The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

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Here, Michael F. Holt gives us the only comprehensive history of the American Whig party ever written. He offers a panoramic account of the tumultuous Antebellum period, a time when a flurry of parties and larger-than-life politicians -- Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Martin Van Buren, and Henry Clay -- struggled for control as the U.S. inched towards secession. It was an era when Americans were passionately involved in politics, when local concerns drove national policy, and when momentous political events -- like the Annexation of Texas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act -- rocked the country. Amid this contentious political activity, the Whig Party continuously strove to unite North and South, emerging as the nation's last great hope to prevent secession.
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Editorial Reviews

B. D. Simpson
Steeped in extensive archival research, this detailed recounting of the policies and practices of Whig politicos and the party's achievements, shortcomings, and eventual demise will long stand as definitive. A magnificent resource for scholars, Holt's weighty tome will prove essential reading for political historians.
Choice Magazine, October 1999
Brent Tarter
How they tried and why they ultimately failed are instructive and important themes in this exhaustive study....For the hard-core student of political history told in all its rich and complicated detail, "The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party" will offer many hours of instructive reading.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 5, 1999
Library Journal
In 1834, opponents of Andrew Jackson organized the Whig Party. In all, four Whigs sat in the White House--Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Fillmore--while leaders such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster failed to capture that prize, contending with Democrats over tariffs, banks, internal improvements, territorial expansion, and, ultimately, slavery until the party's demise in the 1850s. The University of Virginia's Holt, author of Political Parties and American Political Development (LJ 6/1/92), details how great national issues intersected with lesser matters like control of patronage and the ambitions of persons and factions as well as with local and state-level concerns to shape the history of the Whigs. Although only dedicated readers will complete the trek through these 1000 dense pages, this book caps the career of a prominent political historian and will long be a staple for academic library collections in history and political science.--Robert F. Nardini, North Chichester, NH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a massively researched survey, Holt (American History/Univ. of Virginia) painstakingly details the career of an odd political party that flourished, then vanished in the three decades before the Civil War. An unlikely union of Southern states' rights enthusiasts, Anti-Masonic Party members, supporters of the Bank of the United States, and moderate pro-development republicans hobbled together by opponents of the populist nationalism of Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party became the party of such giants as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln, but also of such eminently forgettable figures as Thurlow Weed and Millard Fillmore. Because state and local elections were of comprehensive importance to national politicians in the 19th century, Holt delves in minutest detail into electoral developments in states and localities. Surveying the impacts of local conditions on national elections, Holt tries to show that the Whig Party's development hinged on a variety of factors—its competitive relationship with the Democratic Party, which had local, state, and national dimensions, and the internal divisions of Whigs (which ultimately destroyed the party) as the country's sectional crisis split them into factions were the most dynamic of these. The disparate nature of the Whigs' ideology in different sections prevented them from developing a coherent national program, though they did win the White House with military heroes in issue-free campaigns in 1840 (William Henry Harrison) and 1848 (Zachary Taylor). Holt shows that the Whigs were consistent in their goal of attempting to unite the nation's sections and to find a compromise on the issue of slavery, and represented the country'slast failed hope of avoiding civil war. Of evident importance to specialists, but because of its massive size and detailed emphasis on the minutiae of state and local events, inaccessible to all but the hardiest general reader.
From the Publisher
"Holt's history of the Whigs, the fruit of many long hard years of research and writing, is an important work."—American Historical Review, December 2000

"The Rise and Fall of the Whig Party is a magesterial work, one that cannot be neglected by nineteenth-century historians even if their particular emphasis is not political history. While it is intended to be the history of a political party, it has something worthwhile to say about almost every major issue in United States history from the nullification controversy of 1832 to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854."—Civil War History, March 2000

"Michael Holt's long-awaited magnum opus combines massive archival research and sophisticated analysis of election returns with judicious interpretations. Defying current academic fashions, this book displays not only the author's perseverance but his intellectual courage." —Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History, Oxford University

"In its short life the Whig party helped shape the political and economic institutions of the antebellum United States. And the party's death in the mid-1850's was both effect and cause of the political breakdown that led to secession and Civil War. Michael Holt tells this story in more detail and with deeper insight than any other historian. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party will instantly become an indispensable reference work on antebellum political history."—James McPherson, Princeton University

"Mike Holt's history of the Whig Party is magisterial.... This massive book will have a thunderous impact on scholarship and on the understanding of the American past." —William J. Cooper, Jr., Louisiana State University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195055443
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/17/1999
  • Pages: 1296
  • Lexile: 1600L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael F. Holt , a leading authority on nineteenth-century American politics, is Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Not Fitted to Make Converts"

"The Whigs look forward to the approaching contest with all the confident ardor of men who are conscious of the justness of their cause—and in its righteousness read their claim to certain success." So wrote a Baltimore resident in February 1844 about the impending presidential election to the son of the certain Whig standard bearer, Henry Clay of Kentucky. That winter and spring, through the summer and into the fall, Whigs everywhere forecast triumph. Their own unprecedented harmony, the Democrats' apparent disarray, and faith that they had the superior issues and candidate generated Whig confidence. Their missionary tone, the frequent use of words such as "righteousness" and "redemption," however, derived from another aspect of the race.

    Clay's candidacy gave the campaign a special dimension. It vividly reminded Whigs of their ill-starred past even as they contemplated a glorious future. Born in Virginia during the Revolutionary War, Clay had studied law there before moving on to a long and distinguished political career in Kentucky. First a state legislator and interim United States senator, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1810 and chosen Speaker when he reached Washington. Aside from duty as a peace negotiator at Ghent during the War of 1812, he served as Speaker almost continuously from 1811 to 1825, as secretary of state in John Quincy Adams' administration, and as Kentucky's United States senator for most of the period after 1831. As senator, Clay led the effort to build and define the Whig party.By 1844, most Whigs considered him "the embodyment [sic] and polar star of Whig principles."

    At the same time, no other Whig leader had suffered so many mortifying setbacks as Clay during, and even before, the Whigs' oft-times losing crusades against Democratic foes. Although the Whigs' chief congressional spokesman, he had been bypassed for their presidential nomination in both 1836 and 1840 on the grounds of "unavailability." When Whigs won power in the latter year and had a splendid chance to enact the sweeping legislative program Clay had done the most to formulate, a cruel twist of fate deprived him of the opportunity. In 1844, therefore, circumstances seemed to offer Henry Clay long overdue personal vindication and his party long overdue dominance. This prospect of atonement generated Whigs' religious language and euphoria.

