United States Whig Party

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Whigs election poster from 1848 with candidates Zachary Taylor (left) and Millard Fillmore

The Whig Party was a political party in the United States of America . The party was founded in opposition to the politics of Andrew Jackson and called itself Whig Party in analogy to the English Whigs , who had opposed the royal power struggle during the restoration period.


The party was originally founded in 1833-34 as an alliance with the National Republican Party in the Northern and Border States, led by men like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster . It was a nationalist party that was committed to Clay's protectionist " American System ", contradicted Jackson's southern policy, and was only held together by its dislike of him.

In 1836 the party was not organized enough to run a nationwide presidential candidate. Instead, William Henry Harrison ran in the north and the western border states, Hugh Lawson White in the south and Daniel Webster in his home state of Massachusetts . The attempt was made to get enough electoral votes to prevent Martin Van Buren from getting a majority in Electoral College and so move the presidential election to the House of Representatives , where the most popular Whig candidate would then be elected. This tactic failed, Van Buren gained a comfortable majority in both the electorate and the electors.

Heyday of the party

Inauguration of William Henry Harrison in 1841
Election poster for Henry Clay from 1844

In the following years the Whigs developed a full party program that included a protectionist tariff policy, the establishment of a new state bank, and the use of the income from public land sales to support the states. In 1839, the Whigs held their first national party conference, and Harrison was elected as their presidential candidate ahead of Clay and Webster. Harrison was then elected president in the fall of 1840 . Decisive for his choice were on the one hand the economic framework, on the other hand Harrison's reputation as a war hero, who was to build on the popular reputation of Andrew Jackson among the population .

But Harrison only ruled for 31 days: after contracting pneumonia in his ambitious two-hour inauguration speech - the longest to date - he died on April 4, 1841 as the first president in office. He was followed by Vice President John Tyler of Virginia, a staunch supporter of the 9th Amendment to the Bill of Rights , which vetoed most of his “own” party's bills . Tyler had originally been a Democrat and was nominated for the vice-presidential nomination rather by chance because he had attended the Whigs' convention in his home state out of interest and the delegates had not been able to agree on any other candidate beforehand. The fact that Tyler represented completely different views than the Whigs and placed himself in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson was not even known due to the unimportance of his office, but now turned out to be a serious obstacle. Therefore Tyler was already in September 1841 formally from the party excluded . In the following years Tyler came closer to the Democrats, but without a party he had practically no chance of re-election and finally supported the Democrat James K. Polk .

The Whigs 'internal disagreement and growing prosperity, which soon made the Whigs' economic program superfluous, resulted in a disastrous outcome in the 1842 congressional elections in which they lost control of Congress.

In 1844, the Whigs began to recover from the electoral disaster two years earlier. They nominated their most famous politician, Senator Henry Clay , who ran for the third time in person, but was defeated by Democrat James K. Polk in a neck-and-neck race. Polk's policies of westward expansion (particularly the annexation of Texas already carried out by John Tyler ) and free trade triumphed over Clay's protectionism and his reluctant approach to the Texas issue. The northern and southern Whigs braced themselves against the war with Mexico , which many (including Abraham Lincoln , then a member of Congress for the Whigs) believed to be an unprincipled land grab. Like the Democrats, however, they were divided by the Wilmot Proviso Against Slavery of 1846.

For the presidential election in 1848 , the Whigs saw no chance of success with a renewed candidacy of the still striving Clay and their traditional economic policy, so they set up Zachary Taylor , a war hero from the American-Mexican war, and decided not to create an election program . Taylor, who had previously never been in politics in contact triumphed over Democratic candidate Lewis Cass and against slavery occurring Free Soil Party , the former President Martin Van Buren was nominated and the Democratic voters in New York aufteilte so the state fell to the Whigs (while the Free Soil Party probably cost the Whigs some states in the Midwest).

Taylor opposed the compromise of 1850 on the slave question and, a little more than a decade before the outbreak of the civil war , was already prepared to meet secession uncompromisingly by military means. But on July 4, 1850, Taylor contracted an acute digestive disorder (presumably typhoid or cholera ) and five days later became the second president to die in office. Vice President Millard Fillmore assumed the presidency and supported the compromise, which averted the crisis.

Decline and dissolution

The 1850 Compromise split the Whigs on the slave issue, with opponents of slavery retaining enough power to prevent Fillmore's 1852 nomination . In an attempt to repeat their earlier successes, the popular General Winfield Scott was appointed, but was defeated by the Democrat Franklin Pierce in the election. The Whigs were further weakened by the deaths of their two most prominent politicians, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, in June and October 1852, respectively.

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act divided the Whigs one more time, and the rise of the anti-slavery Republican Party brought the Whig coalition to an end. The Whigs' lukewarm position on the slave issue, which supported the compromise to hold the Union together, found no support in the polarized debate. Anti-slavery Northern Whigs went to the Republicans, and slavery-friendly southern Whigs to the Democrats. Until the end of the 1850s, however, they were able to provide a few governors .

In 1856 , the remaining Whigs rallied behind Fillmore, who had previously joined the anti- immigrant Know-Nothing Party (and lost to Democrat James Buchanan ). In 1860 , the last Whigs appeared as the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell . Bell was beaten by ex-Whig Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party, whose election triggered the secession of the southern states and the civil war that brought the Whigs to an end.

Presidents from the Whig Party

The Whig Party provided the following Presidents of the United States:

Presidential election

year Presidential candidate Electoral votes
Electoral votes
electors Election result
1836 William Henry Harrison 550 816 36.6% 73 lost
Hugh Lawson White 146 107 9.7% 26th lost
Daniel Webster 41 201 2.7% 14th lost
Willie Person Mangum - - 11 lost
1840 William Henry Harrison 1,275,390 52.9% 234 won
1844 Henry Clay 1 300 004 48.1% 105 lost
1848 Zachary Taylor 1 361 393 47.3% 163 won
1852 Winfield Scott 1,386,942 43.9% 42 lost

See also


  • Michael Holt: The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. Oxford University, New York 1999, ISBN 978-0-19-505544-3 .
  • Joshua Mitchell: Whig Party. In Kenneth F. Warren (Ed.): Encyclopedia of US Campaigns, Elections, and Electoral Behavior. SAGE, Los Angeles 2008, ISBN 978-1-4129-5489-1 , pp. 869f .

Web links

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