The Election of 1836
The presidential election of 1836 has gone down in history as one of the most insignificant. However, this could not be more wrong. Exiting the era of Jackson, America was looking to get away from any inkling of the past 8 years. This entire election had nothing to do with the people involved or what their views were. Every detail of this election was about whether or not you supported or opposed Jacksonian ideals. Despite these details, this election was truly significant for beginning the Second American Party System, being the only to intentionally run more than one candidate from a single party, and for being the first and only time to have the vice presidential election thrown into Senate.
Andrew Jackson had been president for the past 8 years in 1836. His presidency ushered in the Age of the Common Man. He was nicknamed "Old Hickory" meaning that he was tough and unbending. Democrats, at this time, favored states rights and a limited role for the federal government. However, Jackson strongly favored his presidential responsibility to national interests over sectional rights. The people, especially Congress, were not used to a president of his stature. However, they would all soon learn of his determination to his own presidential dominance. He was truly a president that was stuck in his own ways and would fulfill his motives no matter what. He gained great opposition throughout the country through the effects of the Nullification Crisis, the Indian Removal Act, vetoes of internal improvements, and finally the great Bank War.1 After his run, the only word to truly describe the mood of America would be opposition. It was basically an idea of you either agreed with his motives and actions or you strongly opposed it. Opposition becomes the name of the game in this presidential election.
The election of 1836 was also the birth of the Whig political party. Named in memory of the Patriots who resisted King George III in the American Revolution, the Whigs were formed strictly in opposition of Andrew Jackson. They were merely a loose coalition of those who simply hated Jacksonian ideals. However, they were also generally those who favored sectional gain. Their ultimate obstacle would be to overcome sectional differences to join in common grounds of opposition. They were heirs to Federalist beliefs; Whigs favored a strong central government, banks, tariffs, and internal improvements. In other words, they supported the American System. They were also firm in social reform. Religion was an important element. They favored government intervention in both economic affairs. They aimed to improve the ordinary citizen. Their power base came from New England and the Old Northwest from voters who benefit and are affected by commercial agriculture and factory work.1
Democrats were organized earlier on to elect Andrew Jackson. They are heirs to the Jeffersonian beliefs. They put their efforts in the democratic rights of the small, independent, yeoman famer. They show distaste for government intervention; for example, the Bank of the United States. They favored expansion, Indian removal, and the freedom of the "common man". Most are opposed to the social and economic reforms the Whigs were advocating. Their power lies within the rural South and West as well as urban workers in the north. 1
The most important and significant detail about the election of 1836 was the birth of the Second American Party System. With the formation of the Whigs and the joining of other political parties under the Democrats, the Second American Party System began. With all of the political struggles and the social changes from the Jacksonian era caused by expansion and economic growth, these two major parties begin the basic patterns of American politics. This basically means that there is a party with at least some kind of appeal to all social classes and sections of the country. This system is still in effect today.1
At the Democratic Nomination Convention, Martin Van Buren is elected to run for president. He was formally Jackson's loyal vice president and was handpicked by Jackson to be his successor. Despite Southern strong dislike, Van Buren secured his spot unanimously. Richard Johnson and William Rives were both nominated to run for vice president. Johnson undoubtedly secured his spot with his 178 votes to Rives mere 87. 2
The Whigs, being compiled of all different sectional regions, could not agree on one candidate. So they devised a strategy that they could all agree on. After all, their only common ground was that none of them wanted a second Jackson in office. Their strategy was to send four different sectional candidates in the race hoping that by gaining votes from every region, they would deny majority vote from Van Buren. At that point, the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives where they were sure to come out on top. They elected Hugh Lawson White, a Tennessee senator that southern nullifiers had put up for presidency in 1834. He was a moderate for states rights which made him okay in the south but not in the North. Daniel Webster, a Massachusetts senator that was supported by the Whigs in the north. Both he and White would use debates in the Senate to establish their platforms on current issues. William Henry Harrison, the popular general and hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. He would replace Webster in all of the Free states except for Massachusetts and White in three Border States. The last nominee was elected by South Carolina, Willie P. Magnum, the North Carolina Senator.2 Their running mates for vice presidency were Francis Granger and John Tyler. The tickets read as such: Harrison and Granger, White and Tyler, Webster and Granger, Magnum and Tyler.4