    Clay's long years of frustration began before the creation of the Whig party in 1834. In 1824 and again in 1832 he ran for president, and each time he was soundly thrashed. That record of failure both stigmatized Clay as a loser and, ironically, made the formation of the Whig party both necessary and possible. To understand why and to identify the seeds from which the Whig party grew, a brief review of political developments between 1800 and 1832 is necessary.


Like most politically active residents of his native Virginia and of his adopted Kentucky, Henry Clay was an ardent Jeffersonian Republican and a passionate foe of the rival Federalist party during the fitful existence of the so-called first party system. Clay's Jeffersonian pedigree emblemizes a crucial fact. Throughout the Whig party's existence, Democrats repeatedly sneered that Whigs were simply discredited Federalists hiding behind a new name. This superficially cogent accusation proved extraordinarily difficult to overcome. Even historians routinely echoed Democratic propaganda and described Whigs as ex-Federalists. Experts now know better. Massive research in the past forty years has shown that the Whig party evolved not from the Federalists but from divisions within the Jeffersonian Republican party.

    After 1800, as the Federalist opposition atrophied, a tension that had always existed among Jeffersonians became more important. On one side moderate nationalists, associated with James Madison, fully accepted the strengthening of the national government inherent in the Constitution. Though appalled by Federalists' excesses and elitism, which seemed to them to endanger republican self-government, they acquiesced in much of the Hamiltonian economic program. Commercial development, they hoped, would provide a constant market for the nation's farmers, and a diversified economy would keep the population industriously employed. Their state governments chartered banks to supply capital for investment and credit to finance the transfer of goods. Frightened by the prolonged diplomatic and military crisis between 1807 and 1815, these development-minded Republicans also sought to strengthen and secure the union. At the end of the War of 1812, therefore, they sponsored congressional legislation to tie together the country's diverse economic regions.

    Henry Clay was a leading congressional proponent of this nationalistic Jeffersonian economic agenda. In the following years, his coherent program, known as the American System, included high protective tariffs to nourish American manufacturing and create a home market for American agricultural products, a national bank to provide a sound and uniform currency, and federal subsidization of internal improvement projects to ease the movement of goods. In later years, when federally funded internal improvements became infeasible, Clay instead promoted distribution of federal land revenues to the states for their own improvements.

    In 1816, the nationalists pushed through Congress, and President Madison signed, laws effecting two parts of their program: a somewhat protective tariff and a twenty-year charter for the Second Bank of the United States. When the Federalist party disintegrated after 1815, many former Federalists embraced the Republican party, strengthening this nationalist wing. It would eventually form the initial core of the Whig party.

    These developments appalled the other main branch of Jeffersonians, purists known as Old Republicans or Radicals, who feared the degeneration of original Jeffersonian principles. Beginning in 1801 and even more frequently after the nationalistic legislation of 1816, they deplored the dangers of loose construction and consolidation. Republicans' developmental policies, other Radicals feared, threatened the egalitarian and moral basis of republican society and thereby jeopardized the Revolutionary experiment in republican self-government almost all Americans venerated.

    Since the Revolution, quarrels over how to achieve and preserve republican institutions had created most political conflict. The British "real Whig" oppositionist tradition, so prominent a part of American Revolutionary rhetoric, had influenced those battles. Revolutionary republicans called on citizens to place the general good ahead of private interests. Officeholders, in turn, must protect citizens' political freedom and legal equality from any concentration of public or private power, and especially from law-granted privileges that gave advantages to some to the disadvantage of others.

    While Americans generally agreed on these ends, other aspects of republican theory spawned quarrels over the means of securing them. Disagreements flourished over exactly what the common good entailed and over what government could or should do to promote it without encroaching on popular liberty and equal rights. Contention also developed over which selfish interests, whether political, economic, or religious, sought special privileges that flouted a virtuous commitment to the common good. The defense against these threats lay in citizens' active political participation to oppose those who subverted republican ideals. To Americans of the post-Revolutionary generation, the motto that "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" was no empty slogan. It was instead the essence of republicanism.

    Political leaders had also quarreled about the proper character of a republican society, that is, about what social and economic arrangements would best sustain citizens' virtue, their commitment to the public good or commonweal. A few Radicals groused about the excessive materialism of the market-oriented economy promoted by Clay and other development-minded Republicans. John Taylor of Virginia and Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina, for example, hymned paeans to republican simplicity and to the benefits of a stable agrarian economy that valued hard, honest work. Simultaneously, they preached jeremiads against speculation, arcane financial manipulation, and lust for instant wealth. The egalitarian ethos that had begun to effervesce during the Revolution and spread rapidly thereafter also generated Radicals' laments. According to that ethos, the common good demanded that white men must attain roughly equal condition and, more important, equal rights before the law. Any legal privileges that gave unequal advantages to some seemed to pave a road toward the aristocratic, unrepublican society that all Republicans had accused Federalists of fostering. Radicals like William Duane of Philadelphia and Virginia's Taylor denounced banks and other corporations as bastions of aristocratic privilege inimical to equal rights. They condemned paper banknotes as fraudulent since banks often refused to redeem them for full face value. And they castigated the new monied men as an artificial aristocracy, inherently antagonistic to humble farmers and artisans. To restore social and political equality, they insisted, entrepreneurial policies such as Clay's must be checked.

    In the buoyant years immediately following the War of 1812, frightened Old Republicans were a minority in the Jeffersonian party. Outside of a few southeastern states, their cries of alarm resonated faintly. The spirit of nationalism that had helped cause and sustain the war and had then been intensified by Americans' successful escape from that war dulled popular concern about the impending consolidation against which state rights Cassandras wailed. An economic boom blinded most men to the potential pitfalls of a speculative economy. Most important, by 1815, if not long before, most Americans saw no conflict between civic duty (virtue) and economic self-interest. To them, republican citizenship required political participation and vigilance, not economic abnegation. To them, the Declaration of Independence's self-evident truth about the right to pursue happiness freed individuals to seek prosperity. Any other definition of the common good was not merely an abstraction; it was an absurdity.

    To most Americans in 1816, Madisonian nationalists like Clay, who had presided over the recent war effort and then passed legislation to rectify national weaknesses, had fulfilled the central duty of elected political leaders. They had preserved the Revolutionary generation's experiment in republican self-government. At the close of Madison's second term in 1817, therefore, nationalists held the upper hand within the Republican party. They would be represented in James Monroe's new Cabinet by John Quincy Adams, the secretary of state and a former Federalist who had joined the Republicans before the War of 1812, and by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, manager of the Bank charter in the House in 1816 and proponent of federal internal improvements. In Congress, Clay, the long-time Speaker of the House, continued to exert great influence.

