Having failed to nominate a single presidential candidate for 1836 despite their unity in their hatred for President Andrew Jackson’s dictatorial policies, the embryonic Whig Party followed a strategy to run regional candidates. This, the Whigs hoped, would prevent Jackson’s heir apparent, Martin Van Buren, from winning an electoral college majority and send the election to the House of Representatives. They also hoped that the regional candidates would have long coattails for Whigs and Anti-Democrats running in state elections.
As a young congressman from New Hampshire, Webster’s presence was noted at the Federalist and sessionist Hartford Convention during the War of 1812. However, as Massachusetts senator, “Godlike Daniel” became noted for his nationalist ideals. He defended “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable” against Robert Hayne’s pro-southern notions in a rhetorical fistfight in the Senate in 1830. He further redeemed his nationalist qualities by strongly supporting the Bank of the United States, damning Jackson’s veto of the bank’s recharter as a despotic usurpation.
After securing the presidential nomination from the Massachusetts legislature in January 1835, Webster sought other states. However, the Anti-Masons of New York and Pennsylvania, the largest Anti-Jackson group in those states, rejected Webster based on his Federalist background, and his close relationships with the rich Boston Brahmins and Nicholas Biddle of the B.U.S. (Webster was a B.U.S. lawyer). Midwesterners were also repelled by Webster’s background, preferring a candidate of their own.
William Henry Harrison
That candidate was General Harrison. A member of a distinguished Virginia family, Harrison earned his reputation as an Indian fighter on the western frontier in the 1790’s. He had political experience as governor of the Indiana Territory and U.S. Senator from Ohio. But he received national acclaim in leading soldiers that foiled Shawnee chief Tecumseh’s surprise attack at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Harrison had midwestern and national appeal.
Besides being dismissed by Jackson from a diplomatic post, Harrison did not have National Republican or Whig credentials. So, in a public letter Harrison condemned Jackson’s executive abuses of power and pooh-poohed political parties. He stated his approval of Whig policies like federal support of internal improvements, distribution of federal land revenues to the states, and a new national bank. With these positions, Harrison acquired support from former National Republicans, including influential senator Henry Clay.
Hugh Lawson White
Senator White of Tennessee had been a close friend and supporter of fellow Tennessean Jackson. But he became a disgruntled Democrat, offended by Jackson’s abuses of power. According to historian Daniel Walker Howe, White objected to Jackson’s aggressive war against the B.U.S.. In addition, he and some other southern Whigs and Democrats did not trust Jackson’s hand-picked successor Van Buren on the issue of slavery. Van Buren was a northerner and susceptible to Abolitionist agitation.
Therefore, a collection of Tennessee politicians, led by representative John Bell, who opposed Jackson’s anti-bank and patronage policies, gained permission from White to run him for president. The following month (January 1835) the Alabama legislature nominated White, backed by a coalition of extreme states-righters and National Republicans who protested Van Buren’s candidacy and party conventions. Soon, White was portrayed as the people’s candidate and a defender against “northern aggression.”
Willie Person Mangum
Of the same ilk as White was North Carolina senator Willie P. Mangum. The popular state’s-rights Democrat complained at the end of 1833 that Jacksonians had unfairly portrayed any southerner who disagreed with them as a nullifier. Also, a North Carolinian reported to Mangum that there was a change of opinion against Jackson amongst Tarheels due to the economic contraction from the Bank War.
These observations led Mangum to a formal break with Jackson in a major speech in February 1834. He announced that the issue was not about bank or no bank, but about “law or no law, constitution or no constitution.” Mangum became a founder of the Whig Party in the South, helping to form an alliance between nullifiers, pro-bank Democrats, and National Republicans in North Carolina. South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun took notice and instructed his state’s electors to vote for Mangum.
Results of the 1836 Presidential Election
Van Buren:170 electoral votes
Harrison: 73 (Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Vermont, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland)
White: 26 (Georgia, Tennessee)
Mangum: 11 (South Carolina)
The Whig strategy failed. Van Buren achieved a majority in the Electoral College. Also, according to historian Michael Holt, the various Whig presidential candidates failed to help Anti-Democrats for state offices for the most part. However, the 1836 election did help Whigs find a potential presidential candidate for 1840- William Henry Harrison, who won states in the midwest, upper south, and New England regions.