The party platforms, as well as the primary issues, during this time were really simple. Democrats followed behind everything Jacksonian. Van Buren was in all actuality, a mini Jackson. He fought against internal improvements and national banks. He also promoted popular sovereignty on issues of slavery and states rights to calm some of the opposition in the south. The Whig platform was the exact opposite, in other words, anti-Jackson. They favored internal improvements and a Second Bank. Between the candidates, they had varying sectional views on the issues of slavery and states rights. The primary issues were all revolving around "the rule of King Andy", as Whig literature would put it. As the Whig candidates were from each section, they could selectively pick apart each one of Jackson's actions that most affected their region. In the Northeast, they focused on the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the denied charter of the Second National Bank. In the South, they harped on the failure to defeat the relatively small Seminole Indian force. The Second Seminole War as well as the Indian Removal Act would benefit White because he had, in the southern region, still a relatively large population of Cherokee living in Georgia and a border with the Seminole Indians. In the West, they criticized a variety of issues including the slow developments of internal improvements. That would become a message that the Whigs would hone in on for the next 20 years. Another issue was slavery, of course. However, it was no surprise that neither side really drew any attention to themselves regarding it. As far as the international issues of 1836, the name of the game was Texas. Texas had just gained its independence in early 1836 and arguments with Britain over who owned what continued. 3
Campaign activities were not plentiful. It was really just the Whigs bashing Van Buren as the next Jackson in office. They would use debates, and speeches to do so. Van Buren would spend the campaign justifying his actions alongside Jackson and trying to calm opposition the best he could. For example, Van Buren's anti-slavery feelings were found in a local newspaper but he cleverly side-stepped the issue from national exposure. The one detail that stands out was Van Buren's running mate, Johnson. The Whigs would exploit his controversial marriage to a mulatto woman which made his candidacy unacceptable in the South. This would prove to have a lasting impression in the election. However, there were some interesting slogans to come out of this election. The phrase "Okay" was invented in this campaign. Van Buren, being a native of Kinderhook, New York, was nicknamed "Old Kinderhook" and his nomination influenced the formation of local support groups called "O.K. Clubs". Van Buren also came to be surprisingly savvy by appealing to the rights of the people over those of privilege and wealth several times. Johnson would use the slogan "Rumpsey, Dumpsey, Johnson shot Tecumseh!" Their campaign would point out Harrison and White were "ill-suited" for any sort of politics and Webster's vibrant nationalism would be the death of slavery. Van Buren made sure to promote popular sovereignty on issue of slavery and state rights to make him any easy choice. The Whigs would try to win crowds over with charm. Harrison, also known as Old Tippecanoe, would campaign across the western states. Webster would use the Senate floor as campaigning grounds and White would use smear tactics against Johnson saying "I do not think a lucky random shot, that may or may not have hit a long-dead Indian, proscribes a man the right to the Vice Presidency."4
The results were quite shocking, however, they were clear. The Whig strategy had failed, but not by much. They truly gave the Democrats a run for their money, especially William Henry Harrison. With a sway of just 2,000 votes in Pennsylvania, the election would have been thrown into Congress. In South Carolina, the electoral vote for Magnum was not counted. Their electors were elected by state legislature rather than popular vote, making the vote invalid on a national scale. However, with just enough of the majority, Martin Van Buren is elected the President of the United States. 51% of the popular vote and 58% of the electoral vote gives the candidacy to Jackson's successor. The vice presidency, however, would be disputed. Virginia protested Johnson's abolitionist practices and refused to give him their vote, giving it to Granger. Leaving Johnson one vote short of the majority, this would be the first, and only to date, as to which the twelfth amendment to the Constitution was used in the fullest effect. Thrown into Senate, Richard Johnson won the candidacy for vice president fair and square with 33 votes to Granger's 17.4 Democrat popularity and organization would triumph in the sights of Whig prematurity. The strategy may have worked if the Whigs had found a candidate to match the Democrat's widespread popularity.5 This election would prove that the basis for a united national opposition did exist.1 The Whigs would show that they learned from their mistakes in the next election.
Martin Van Buren would go onto endeavor the worst recession to date in the Panic of 1837. He would spend his presidency overlooking bank failures, bankruptcies, and unemployment. Nicknamed "Van Ruin", he would ironically be left to spend 4 years cleaning up the mess of his predecessor's seemingly great ideas he felt so strongly in. Sadly, there was nothing Van Buren could have done during this 6 year long recession after the 15 years of prosperity. However, his misfortune would give the Whigs the leeway they needed in the following election. 1
The election of 1836 may not have been full of exciting debates or catchy slogans. However, it was far from insignificant. From this election we gained the Second American Party System, which is still in effect today. It also showed that national opposition was possible while running multiple candidates for the first time. Finally, it put the 12th amendment to good use when the vice presidency was thrown into Senate for the first time. This election was highly significant, paving the way for many elections to come.
By: Briana Harney
1) Faragher, John Mack, Mari Jo Buhle, Daniel Czitrom, and Susan H. Armitage. Out of Many: A History of the American People. 5th AP. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007. 357-370. Print.
2) "United States presidential election, 1836." Absolute Astronomy. 2009. Wikipedia, Web. <http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/United_States_presidential_election,_1836#encyclopedia>.
3) "Election of 1836." Georgia's Blue and Gray Trail. 21 11 2007. Web. <http://blueandgraytrail.com/event/Election_of_1836>.
4) "1836 US Presidential Election@Everything2.com." Everything2. 11 07 2003. Web. <http://everything2.com/title/1836+US+Presidential+Election>.
5) "Election of 1836: The Democrats. The Whigs, and Jackson's Passing of the Torch." Associated Content. 06 04 2006. Associated Content, Inc., Web. <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/24838/election_of_1836_the_democrats_the_pg2_pg2.html?cat=37>.