    The Radical doomsayers, in contrast, were largely ignored. They lacked a sufficient popular following to control the party either in Congress or in most states, and few voters by 1816 seemed interested in these leadership rifts. Nonetheless, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia gave the state righters a potential national rallying point, should events create the opportunity for a rally.

    The panic of 1819 and the sharp sectional split in Congress between 1819 and 1821 over Missouri's admission as a slave state provided it. Those developments shifted the balance of power toward the Radicals in a number of states and split the Jeffersonian party in the presidential election of 1824. The depression following the panic of 1819 awakened tens of thousands of men to the importance of politics. Farmers who lost their property, artisans who lost their jobs or were paid in worthless paper scrip, and businessmen who faced bankruptcy all turned to government for relief from their economic plight or for retaliation against the forces that they believed had caused it. Thousands voted who had never bothered before or demanded the vote if they did not have it. State politics began to revolve around debtor relief, stay laws, paper money, and banks. Newly politicized citizens seeking positive legislation to promote economic recovery gravitated toward the nationalist or pro-development wing of the party epitomized by Clay. Radicals, however, benefited most from the reaction.

    For one thing, thousands of midwestern and southwestern farmers and land speculators, having suffered the foreclosure of mortgages, blamed the Bank of the United States and the eastern elite for causing the panic. As an attorney for the Bank who oversaw its foreclosures in Kentucky and Ohio, Clay earned resentment for serving the despised Easterners. This inflamed sectional animosity influenced congressional debates over the tariff, internal improvements, and land policy for years thereafter. It also made the juggling of sectional interests part of the task of constructing a national party.

    Antibanking sentiment ignited resentment of established elites everywhere. Now farmers and urban working men joined the Radical ideologues in denouncing bankers who seemed both to cause calamitous economic fluctuations and to escape their consequences. When a farmer or artisan could not pay his debts, he usually lost everything he owned and might be thrown into debtors' prison. When banks could not pay their debts, in contrast, they simply suspended specie payments and went about their business. Stockholders in the bank faced no further penalty because of limited individual liability. To many Americans such privileges seemed outrageously unfair, a flagrant violation of the republican principle of equal rights. In state after state, movements emerged to regulate banks, to substitute state-controlled banks for private corporations, or to abolish banks and/or paper money. In sum, the panic created a widespread animosity toward the political and economic establishment that gave the old egalitarian Radicals overwhelming reinforcements.

    Simultaneously, Northerners' attempt in Congress to stop the admission of Missouri as a slave state strengthened southern Old Republicans. The problem, according to Old Republicans, was that nationalists' program of aggrandizing national power augured the destruction of slavery. If northern congressmen could demand the abolition of slavery in a new state, they reasoned, they would soon attempt to destroy it in old states. The solution, Old Republicans contended, was to rededicate the party to state rights and strict construction. Newly empowered southern Old Republicans coalesced with key northern politicians, especially Isaac Hill of New Hampshire and Senator Martin Van Buren, leader of the powerful Bucktail faction in New York. Thus did the panic and the Missouri crisis shift the political balance against the nationalist, pro-development wing of the Republicans.

    The presidential election of 1824 revealed the degree of the change. Initially five contenders, all of whom called themselves Republicans but who represented different impulses in the party, sought the White House. One, Secretary of War Calhoun, still regarded as a nationalist, eventually dropped out of the race and consoled himself with election to the vice presidency. Of the remaining aspirants, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay also belonged to the Madisonian nationalist wing, although their images among the electorate differed. Adams of Massachusetts appealed to the regional pride of New England and to Yankees elsewhere who considered slavery immoral, who rankled at the additional political power it gave the South through the Constitution's three-fifths clause, and who blamed the slaveholder Clay for conceding too much to the South by arranging the Missouri Compromise that admitted Missouri as a slave state. Clay, in turn, had greater appeal to those regions and to those voters who sought internal improvements and higher tariffs.

    William H. Crawford was the candidate of the state rights Old Republicans. Nominated by a congressional caucus, by now the detested instrument of an insulated Washington establishment, Crawford was stigmatized as the candidate of politicians who violated the first principle of republicanism: government by the people. Instead, those who wanted to smite the political and economic elite turned to the remaining candidate in the field, General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee.

    Although Jackson served in the Senate in 1824 and cast votes for a protective tariff and internal improvements, he was still known primarily for his military exploits. The hero of the battle of New Orleans, where in 1815 he had routed the British in the only significant American land victory during the War of 1812, he had also crushed various Indian tribes in the southeastern states and had helped force the Spanish into ceding Florida to the United States in 1819. In a nation where thousands of local militia companies revered military prowess, his achievements guaranteed him wide support. But there was more to Jackson's appeal than martial glory. Though himself a wealthy slaveholding member of Tennessee's plantation gentry, Jackson was a perfect standard bearer for angry voters bent on venting resentments. Westerners and Southerners embraced the Tennessean as a foe of the haughty East. His ownership of slaves and his renown as an Indian fighter only increased his appeal to such men. More important, Jackson was clearly a political newcomer compared to Adams, Clay, and Crawford. All who wanted to throw the establishment out of Washington, or at least out of the White House, could cleave to him.

    Jackson and his friends also brilliantly capitalized on spreading popular fears that corruption in government was undermining republicanism. According to the republican ideas with which Americans were indoctrinated, corruption was doubly insidious. It induced officeholders to place their self-interest ahead of the public good and thus reduced their effectiveness as guardians of the people's liberty. At the same time, corruption of private citizens eroded their vigilance and their concern with public life by creating an obsession with materialistic self-advancement. The result would be inevitable. Since neither the people nor their representatives placed a priority on the protection of popular liberty and equality any longer, power would encroach on liberty. Tyranny would prevail, and the people would lose their liberty and equality and be reduced to slavery. Since the mid-eighteenth century, indeed, Americans had believed that slavery was the inevitable result of the loss of republican liberty.

    Jackson himself believed that such a process of degeneration had already begun, and in 1824 he and his friend John H. Eaton wrote a campaign document expressing his views that soon became the basis for newspaper editorials endorsing Jackson's election. Known as The Letters of Wyoming, the pamphlet labeled the nation's capital a sinkhole of corruption that subverted the very basis of self-government. If virtue continued to be abandoned, it predicted, "freedom of necessity ... must be laid prostrate." "We are not as we once were," it warned. "The people are slumbering at their posts; virtue is on the wane; and the republican principles with which we set out, are fast declining." But the people could "sustain [their] republican principles ... by calling to the Presidential Chair ... ANDREW JACKSON."

