Political Developments in Religion and Reform
Although Andrew Jackson was very well liked among the general population, there were many in office who disliked and distrusted his policies. A new political party, the Whigs, came into existence in 1834. It was born in opposition to the Democratic Party, which had grown up around Jackson’s candidacy for president.
Some Whigs opposed Jackson on personal grounds. Others felt that he was abusing his power, shifting the presidency toward something that was perilously close to a monarchy. The leaders of the Whigs were senators Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. They took their party name from Revolutionary days, when the British Whigs had advocated a relaxation of parliamentary authority over the colonies.
The Whigs ran their first candidates for president in 1836: William Henry Harrison, the hero of the War of 1812; Hugh White; and Daniel Webster. None of the three garnered nearly as many votes as Martin Van Buren, who had been Andrew Jackson’s vice president. Van Buren was a New York City politician who had proved a valuable political ally for Jackson, but who lacked Jackson’s personal popularity.
In 1840, the Whigs tried again. This time they succeeded in capturing the White House. During a spirited and hard-fought campaign, they painted Van Buren as a remote aristocrat and called themselves “the party of the people.” Although William Henry Harrison had an aristocratic background of his own— he was from a wealthy family, and his father had signed the Declaration of Independence—the Whigs successfully portrayed him as a common man with a log-cabin past, just like Andrew Jackson. Harrison also capitalized on his military career, reminding the voters of his victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe. “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!” became the rallying cry of the campaign, and Harrison and his vice president, John Tyler of Virginia, were elected. The popular vote was close, but Harrison won almost four times as many electoral votes as Van Buren. Harrison ended up serving the shortest term of any U.S. president; after standing unprotected in the rain to deliver his lengthy inaugural address, he became seriously ill, dying only one month into his term. Vice President John Tyler became the first president to step into office when a president died before his term was over.
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