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Election of 1836
Martin Van Buren vs. Daniel Webster vs. Hugh White
The election of 1836 was largely a referendum on Andrew Jackson, but it also helped shape what is known as the second party system. The Democrats nominated Vice President Martin Van Buren to lead the ticket. His running mate, Col. Richard M. Johnson, claimed to have killed Indian chief Tecumseh. (Johnson was controversial because he lived openly with a black woman.)
Disdaining the organized politics of the Democrats, the new Whig party ran three candidates, each strong in a different region: Hugh White of Tennessee, Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and Gen. William Henry Harrison of Indiana. Besides endorsing internal improvements and a national bank, the Whigs tried to tie Democrats to abolitionism and sectional tension, and attacked Jackson for "acts of aggression and usurpation of power." Democrats depended on Jackson's popularity, trying to maintain his coalition.
Van Buren won the election with 764,198 popular votes, only 50.9 percent of the total, and 170 electoral votes. Harrison led the Whigs with 73 electoral votes, White receiving 26 and Webster 14. Willie P. Mangum of South Carolina received his state's 11 electoral votes. Johnson, who failed to win an electoral majority, was elected vice president by the Democratic Senate.
Election of 1840
William Henry Harrison vs. Martin Van Buren
Aware that Van Buren's problems gave them a good chance for victory, the Whigs rejected the candidacy of Henry Clay, their most prominent leader, because of his support for the unpopular Second Bank of the United States. Instead, stealing a page from the Democratic emphasis on Andrew Jackson's military exploits, they chose William Henry Harrison, a hero of early Indian wars and the War of 1812. The Whig vice-presidential nominee was John Tyler, a onetime Democrat who had broken with Jackson over his veto of the bill rechartering the Second Bank.
Studiously avoiding divisive issues like the Bank and internal improvements, the Whigs depicted Harrison as living in a "log cabin" and drinking "hard cider." They used slogans like "Tippecanoe and Tyler too," and "Van, Van, Van/Van is a used-up man" to stir voters. Harrison won by a popular vote of 1,275,612 to 1,130,033, and an electoral margin of 234 to 60. But the victory proved to be a hollow one because Harrison died one month after his inauguration. Tyler, his successor, would not accept Whig economic doctrine, and the change in presidential politics had little effect on presidential policy.
Election of 1844
James K. Polk vs. Henry Clay vs. James Birney
The election of 1844 introduced expansion and slavery as important political issues and contributed to westward and southern growth and sectionalism. Southerners of both parties sought to annex Texas and expand slavery. Martin Van Buren angered southern Democrats by opposing annexation for that reason, and the Democratic convention cast aside the ex-president and front-runner for the first dark horse, Tennessee's James K. Polk. After almost silently breaking with Van Buren over Texas, Pennsylvania's George M. Dallas was nominated for vice president to appease Van Burenites, and the party backed annexation and settling the Oregon boundary dispute with England. The abolitionist Liberty party nominated Michigan's James G. Birney. Trying to avoid controversy, the Whigs nominated anti-annexationist Henry Clay of Kentucky and Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. But, pressured by southerners, Clay endorsed annexation, although concerned it might cause war with Mexico and disunion, and thereby lost support among antislavery Whigs.
Enough New Yorkers voted for Birney to throw 36 electoral votes and the election to Polk, who won the electoral college, 170-105, and a slim popular victory. John Tyler signed a joint congressional resolution admitting Texas, but Polk pursued Oregon, and then northern Mexico in the Mexican War, aggravating tension over slavery and sectional balance and leading toward the Compromise of 1850.
Election of 1848
Zachary Taylor vs. Martin Van Buren vs. Lewis Cass
The election of 1848 underscored the increasingly important role of slavery in national politics. Democratic president James K. Polk did not seek reelection. His party nominated Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, who created the concept of squatter, or popular, sovereignty (letting the settlers of a territory decide whether to permit slavery), with Gen. William O. Butler of Kentucky for vice president. Antislavery groups formed the Free-Soil party, whose platform promised to prohibit the spread of slavery, and chose former president Martin Van Buren of New York for president and Charles Francis Adams, the son of President John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts for vice president. The Whig nominee was the Mexican War hero, Gen. Zachary Taylor, a slave owner. His running mate was Millard Fillmore, a member of New York's proslavery Whig faction.
Democrats and Free-Soilers stressed their views of slavery, and Whigs celebrated Taylor's victories in the recent war, although many Whigs had opposed it. For his part, Taylor professed moderation on slavery, and he and the Whigs were successful. Taylor defeated Cass, 1,360,099 to 1,220,544 in popular votes and 163 to 127 in electoral votes. Van Buren received 291,263 popular votes and no electoral votes, but he drew enough support away from Cass to swing New York and Massachusetts to Taylor, assuring the Whigs' victory. With the Taylor-Fillmore ticket elected, the forces had been set in motion for the events surrounding the Compromise of 1850. But Van Buren's campaign was a stepping-stone toward the creation of the Republican party in the 1850s, also committed to the principle of "Free Soil."
Election of 1852
Franklin Pierce vs. Winfield Scott vs. John Pitale
The 1852 election rang a death knell for the Whig party. Both parties split over their nominee and the issue of slavery. After forty-nine ballots of jockeying among Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, former secretary of state James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the Democrats nominated a compromise choice, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, a former congressman and senator, with Senator William R. King of Alabama as his running mate. The Whigs rejected Millard Fillmore, who had become president when Taylor died in 1850, and Secretary of State Daniel Webster and nominated Gen. Winfield Scott of Virginia, with Senator William A. Graham of New Jersey for vice president. When Scott endorsed the party platform, which approved of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Free-Soil Whigs bolted. They nominated Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire for president and former congressman George Washington Julian of Indiana for vice president. Southern Whigs were suspicious of Scott, whom they saw as a tool of antislavery senator William H. Seward of New York.