    Capitalizing on his popularity as a military hero, on regional resentments, on hostility to privileged elites, and on promises to preserve republican liberty, Jackson won a plurality of both the popular and electoral votes. He ran especially well in recently settled states like Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, in North and South Carolina, and in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Adams, who placed second in both votes, swept New England and took the bulk of New York's electoral votes. Crawford's strength, aside from Van Burenite support in New York, was confined largely to his native South, especially Virginia and Georgia. Clay, the one avowed champion of a nationalistic economic program, made a dismal showing in this first reach for the presidency, carrying outright only Kentucky, his home state, and neighboring Ohio. Stigmatized in much of the North as a slaveholder, in much of the South as a foe of strict construction, and in much of the recently settled West as an agent of the hated Bank and a critic of Jackson's successful wars against Indians, Clay captured only about 13 percent of the popular vote and came in last in the electoral count.

    Nor did his problems in the 1824 election end there. Since no candidate had a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives chose among the top three finishers: Jackson, Adams, and Crawford. Although Clay and Adams did not get along personally, Clay threw his considerable influence among his House colleagues to the New Englander, who then triumphed. When Adams subsequently appointed Clay as his secretary of state and thus his presumable successor in the White House, the embittered Jackson supporters immediately cried that a "Corrupt Bargain" between Clay and Adams had larcenously denied the popular will to keep an encrusted and arrogant elite in power. This charge would haunt Clay for the remainder of his long career.


Between 1824 and 1828 a new alignment among politicians and voters began to crystallize. Adams and Clay supporters, divided in 1824, united behind the administration. This Adams party represented that portion of the old Madisonian wing who still believed in positive national legislation to promote economic development. In addition, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts led the remaining Federalists in Congress to support the administration. Federalists not only shared in its patronage but found congenial Adams' bold advocacy of protective tariffs, federal internal improvements, and unprecedented new activities such as the congressional establishment of a national university, a national observatory, and a national naval academy.

    The nature and program of the Adams party, in turn, prompted the merger of the followers of Jackson, Calhoun, and Crawford in opposition to the administration and in support of Jackson's candidacy in 1828. The sweeping expansion of national power implicit in Adams' agenda offended state rights men. The apparent hostility of Adams and his attorney general, William Wirt, toward slavery and what slaveholders regarded as their rights alienated Southerners, and their inaction in regard to Indian land titles irritated land-hungry western settlers eager to force Indians off their lands. Furthermore, high protective tariffs were becoming increasingly unpopular in the South, especially in Calhoun's South Carolina, and this sentiment helped drive Calhoun into the Jackson camp. Charges of the Corrupt Bargain, moreover, stigmatized the administration as privileged enemies of the popular will and greatly increased the credibility of the Jacksonian cause.

    The Jacksonian opposition to the Adams party quickly developed into a powerful combination that won the congressional elections of 1826-27. Nor did shrewd managers of the Jackson coalition rest content with advantages already possessed. Confident that most Southerners would prefer a ticket of Jackson and Calhoun to one headed by Adams, Jacksonian leaders in the Senate such as New York's Van Buren and Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire maneuvered to pass a tariff in 1828 to neutralize whatever appeal Adams had as a proponent of protection in the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states. To get the necessary congressional votes to pass that bill, they willingly made concessions to New England textile interests. Although Southerners shrieked about a "Tariff of Abominations," in the campaign Jackson men took care to pose as champions of protection where they thought they could benefit from such an image. More important than such attempts to manipulate national policy in order to enhance their appeal, the Jackson men built an organization to exploit the potential of an expanding and previously apathetic electorate.

    Appeals for voter support had been relatively less important at the presidential level than for state and local offices. Many states chose to elect presidential electors in state legislatures rather than by popular vote, thus negating the need of organizations to get out the vote. In 1824, one-fourth of the states—Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Vermont, and New York—still chose electors in the legislature. Because of the dominance of the Republicans in most parts of the country, moreover, presidential elections since 1800 had generally been less competitive than state and local contests, thereby reducing voter interest in a given state. Some states had also placed property restrictions on the suffrage, reducing the number of eligible voters.

    Consequently, prior to 1828, turnout rates in presidential elections were frequently lower than in gubernatorial races. In 1824 only slightly more than a fourth of the adult white males voted for president. With voters minimally involved, national leaders, to construct winning coalitions, forged alliances with members of local elites in their own states and coalesced with national leaders from other states who had built similar alliances. Politicians, in short, counted on deferential voters to follow where local leaders led. Party building from the center to the periphery, in sum, had been largely leader oriented rather than voter oriented.

    By 1828, however, most states had abolished property qualifications for suffrage so that virtually all adult white males could vote. By 1828 as well, only South Carolina and Delaware still allowed the legislature to choose presidential electors, and after that date only the Palmetto State clung to that practice. Thus presidential contenders could tap a much larger electorate. As astute Jacksonian managers recognized much more quickly than the Adams party, dealing with a mass electorate required different strategies than could be used with a relatively small one. Voters had to be mobilized directly; alliances of local elites loyal to one political leader or another could no longer win. Issues now had to be framed in terms that were understandable and compelling to relatively less educated and less interested voters. At times this necessity meant presenting specific policies in broad ideological or symbolic terms; at times it meant developing campaign issues that resonated with voters' emotions, values, and prejudices but that had no specific programmatic focus. Strikingly adept at all these tasks, Jacksonians adapted to the new rules of the game much more quickly than the hapless Adams men.

    Riding and channeling the waves of resentment mounting against Adams since 1825 and the popular enthusiasm for the hero of New Orleans, the talented Jackson managers organized the Jackson party from the top down. Central committees in Nashville and Washington corresponded voluminously with politicians around the country, who in turn established Jackson clubs and committees at the county and local levels. Sniffing victory that might result in federal patronage or local office, opportunistic politicians in state after state clambered aboard the Jackson bandwagon. They disseminated propaganda that had been mailed from Washington praising Jackson's virtues and dedication to republican principles, reminding voters that he had been the victim of a corrupt and cynical bargain, pillorying the supposed misdeeds of the Adams administration, and lacerating the president himself as an effete intellectual snob who spoke Latin and quoted Voltaire; as a papist or an antipapist, depending upon the audience; and even as a former pimp for the czar of Russia. State and local organizations purchased existing newspapers or established new ones to spread the Jackson gospel. They aroused public interest with mass rallies, parades, barbecues, and pole raisings, all new rituals of American political campaigns. These local organizations, finally, performed the most pragmatic yet important function of political parties in the nineteenth century. They printed and distributed Jackson ballots to voters on election day, for until the end of that century the parties themselves, not government, provided voters with ballots.

