 for Mangum (whose electoral votes were at the time awarded by the North Carolina legislature, without popular vote). The Whig candidates received 124 electoral votes in total, giving Van Buren a clear majority.

A dispute arose during the counting of the electoral votes concerning the state of Michigan, which had only become a state on January 26, 1837, but which had cast its electoral votes for president before that date. The dispute had no bearing on the final result: either way Van Buren was elected. There was a problem however with the election for Vice-President. Virginia's 23 electors were all pledged to Van Buren and his running mate, Richard Mentor Johnson, but all 23 of them refused to vote for Johnson. This left Johnson one vote short of the 148-vote majority required to elect. Under the Twelfth Amendment, the Senate had to decide between the top two vote-getters, and they picked Johnson over Francis Granger.

While Van Buren won the day, his victory would not be the prize he anticipated. As president, Van Buren was blamed for the depression of 1837 and hostile newspapers dubbed him "Martin Van Ruin". He tried to cure the economic problems by keeping control of federal funds in an independent treasury rather than in state banks, but Congress would not approve of this until 1840. In 1840, Van Buren was voted out of office, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, the man he had defeated four years earlier.

Happy Birthday Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was the last person, prior to the late George H. W. Bush, to serve as Vice-President under a two-term President and then win election to the presidency himself. Like the first President Bush, Van Buren was also a one-term president and lost his bid for re-election.

Martin Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States and today is his birthday. Van Buren, also known as "the Little Magician" for his political prowess, was born on December 5, 1782 (237 years ago today) in the village of Kinderhook, New York. His father Abraham Van Buren was a farmer and a tavern keeper who was also the owner of six slaves. Although he would serve as Vice President in the administration of one of the most staunch defenders of the institution of slavery (Andrew Jackson), Little Van would later break with his party on that issue.


They called him "Little Van", most likely because he was one of the shortest Presidents at 5 feet, 6 inches. Van Buren was known as for his impeccable appearance, notwithstanding his humble background. This was something that was used against him by the Whig Party spin doctors in the election of 1840. As a young lawyer he became involved in New York politics rising to a lofty position in his New York political organization from which he dispensed public offices to optimum effect for his party. In 1821 was elected to the United States Senate.

By 1827 he had emerged as the principal northern leader for President Andrew Jackson. Jackson rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Secretary of State, which in those days gave one a leg up in the race to become president. Van Buren emerged as Jackson's most trusted adviser. Jackson described Van Buren as "a true man with no guile."

A rift developed in Jackson's Cabinet became serious because of Jackson's differences with Vice President John C. Calhoun over nullification of federal laws and also because of something called "the Pettycoat Affair" in which the wives of Jackson's cabinet became very catty to Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War. When Jackson asked for the resignations of his cabinet, Van Buren and Secretary Eaton resigned and Jackson appointed a new Cabinet. He rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Minister (Ambassador) to Great Britain. Vice President Calhoun, as President of the Senate, cast the deciding vote against the appointment. In response, Jackson dumped Calhoun from the Democratic Party ticket in the next election and replaced him with Van Buren, who was elected Vice President in 1832. Jackson groomed Van Buren to be his successor and Van Buren was elected President in 1836.

When Van Buren took office the country was prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 struck and that prosperity was gone quickly. Andrew Jackson's financial measures contributed to the crash, but the country blamed Van Buren. Jackson's destruction of the Second Bank of the United States had removed restrictions upon the inflationary practices of some state banks. Wild speculation in lands, based on easy bank credit, had swept the West. To end this speculation, in 1836 Jackson required that land be purchased with gold or silver. As a result hundreds of banks and businesses failed. Thousands lost their lands. For about five years the nation suffered the worst depression thus far in its history.

Van Buren's remedy was to continue Jackson's deflationary policies. It just made things worse. Van Buren opposed the creation of a new Bank of the United States and also opposed placing government funds in state banks. He fought for the establishment of an independent treasury system to handle Government transactions.

As President Van Buren was opposed to the expansion of slavery. He blocked the annexation of Texas because it would add to slave territory, an issue on which he broke with his mentor, Old Hickory. Van Buren was defeated by Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in his 1840 bid for reelection in the "Whiskey and Hard Cider" campaign, which utilized the "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" slogan and song.

Van Buren ran for his party's nomination for President again in the next election (1844), but without Jackson's support there was no chance of his getting the required two-thirds majority vote among the delegates. He ran for President yet again in 1848, this time on the Free Soil Party ticket (an anti-slavery party), but he lost once again.

Van Buren retired to his home in Kinderhook. He was one of five ex-presidents still living when the Civil War broke out, and once the war began, Van Buren made public his support for the Union. He supported Abraham Lincoln's efforts to prevent the southern states from seceding. After being bedridden with a case of pneumonia during the fall of 1861, Martin Van Buren died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate in Kinderhook at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862. He was 79 years old.