The small government conservative Jackson Republicans knew that their controversial leader wouldn't survive a re-election bid. His outright inability and refusal to deal with the partisanship regarding such issues as slavery, a federal reserve system, and westward expansion had alienated him from all but the most hardcore of supporters. In fact, he was called in many quarters the "first American king," and the conservatives in the party loathed his aggressive executive authority. The Democratic Republicans would have to find someone who held their views, but without the vitriol (and parenthetically the uncouth and unsavory backwoods personality) of Old Hickory. The National Republican party of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay had died out, its platform being supplanted by a new party, the Whigs, which consisted of old National Republicans and various Jackson expatriates. They stood firm on the main issue dividing the parties: the creation of a national economic policy, one code to rule them all.

Partisan Races

Andrew Jackson had already hand-picked his own successor: the remarkably loyal Vice President Martin Van Buren. Meeting in Baltimore on May 22, 1835, Van Buren pledged to fight against the Bank of the United States, and to not make "deals with the devil" (such as Clay and Senator John C. Calhoun) that went against the party platform. He was unanimously nominated on the first ballot. However, the convention was not without controversy: while Jackson supported fellow soldier and Kentucky Representative Richard Johnson for Vice President, Van Buren and the Southern delegates wanted Virginian William Cabell Rives, the ambassador to France. Jackson felt Johnson, a war hero who allegedly had killed the Indian leader Tecumseh, could steal away votes from William Henry Harrison and Hugh Lawson White, the top Whig contenders and war heroes themselves. However, Johnson had made a lot of political enemies because of his interesting domestic situation: unmarried, Johnson lived in sin with a mulatto woman. In the South, this was blasphemy. Even Van Buren, a conciliatory type, warned that Johnson's "cupidity" might cost the Dems the election. The ballots were close, until unexpectedly Tennessee threw its weight to Johnson, giving him the victory. Rives' supporters were furious - Tennessee's votes had been handed over due to conniving pressure put on by Silas Wright on the proxy Tennessee delegate. They claimed the nomination of Johnson ruined the party's chances in Virginia. Time would prove them right.

The Whigs had it particularly tough. They were mostly united due to their hatred of Jackson - either as an enemy or a traitor. This mutual disagreement did not, however, lead to a unified platform. They still bickered over states' rights versus federalism and slavery versus abolition. Some of the party leaders felt there shouldn't be a Bank of the United States to dominate economic policy, while others claimed it was the only way to stabilize the government as a participant in the market. Even worse for the Whigs, their creation, organization, and activity proved so slow they couldn't organize a national convention in time, instead settling for several regional conventions.

The leading candidates, Harrison and White, were both war heroes and had little political knowhow. The party leaders instead tried to generate support for the Massachusetts politician Daniel Webster. In the end, the whigs resolved to have all three candidates run. Perhaps this seemed like a good idea at the time - they felt if they could subvert an electoral majority they could win in the House - but it only amplified the lack of a cohesive opposition to Jacksonian politics.

The Campaigns

First, some pointless trivia: the phrase "Okay" was invented in this campaign. Van Buren was a native of Kinderhook, New York (sometimes called "Old Kinderhook"), and his nomination brought about the creation of several local support groups, called "O.K. Clubs." The clubs worked, and the phrase stuck. On we go.

Van Buren's continuance of Jackson policies - standing fast against federal involvement in the building of roads, railroads, canals, and other forms of transportation, and promoting popular sovereignty with regards to slavery and states' rights - made him the easy choice in the election. Johnson's mythology was worked over ("Rumpsey, Dumpsey, Johnson shot Tecumseh!" was a popular slogan) and Van Buren was very savvy, appealing to the people's rights over those of "privilege and wealth" numerous times. They pointed out Harrison and white were ill-suited for any sort of politics, and Webster's vibrant nationalism would be the death of slavery.

The Whigs basically tried to win the crowds over with charm. Old Tippecanoe Harrison stumped all across the "western" United States (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan), which was strictly against the previous ethics of presidential campaigns. Webster was content to use the Senate floor as campaigning grounds, and White used smear tactics against Johnson's miscegenation and dubious war record ("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") to win over votes in the South.

The Election

The results are in:

                    Electoral Votes   Total Votes
Van Buren/Johnson       170 (57.8%)  .76m (50.9%) 
Harrison/Granger         73 (24.8%)  .55m (36.7%) 
White/Tyler              26  (8.8%)   .15m (9.7%) 
Webster/Smith            14  (4.8%)   .04m (2.7%) 
Mangum 	                11  (3.8%)     -- (0.0%)

Well, for starters, who in the heck is Mangum? Well, it turns out that the South Carolina legislature held a grudge against its plurality winner White over his support of the Force Bill preventing state nullification laws, and gave their votes to North Carolina Senator Willie P. Mangum instead.

Van Buren handily won as President over the divided Whig party opposition. But again, a hiccough in the works occurred. As per the custom, the vice president has a separate electoral vote from the President. While Van Burn received his 170 electoral votes, the state of Virginia, protesting both the Rives dismissal and Johnson's "abolitionist practices," gave their votes to Whig Francis Granger, leaving Johnson one vote short of the majority support required for election. Thus, the Vice Presidential race was thrown to the Senate, where 50 of the 52 Senators voted - straight down the party line - and Johnson was put in over Granger, 33-17.

Van Buren's victory gave the Republicans a major boost in Washington politics. Shortly after his swearing in, however, the Panic of 1837 set in, and the internal squabbling and turmoil that had plagued Jackson's Kitchen Cabinet slowly began to haunt the new administration. The Whigs continued to gain ground support in local and state elections, leading to another showdown between the nationalists and the conservatives in 1840.


  • resources/pdf/richard_johnson.pdf

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.