    The Adams party did not remain inert in the face of these developments. They too gained control of local newspapers, engaged in mudslinging, and developed an organization in various states. Some Adams leaders proved to be effective party managers. For example, Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard, an old Jeffersonian and son of a former Jeffersonian congressman, created a competitive Adams machine in his native New Jersey. Nonetheless, in most states the Adams organization remained a loose alliance of local elites supplemented by the federal officeholders who remained loyal to Adams. Certainly Adams' campaign apparatus was less extensive and less effective in directly mobilizing voters than the Jackson organization.

    The elaboration of an organization gave Jackson a great advantage against Adams in 1828. It was not his only advantage, however. To Southerners and Westerners, Jackson seemed a firmer friend of slavery and foe of Indians than the Yankee president. Moreover, the erudite, Harvard-educated Adams proved a perfect foil for Jackson's campaign to establish himself as the people's champion against a hated northeastern elite. Nor could Adams match Jackson's stirring appeal to fundamental republican values. As a result of this combination a broad, powerful, and heterogeneous movement overwhelmed Adams and swept Jackson into the White House. In 1828, the turnout of eligible voters more than doubled since 1824. Jackson carried 56 percent of the popular vote, and he won in the electoral college by more than a two-to-one margin. Only tiny Delaware, New Jersey, a few congressional districts in Maryland and New York, and Adams' home region of New England resisted the tide.


The Adams and Clay forces now found themselves a beleaguered minority. Jacksonians not only captured the White House, but they also controlled both houses of Congress, the House of Representatives by a substantial 138-74 margin. To Clay, Webster, and others fell the classic task of leadership for a minority or "out" party, a task that would preoccupy and define the Whig party for most of its existence—uniting the opponents of the majority and broadening that coalition until it was competitive. Nor did personal ambition alone motivate them. They believed that they had a republican duty to maintain a vigil on the actions of the new government.

    Clay, the foremost leader of the opposition, was genuinely appalled by Jackson's election. He feared that Jackson's military background portended a despotism that menaced republican liberty. Clay wrote in the January following the election, for example, that the National Republicans must keep "constantly in view the danger to civil liberty of the predominance of the military spirit" and be prepared to rally the people against it. Rallying the people meant finding attractive issues, picking up converts or defectors from the majority, and winning a decisive share of new voters. Those objectives, in turn, meant waiting for the Jacksonians to alienate former supporters or finding new issues and a new image to win over new supporters.

    Surprisingly optimistic about their ability to topple the new regime, National Republicans initially decided to wait quietly for the Jacksonian coalition to disintegrate. Refusing to acknowledge the 1828 election as a repudiation of economic nationalism and of leadership by the traditional political elite they represented, they regarded the outcome instead simply as a triumph by the magnetic Jackson over the aloof and colorless Adams. Hoopla, demagoguery, and Jackson's refusal to take a stand on matters of national policy, they thought, had temporarily dazzled voters, while sheer opportunism had engaged politicians with divergent policy goals in the Jackson cause. Once Jackson clarified his position on matters such as the tariff and internal improvements, they believed, people would regain their senses and desert the Jackson movement as quickly as they had joined it.

    In November 1829, for example, Clay wrote to James Barbour of Virginia of his great "hope of a speedy restoration of the reign of reason and common sense." "We must but passively await the inevitable fragmentation of Jackson's alliance," he crowed. "The next session of Congress will ... greatly add to the dissolvents of that party," Clay again predicted in July 1829. "Whatever the President may say or recommend in his message to Congress, his friends in the body must divide on certain leading measures of policy." Once they did, the dissidents "must, sooner or later, attach themselves to the party which has all along been averse to the General." Hoping for "much" from "discontent and schisms among our opponents," Webster emphatically agreed. "My own firm belief," he wrote to Clay from the Senate in April 1830, "is, that if we were to let the Administration, this session and the next, have their own way, and follow their own principles, they would be so unpopular as that the General could not possibly be re-elected."

    In some ways this passive strategy made sense. The members of Jackson's extraordinarily heterogeneous coalition did disagree on policy questions. An alliance of men joined more by ambition for office or common hostility to the Adams administration than as yet by any positive loyalty to Jackson or his embryonic party, Jacksonian politicians were susceptible to disillusionment. For many voters the attachments and alignments that had developed during the mid-1820s were still new and unfixed. The election of 1828 had mobilized thousands of new voters to throw the "ins" out; a durable realignment of the electorate depended on what Jackson did in office. Thus the possibility of breaking off large chunks of Jackson's coalition theoretically remained open.

    But National Republicans badly underestimated the skill with which Jackson solidified his ties to voters. His vigorous advocacy of Indian removal increased his popularity in the South and West. His demand for rotation in office among federal officeholders and his defiant contempt for the snobbish social pretension evident in the so-called Peggy Eaton affair enhanced his image as a foe of privilege and elitism. He cemented his hold on Old Republicans with solicitous respect for state rights, strict construction doctrine. Not only did he echo that doctrine continually in his annual messages and dramatically by his Maysville Veto of May 1830, but he also emphatically supported assertions by southern states of sovereignty over Indians within their borders. At the same time, his willingness to sign other internal improvement legislation and to acquiesce in protective tariffs allowed him to offset the appeal of National Republicans in the West and Mid-Atlantic states on those issues. Thus, in the off-year congressional elections held in 1830 and 1831, the number of National Republican seats in the House fell from 74 to 58, while the Democratic total climbed from 139 to 141. Members with other affiliations occupied the other fourteen seats.

    This last figure indicates the second reason why National Republican hopes were dashed. The issues that generated opposition to Jackson did not automatically unite his foes and drive them into the National Republican camp. The case of John C. Calhoun illustrates the point. National Republicans' anticipation of gaining defectors from the Jackson coalition seemed initially to be confirmed when the vice president bolted the Jackson team, taking some southern supporters with him. Personal animosity between the proud South Carolinian and the egotistical president, as well as rivalry between Calhoun and Secretary of State Martin Van Buren to be Jackson's successor, in part caused this rift. Feuding that had divided the administration since 1829 broke into the open in 1831 when Calhoun published a pamphlet detailing his private quarrels with Jackson and when Jackson, at Van Buren's suggestion, reorganized the cabinet to expunge Calhoun allies. Jackson then signaled that Van Buren had replaced Calhoun as his chosen successor by appointing the New Yorker minister to England. In response, National Republicans in the Senate wooed Calhoun by opposing Van Buren's confirmation. When the Senate vote on Van Buren resulted in a tie, the bitter vice president cast the deciding vote against him and thus completed his estrangement from Old Hickory. When Van Buren was named Jackson's running mate by a Democratic national convention in May 1832, National Republican hopes for a more permanent alliance with Calhoun rose even higher.

