What Was the Whig Party?

Section of a 1848 Whig Party campaign banner.  Editorial credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com
Section of a 1848 Whig Party campaign banner. Editorial credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com

The Whig party was once a big political party that operated in the United States from the year 1834-1854. This party was formed by the opposition to President Andrew Jackson and Democrats as a whole. The party, whose name was borrowed from the British Anti-Monarchist Party, was led by the political leader Henry Clay. The Whigs carried the reputation of standing for affluence and nobility. Despite this belief, they garnered support from different economic groups.

Creation of The Whig Party

As a president, Andrew Jackson crushed the Republican Party in two presidential elections in 1828 and 1832. His stand on fighting the second Bank of the United States and nullification in South Carolina gave Henry Clay a fighting ground for presidential support. Clay was able to bring together groups of people who believed in a national protective tariff and federally financed internal changes to fight the stand by the Jacksonian Democrats. They got a huge support from the Anti-Masonic Movement when it collapsed in the mid 1830’s.

What drove The Whig Party was the common disapproval of President Jackson and what he stood for. They failed to formulate party policies for the long term. In1836, they had 3 presidential candidates for the East, West and South. These candidates were Daniel Webster, Hugh L. White, and William Henry Harrison. In 1840 they managed to nominate William Henry Harrison for president. They won the seat using a campaign method they called “log cabin.”

In 1840, with majority in the White house and the congress, The Whig party held the potential of being the country’s most powerful party. Surprisingly, the war hero Harrison died only after being in office for one month. He was succeeded by John Tyler who instilled many programs the Whig party stood for including the reestablishment of the Bank of the United States.

By the 1840’s, the party faced disunity within its members on the issue of slavery. The party was divided on the grounds of supporters of slavery (cotton) and non-supporters (Conscience). This saw them lose elections in 1844.

The party re-nominated a war hero to run for presidency, a man by the name Zachary Taylor. This method was successful. The success was not for long as Clay, the leader of the Whig party, planted a seed of division when the president Millard Fillmore (successor to Taylor) signed the compromise of 1850 into law, an action which antagonized the ’conscience’ group in the party.

Division Within the Party

The Whig party nominated General Winfield Scott for presidency in 1952. They failed miserably with the candidate getting only 42 electoral votes. The North and the South were very agitated with the slavery compromises. The division led to the southern Whigs moving to the Democratic Party.

The year 1854 marked most of the Whigs from the North moving camp to the Republican Party. The party at this point only had support from Border States and groups that refused to take sides in the conflict. In the late 50’s the remaining Whigs joined the Constitutional Union Party, a party that was described as Know-Nothing. This marked the division of the country in 1860.

With a proper party plan, the Whig party could have lived to be the strongest party the United States has ever seen.


More in Politics