A Tale of Two Tickets

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An 1846 painting by George Caleb Bingham showing a polling judge administering an oath to a voter

Since the ratification of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution (which said that each party would nominate separate candidates for President and Vice President who would run as a team and win or lose together), there have been two instances of a major party naming a Presidential candidate from one party and the Vice Presidential candidate from another. In both cases, the party won the election, and then faced the unforeseen consequences.

The first case was in 1840. The Whigs, who had replaced the National Republicans as the second major party, was facing a very strong Democratic Party led by Andrew Jackson’s hand picked successor, Martin Van Buren. The Democrats were well organized and well funded.

The Whigs had formed after the National Republicans lost their second, and final, national election in 1832. By 1836, the various factions that opposed the Jacksonian Democrats had joined forces in order to defeat the Jacksonians. As a collection of political philosophies that spanned the political spectrum, they could not agree on any of the major issues of the day. In 1836, they could not even agree on a candidate, so they nominated four “favorite sons” each of whom ran in his section of the country only. The strategy was that if the four candidates together gathered a majority of the electoral vote, then the party would come together and select one to be the President. They did not win a majority, and never faced the problem of choosing. Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s second Vice President was elected President to replace Jackson.

By 1840, the Whigs were better organized, and had the advantage of a severe economic depression (which they could and did blame on the Democrats in general, and Martin Van Buren specifically). But the Democrats still had a much better organization, and the Whigs would have to attract all the voters they could. Their strategy was again simple and effective.

Taking a page from the Democrats’ campaign book of 1828, they nominated William Henry Harison, a popular war hero general, and ran on his reputation and fame. In this case, they had to pretty much manufacture his hero status and his fame, but they did this very effectively. They called him the “Hero of Tippecanoe” and even nicknamed him “Ol’ Tippecanoe” in much the same way the Democrats called Jackson “Old Hickory.”

Their instructions to the candidate and the campaigners were to say nothing of his position on issues, but to celebrate his victories and portray him as a man of the people. This they did, and very well. His symbols were the log cabin and a barrel of hard cider, which a man of the people would drink. Van Buren was portrayed as a fop and a dandy, wearing fine perfumes and eating off of fine china and silver while people were out of work and hungry.

To attract even more voters, the Whigs put a Democrat, an anti-Jackson Democrat, on the ticket as Vice President. They nominated former Congressman and Senator John Tyler. This gave them one of the most famous campaign slogans of all times: “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” Tyler, a life-long Democrat, had split with the Jacksonians over what he considered abuse and violations of the Constitution. The hope was that his presence on the ticket would attract a large number of anti-Jackson Democrats to the Whig ticket that year. It worked.

The popular vote was actually fairly close. The Whig Candidate, William Henry Harrison, won with 52.88% of the vote. But his electoral victory was a huge landslide, with the Whigs taking 234 electoral votes to only 60 for the Democrats. The Whigs barely edged out the Democrats in a large number of states. Certainly, Tyler’s presence on the ticket tipped the scale and greatly aided the Whigs in their victory.

What the Wigs had not counted on was the possibility that Tyler might actually become President. Williams Henry Harrison, the oldest man ever elected President until Ronald Reagan took the title, made the longest inaugural address in history (that title is still his) without the protection of a top hat or coat during a freezing storm on March 4, 1841. He died of pneumonia 30 days later on April 4, 1841. John Tyler became President.

By this time, Henry Clay and the Whigs had finally agreed on a party platform. The Whig legislative program called for high protective tariffs, internal improvements at federal expense, and a new Bank of the United States. Tyler, as a life-long Democrat, opposed all of these measures. As the Whig Congress passed these measures, Tyler vetoed them. When he vetoed the second bill to create a new Bank of the United States, there were mass protests, and the Whig members of Congress formally expelled Tyler from the party. There was even a bill of impeachment introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first in our history, but it failed to pass.

The choice of Tyler for the Vice Presidential nomination certainly helped the Whigs take control of the White House and Congress by attracting anti-Jackson Democrats to the Whig Party. But his promotion to the Presidency after the death of William Henry Harrison prevented the Whigs from accomplishing any of their major goals, and contributed to their loss in the next election and their eventual demise as a major political party.

The next attempt at a mixed ticket came during the Civil War. As the election approached, the North was growing tired of the war, and the peace movement was gaining strength. In August, President Lincoln was convinced he would probably lose, and wrote a secret memo to his cabinet to that effect. To improve his chances, the Republicans joined forces with the pro-war Democrats and formed the National Union Party. This was a coalition of Republicans and pro-war Democrats formed for the 1864 election only. This “new” party allowed Democrats in favor of the war to join with the Republicans.

Since a Republican was at the top of the ticket, they needed a pro-war Democrat for the second spot. Lincoln decided on Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. John had been a Congressman, governor of Tennessee, and a courageous Senator who was the only southern member of Congress to remain in his seat, refusing to recognize secession. He then became military governor of Tennessee, and successfully re-established civilian government in Tennessee, saving that state from the horrors of Radical Reconstruction. Lincoln felt that a southerner in the Vice Presidency might help the southern people put aside hard feelings after the war, and help the nation reunite and heal faster.

President Lincoln considered Johnson a hero. Johnson had gone on a speaking tour of Tennessee to prevent secession at great risk to his own life. At one point, Johnson escaped through the back door of a railroad station just as an angry mob was entering through the front with a rope they intended to use to hang Johnson.

In September, General Sherman captured Atlanta, and victory seemed near. Lincoln and Johnson won a landslide election, carrying every state but New Jersey, Kentucky and Delaware. Again, the Republicans had a rude shock when, after Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson became President. Johnson opposed the Republican-controlled Congress at every turn. He was determined to carry out Lincoln’s mild reconstruction policies, and came into conflict with the Radical Republicans in Congress who favored punishing the South.

Congress tried to curtail the President’s powers, removing him from the Reconstruction process as much as possible, and limited his control over his own cabinet with the Tenure of Office Act, which said the President could not fire cabinet members without the approval of the Senate. The conflict finally resulted in articles of impeachment being passed by the House, and the trial in the Senate. President Johnson survived by a single vote, since a two-thirds majority was required rather than a simple majority. Johnson, who remained defiant throughout the entire ordeal, served the last months of his term, but was not nominated for a full term of his own. Johnson was vindicated when his home state elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1875, making him the only President to serve in the Senate after his term in the White House.

No party has tried to offer a mixed ticket since then. No party has even seriously considered such a move. The entire purpose of the Vice President under our Constitution is that he (or she) stands ready to assume the Presidency in a crisis. As John Adams pointed out, the Vice President is nothing, but might become everything. Knowing where the Vice President stands on the issues is vital to the party leadership.

In times of war or other crisis, some Presidents have sought to create a bi-partisan administration, but they never again used the Vice Presidency to accomplish that goal. They often use cabinet posts for that purpose. The most notable modern example would be Democrat Franklin Roosevelt naming prominent Republican Henry Stimson Secretary of War in the days before the United states entered World War II. Stimson had served as Secretary of War under Republican President William Howard Taft and Secretary of State under Republican President Herbert Hoover, who Roosevelt defeated to become President. A more recent example would be Democratic President Bill Clinton naming Republican Senator William Cohen as Secretary of Defense.