    Yet fundamental disagreements over the tariff issue prevented the absorption of Calhoun and other southern dissidents into the party. By 1828, Calhoun, under pressure from his South Carolina constituents, had shifted from his previous nationalism to a position more in line with southern opponents of protectionism. In that year, he had secretly authored the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, which affirmed the right of a state to nullify a tariff law it considered unconstitutional. Jackson's failure to push for tariff revision was one source of Calhoun's alienation from him, and in 1831 Calhoun openly endorsed nullification. Such a stance put him at odds with National Republicans, who iterated their devotion to a protective tariff in a series of addresses and resolutions issued by national conventions in 1831 and 1832 and who agreed with Webster's retort to South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne in 1830 that nullification was treasonous.

    Even the passage of a new tariff in July 1832 that lowered rates to the 1824 level could not close the breach between nationalists and nullifiers. In 1832 South Carolina refused to give its electoral vote to National Republican candidate Clay. Instead, in a gesture of protest, the state legislature threw it to John B. Floyd of Virginia. Nor were National Republicans more successful in attracting disillusioned former Jacksonians in other southern states. Dissenters in Alabama, Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina expressed their anger over developments in Jackson's first term by an abortive effort to substitute P. P. Barbour of Virginia for Van Buren as vice president on Jackson tickets, not by supporting the nationalistic tariff proponent Clay. National Republican expectations of uniting the various opponents of Jackson in the South had aborted.

    Nor could they successfully combine all opponents of Jackson in the North. There the problem was not so much that matters of national policy divided the foes of the Jacksonians, most of whom agreed with or at least acquiesced in National Republican positions. Rather, the National Republican leadership's faith in the ability of national issues and a coalition of congressional leaders to rally grassroots voters made them blindly insensitive and, in the end, resistant to important popular currents and political developments at the subnational level that had little to do with national concerns. For most of the nineteenth century, state governments addressed more matters that affected people's everyday lives than did Congress or the president. As a result, many people cared more about controlling state governments than the national regime. Moreover, since an organization could distribute ballots more easily for a single state than for the entire nation, the possibility of starting new parties oriented toward state issues always existed.

    National Republicans were especially vulnerable to such a challenge in the late 1820s because permanent voter identifications had not yet been fixed. A new two-party system was still in its incipient stages; it had not yet crystallized. In sum, the same political fluidity that encouraged National Republican leaders to hope for defections from the Jackson movement encouraged other political groups to operate outside the orbit of National Republicans and to challenge their credentials as leaders of the opposition to Jackson. As soon as the presidential election of 1828 was over, National Republican state organizations evaporated in the North, except for a few places like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland. In this vacuum a new, state-oriented organization called the Antimasonic party displaced the National Republicans as the primary opponent of the Democrats.

    Started in 1826 as a protest over the murder of a defecting Freemason in western New York and the apparent effort of Masonic officeholders to cover up the crime, Antimasonry evolved into a defense of republican institutions against the secrecy and power of the Masonic fraternity. Initially its political purpose was to drive all Masons from public office by electing declared Antimasons, but its proclaimed defense of equal rights and civil liberties against the purported Masonic conspiracy quickly developed into a broad condemnation of all privileged corporations and state policies that abetted them. Antimasons vented the anger of farmers who suffered from economic dislocation and who resented the increasing control of urban commercial centers. In addition, they reflected the anxieties of rural evangelical Protestants who were alarmed by what they perceived as an increasing secularization of society and a degeneration, indeed a subversion, of fundamental Christian values. Emphatically embracing the basic republican principle that the people could and must rule themselves, they stressed that simply by voting, the people could install new governors and thereby change government policies. They were happy, declared Antimasons, to represent the "lower classes ... for in this country the lower classes are the head of all. The PEOPLE are SOVEREIGN." By the tens of thousands, disenchanted voters responded to this bracing appeal.

    By 1832 the Antimasons had ridden such populistic, antielitist, and moralistic sentiments to a powerful position in several northern states. They controlled the governorship and legislature in Vermont and had come close to winning New York and Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts, Antimasons captured 150 of the 490 seats in the general assembly in 1831, and they were influential in Connecticut and Rhode Island as well. Because Jackson was a Mason and therefore anathema to Antimasons, because the Democratic followers of Jackson in states like New York and Pennsylvania were responsible for the state policies Antimasons abhorred, and because Antimasons properly blamed Democrats in the Senate for frustrating a petition campaign by evangelical Protestants to have Congress stop Sunday mail deliveries and thereby restore the purity of the Sabbath, Antimasons seemed like natural allies for the National Republicans.

    Yet a profound difference in style and purpose separated Antimasons from National Republicans. For one thing, many Antimasons distrusted all politicians, not just Democrats, for abetting the Masonic conspiracy. "Antimasonry has no use for any officeseeking, selfish, time-serving politician," they declared. They took "their candidates, not from the exclusive circle of aristocracy, but from the people." With some justice, therefore, Antimasons regarded National Republican patricians as hateful, snobbish, privileged aristocrats. Antagonism toward National Republicans was particularly strong in New England, where National Republicans rather than Democrats controlled state governments. Massachusetts Antimasonic conventions, for example, railed that the state's National Republican party was "completely under the control of the ultra aristocracy, the ultra Federalism, and the ultra Freemasonry of Boston and Worcester." To declare their independence from both major parties, the Antimasons nominated their own presidential candidate, William Wirt, in September 1831.

    As early as the fall of 1830, National Republican leaders recognized that "this cursed anti-masonry embarrasses everything, and defeats all attempts at systematic operation against the common enemy." Until their own national convention in December 1831, however, they remained arrogantly confident that they could enlist Antimasonic support against Jackson on their own terms, namely, by stressing national economic policy, not state issues, and by retaining control of the anti-Jackson forces in their own hands. Despite Antimasonry, a New Yorker assured Clay, National Republicans could succeed "under the banner of Clay and the American System." Clay, who was a Mason himself, firmly believed that Antimasons must join the National Republicans, "for the natural tendency of all divisions of the minority is to cohesion." The National Republicans were stronger than the Antimasons, Clay informed another correspondent, and "upon the laws of gravitation, we ought to draw them to us, instead of being drawn to them." Convinced of the inevitability of such a merger and insisting as well that topics like Masonry, no matter how important they were to voters, should not be discussed by national political leaders, he refused to answer requests from Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers that he denounce Freemasonry or renounce his membership in the order. Antimasons would have to come to Henry Clay. Mohammed would not go the mountain.

    Not only did Clay refuse to repudiate Masonry in order to construct a winning anti-Jackson coalition; after Wirt's nomination, he publicly denounced Antimasonry instead. Most other National Republican leaders shared his contempt for the third party, and when the National Republicans' national convention met in December 1831, they nominated Clay unanimously. Despite such obduracy, pragmatic politicians like New York's Thurlow Weed sought to combine the two parties behind common electoral tickets and gubernatorial candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York in 1832. In the first two, however, National Republicans simply backed Antimasonic tickets on the understanding that those electors would support Clay in the electoral college if he had a better chance than Wirt to defeat Jackson. More important, New England's Antimasons insisted on running separate tickets for Wirt, and in November he would carry Vermont and drain support from Clay in other states as well.

    If most National Republican leaders stubbornly refused to deal with Antimasons as equal partners, they also reacted to "this demon of Antimasonry," as one called it, with fear and revulsion. Antimasonry's insistence that plain people, "the lower classes," should themselves govern challenged deeply held beliefs of National Republican leaders that educated gentlemen such as they, men of demonstrated talent, experience, and breadth of vision, had a right and a duty to rule. They clung to an eighteenth-century version of republicanism that stressed governance by an insulated elite on behalf of the public good rather than other republican values like self-government, equal rights, and liberty. Public issues, they thought, should be decided by reasoned debate among leading public figures, not by referenda at the polls. In their eyes, the egalitarian populism of Antimasonry was just as dangerous as the antiestablishment impulse that had brought Jackson to power. Even though both the Jacksonians and the Antimasons had demonstrated the efficacy of making direct appeals to the electorate and emphasizing basic republican principles, therefore, the National Republicans refused at first to emulate them. They had learned nothing about the changes transforming American politics, or at least they acted that way. This adherence to an outmoded strategy and style constituted the third and overarching reason for the National Republicans' failure to mount an effective opposition to Jackson.

    Even though the National Republicans abandoned their initial tactic of passively awaiting events by the middle of Jackson's first term, their underestimation of Jackson's skill, their failure to unite all the foes of Jackson, and their dependence on an old-fashioned leader-oriented strategy continued to plague them. To their credit, National Republicans did recognize by the end of 1830 that they had to attack Jackson openly in order to break up his coalition in Congress and the states. "The quiescent policy, which it was deemed expedient for us to act upon during the last year, not fitted to make converts," Alexander Everett of Massachusetts had advised Clay. To most National Republicans in 1831, however, changing tactics simply meant denouncing Jackson's mistakes, proving his unfitness for office to other leaders, and portraying Clay as a politician possessing the traditional qualifications for the presidency.

    To be sure, some National Republicans recognized in the fall of 1831 that Clay's long service in the House and Senate, his close identification with the American System, and his purported participation in the Corrupt Bargain made him precisely the wrong candidate to win converts to the National Republican cause. Instead, they predicted accurately, Clay would repel Antimasons and Calhounites and galvanize even disillusioned Democrats behind Jackson. Clay's chances, Oran Follett of Buffalo wrote on the eve of the National Republicans' national convention in December 1831, were as "hopeless as salvation without repentance." The vast majority of National Republican leaders, however, were unwilling to dump Clay in favor of someone more likely to unify the foes of Jackson, such as Supreme Court Justice John McLean, who was popular with the Antimasons. The convention nominated Clay unanimously and then issued a staggeringly long address explaining their action. The address condemned virtually everything Jackson had done since taking office and especially faulted him for "deficiencies" of the "character" and the "dignity, judgment, good temper, discretion, and moderation" necessary for discharging the duties of the presidency. Clay merited support, it contended, because he was "one of the principal founders, and supporters of the American System," because he was a statesman of long and varied experience whose "qualifications and services ... are too well known to require the aid of our testimony." The very length of this document, the detail in which it reviewed Jackson's record, and its language all indicated that National Republicans were still trying to convert leaders rather than court voters.


By early 1832, even Clay realized that this tack seemed little better than the previous policy of watchful waiting. Dissident Democratic congressmen still clung to Jackson, often professing their personal loyalty to him before voting against his recommended policies. Jackson had neutralized Clay's appeal on internal improvements and the tariff in the North, and those issues in any event were not attracting the support Clay needed in either the North or the South. Thus National Republican leaders recognized that they must find a new issue to wean away Democratic leaders and rouse local elites to action. Eagerly, enthusiastically, and blindly, therefore, they created a new issue, one that hitched the fate of the National Republican party to the Bank of the United States.

    Although the charter of the Bank would not expire until 1836, its president, Nicholas Biddle, petitioned Congress for recharter in January 1832. In his annual messages, Jackson had frequently criticized certain provisions of the Bank's operation and called for reform. Biddle knew, however, that Jackson also hoped to roll up a huge popular vote in 1832, and he anticipated that Jackson would not dare to veto recharter in an election year for fear of reducing his popular majorities, especially in Pennsylvania, where the Bank was headquartered. National Republican leaders like Clay and Webster, in contrast, encouraged and supported Biddle's recharter effort precisely because they expected Jackson to veto it.

    Such a veto exactly fit their old-fashioned conception of how politics operated. Correctly, they believed, the Bank was now popular in the South and parts of the West, which were Jackson strongholds, as well as in the Northeast. A veto, they calculated, would alienate the businessmen, lawyers, and planters who benefited from the cheap credit and uniform currency the Bank provided and turn those community leaders against Jackson. In the Northeast such community leaders could presumably persuade suspicious Antimasons to support Clay. For two years Clay had predicted that if he could pry either New York or Pennsylvania from Jackson he could defeat him, and the veto promised to be just the lever he needed.

    More important, National Republicans calculated that the veto would reduce Jackson's influence and increase their own strength among congressional leaders. On the one hand, it could forge a link with Calhoun and South Carolinians. On the other, it would drive a wedge between Jackson and his remaining congressional supporters, many of whom favored the Bank. A veto, they believed, would vividly dramatize that Jackson was determined to undermine the position and authority of traditional political elites. By emphasizing executive usurpation of congressional prerogatives, they hoped to convince proud Democratic leaders that Jackson considered his own personal views superior to those of congressional statesmen. Once Democratic congressmen became convinced of that, National Republican leaders assumed, they would rush to preserve their own status as leaders by bringing their supposed legions of local supporters into the National Republican camp.

    When rechartering legislation passed Congress with the support of a third of the Jackson men and when Jackson then vetoed it on July 10, 1832, however, National Republican hopes were pulverized. Not only did pro-Bank Democrats fail to bolt once the president declared a party line, but overly eager National Republicans had forged a mace with which Jackson could bludgeon them, not a sword for their champion. A masterpiece of political propaganda aimed directly at voters, Jackson's veto message denounced the Bank as an unconstitutional excess of national authority, as a monstrous concentration of private power that threatened popular liberty, and as an engine of aristocratic privilege that favored the rich at the expense of the poor. The message tremendously enhanced Jackson's credentials as a champion of republicanism and strict construction and as a foe of the corrupt and entrenched political establishment in Congress. Democratic newspapers and resolutions around the country praised Jackson for saving "the people from becoming enslaved by the corruptions of a moneyed aristocracy and desperate politicians." The veto marked "the final decision of the President between the Aristocracy and the People—he stands by the People." "The Jackson cause," one paper summarized, "is the cause of democracy and the people, against a corrupt and abandoned aristocracy."

    Democratic rhetoric proved potent. Americans continued to view powerful, privileged aristocracy and corruption as the natural enemies of the liberty, equality, and virtue necessary for republics to survive. The similarity of the Democrats' appeal to the Antimasonic message allowed them in states like New York and Pennsylvania, where they were on the defensive for supporting state monopolies denounced by the Antimasons, to strike back. As shrewd Antimasonic leaders like Weed instantly recognized in horror, Democrats could now divert attention to the national level and argue that their party opposed the most monstrous threat to republican liberty and equality of all.

    All in all, the renewed popularity Jackson and his party won by the crusade against the Monster Bank nullified any advantage Clay may have received from negative reaction to the veto. Having allowed Antimasons to preempt the assault on privilege at the state level, National Republicans could only pose as champions of republicanism by attacking executive tyranny. "THE KING UPON THE THRONE: The People in the Dust!!!" one newspaper thundered. Jackson "has set at utter defiance the will of the people as strongly expressed by their Senators and Representatives ... he has ... proved himself to be the most absolute despot now at the head of any representative government on earth." Finally adopting the Antimasonic tactic of calling on the people directly to save republicanism by voting, another National Republican sheet proclaimed, "One more opportunity—perhaps the last—is yet afforded us, of strangling the monster of despotism before it shall have attained its full growth, and checking the full tide of corruption before it shall have become too strong to be resisted."

    What marked the shift in National Republican tactics even more than their antityrannical rhetoric was their brilliant use of political cartooning to mock Jackson. The most famous and effective of these caricatures was called "King Andrew the First," which portrayed the aged Jackson wearing a crown and regal robes trimmed in ermine, with a scepter in one hand and the veto message in the other, and a copy of the Constitution torn to shreds at his feet. No piece of propaganda summarized so forcefully the National Republicans' conception of how the presidency had been perverted by Jackson, and none symbolized so well their belated turn to the public.

    Thus, at the end of 1832, the National Republicans developed the credo upon which the Whig party would be founded and which would remain its central principle. In that year, however, such efforts proved too little and too late. The National Republican organization remained embryonic and truncated compared to the Jackson machine. The party failed even to run electoral tickets in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Elsewhere Jackson's skill in establishing himself as a paladin of popular liberty and equality blunted the initial attempts to portray him as the subverter rather than the savior of republicanism. Above all, the onus of the Bank of the United States smothered the National Republicans' last-minute attempt to change their own image from a party of the wise and talented to a party of the people. By making Jackson's veto and the Bank central issues in the summer of 1832, the National Republicans had only engaged in self-annihilation.

    Jackson registered another smashing triumph in November, and Henry Clay suffered a second humiliating defeat. Although the popular vote was slightly larger than in 1828, Jackson still won 55 percent of it, and he swamped Clay in the electoral college, 219 to 49. Antimasons who refused to back Clay won Vermont and almost a tenth of the popular vote. Clay carried only Kentucky, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and a few congressional districts in Maryland and only about 37 percent of the voters. Clay performed especially dismally in slave states south of Maryland and Kentucky. There, Jackson rolled up an astounding 88 percent of the popular vote.

    The election of 1832 clearly stamped the National Republican party as a loser and as the tool of the northeastern elite whom neither Antimasons nor Southerners could support. That stigma was, in the words of Alexander Everett, palpably "not fitted to make converts." Mounting a successful challenge to the dominant Jacksonians required changing that image and developing new strategies, new organizations, and new issues credibly based on republican values. Given the rout of Clay, it also demanded fresh faces to lead the opposition. In sum, competing on even terms with the Jacksonians meant abandoning the National Republican party for a more enticing political vehicle.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xv
1 "Not Fitted to Make Converts" 1
2 "To Rescue the Government and Public Liberty" 19
3 "No Opposition Man Can Be Elected President" 33
4 "We Have Many Recruits in Our Ranks from the Pressure of the Times" 60
5 "Harrison and Prosperity or Van Buren and Ruin" 89
6 "The Whig Party Seems Now Totally Broken Up and Dismembered" 122
7 "The Whigs Are in High Spirits" 162
8 "The Present Administration Are Your Best Recruiting Officers" 208
9 "The Contest for President Should Be Regarded as a Contest of Principles" 259
10 "We Must Have the Aid of Gunpowder" 284
11 "Stimulate Every Whig to Turn Out" 331
12 "Many Discordant Political Interests to Reconcile" 383
13 "Patronage Is a Dangerous Element of Power" 414
14 "The Slavery Excitement Seems Likely to Obliterate Party Lines" 459
15 "The Long Agony Is Over" 521
16 "God Save Us from Whig Vice Presidents" 553
17 "Fillmore ... Is Precisely the Man for the Occasion" 598
18 "Webster Is Now Engaged in Strenuous Efforts to Secure the Succession" 635
19 "Scott & Scott Alone Is the Man for the Emergency" 673
20 "Like Pissing Against the Wind" 726
21 "Now Is the Time to Start New; the Old Issues Are Gone" 765
22 "This Nebraska Business Will Entirely Denationalize the Whig Party" 804
23 "The Whig Party, as a Party, Are Entirely Disbanded" 836
24 "Confusion Worse Confounded" 879
25 "Let, Then, the Whig Party Pass" 909
26 "The Whig Party Is Dead and Buried" 951
Notes 987
Abbreviations Used in Notes 1179
Bibliography 1181
Index 1203
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2000

    Michael Holt knows 19th century politics

    One of the best written and most detailed books on politics period. A must for antebellum scholars.

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