Democratic unity, Whig disunity, and Scott's political ineptitude combined to elect Pierce. "Young Hickory of the Granite Hills" outpolled "Old Fuss and Feathers" in the electoral college, 254 to 42, and in the popular vote, 1,601,474 to 1,386,578.
Election of 1856
James Buchanan vs. Millard Fillmore vs. John C. Freemont
The 1856 election was waged by new political coalitions and was the first to confront directly the issue of slavery. The violence that followed the Kansas-Nebraska Act destroyed the old political system and past formulas of compromises. The Whig party was dead. Know-Nothings nominated Millard Fillmore to head their nativist American party and chose Andrew J. Donelson for vice president. The Democratic party, portraying itself as the national party, nominated James Buchanan for president and John C. Breckinridge for vice president. Its platform supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act and noninterference with slavery. This election saw the emergence of a new, sectional party composed of ex-Whigs, Free-Soil Democrats, and antislavery groups. The Republican party opposed the extension of slavery and promised a free-labor society with expanded opportunities for white workers. It nominated military hero, John C. Frémont of California for president and William L. Dayton for vice president.
The campaign centered around "Bleeding Kansas." The battle over the concept of popular sovereignty sharpened northern fears about the spread of slavery and southern worries about northern interference. The physical assault by Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina on Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the floor of the Senate heightened northern resentment of southern aggressiveness.
Although the Democratic candidate, Buchanan, won with 174 electoral votes and 1,838,169 votes, the divided opposition gained more popular votes. The Republican party captured 1,335,264 votes and 114 in the electoral college, and the American party received 874,534 popular and 8 electoral votes. The Republicans' impressive showing--carrying eleven of sixteen free states and 45 percent of northern ballots--left the South feeling vulnerable to attacks on slavery and fearful the Republicans would soon capture the government.
Election of 1860
Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas vs. John C. Breckingridge vs. John Bell
At the Republican convention, front-runner William H. Seward of New York faced insurmountable obstacles: conservatives feared his radical statements about an "irrepressible conflict" over slavery and a "higher law" than the Constitution, and radicals doubted his moral scruples. Hoping to carry moderate states like Illinois and Pennsylvania, the party nominated Abraham Lincoln of Illinois for president and Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for vice president. The Republican platform called for a ban on slavery in the territories, internal improvements, a homestead act, a Pacific railroad, and a tariff.
The Democratic convention, which met at Charleston, could not agree on a candidate, and most of the southern delegates bolted. Reconvening in Baltimore, the convention nominated Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois for president and Senator Herschel Johnson of Georgia for vice president. Southern Democrats then met separately and chose Vice President John Breckinridge of Kentucky and Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon as their candidates.
Former Whigs and Know-Nothings formed the Constitutional Union party, nominating Senator John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Their only platform was "the Constitution as it is and the Union as it is."
By carrying almost the entire North, Lincoln won in the electoral college with 180 votes to 72 for Breckinridge, 39 for Bell, and 12 for Douglas. Lincoln won a popular plurality of about 40 percent, leading the popular vote with 1,766,452 to 1,376,957 for Douglas, 849,781 for Breckinridge, and 588,879 for Bell. With the election of a sectional northern candidate, the Deep South seceded from the Union, followed within a few months by several states of the Upper South.
Election of 1864
Abraham Lincoln vs. George B. McClellan
The contest in the midst of the Civil War pitted President Abraham Lincoln against Democrat George B. McClellan, the general who had commanded the Army of the Potomac until his indecision and delays caused Lincoln to remove him. The vice-presidential candidates were Andrew Johnson, Tennessee's military governor who had refused to acknowledge his state's secession, and Representative George Pendleton of Ohio. At first, Radical Republicans, fearing defeat, talked of ousting Lincoln in favor of the more ardently antislavery secretary of the treasury Salmon P. Chase, or Generals John C. Frémont or Benjamin F. Butler. But in the end they fell in behind the president.
The Republicans attracted Democratic support by running as the Union party and putting Johnson, a pro-war Democrat, on the ticket. McClellan repudiated the Democratic platform's call for peace, but he attacked Lincoln's handling of the war.
Lincoln won in a landslide, owing partly to a policy of letting soldiers go home to vote. But the military successes of Generals Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia and William T. Sherman in the Deep South were probably more important. He received 2,206,938 votes to McClellan's 1,803,787. The electoral vote was 212 to 21. Democrats did better in state elections.
Election of 1868
Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Seymour
In this contest, Republican Ulysses S. Grant opposed Horace Seymour, the Democratic governor of New York. Their respective running mates were Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax of Indiana and Francis P. Blair of Missouri. The Democrats attacked the Republican management of Reconstruction and black suffrage. Grant, a moderate on Reconstruction, was accused of military despotism and anti-Semitism, and Colfax, of nativism and possible corruption. Besides criticizing Seymour's support for inflationary greenback currency and Blair's reputed drunkenness and his opposition to Reconstruction, the Republicans questioned the wartime patriotism of all Democrats.
Grant won the popular vote, 3,012,833 to 2,703,249, and carried the electoral college by 214 to 80. Seymour carried only eight states, but ran fairly well in many others, especially in the South. The election showed that despite his popularity as a military hero, Grant was not invincible. His margin of victory came from newly enfranchised southern freedmen, who supplied him with about 450,000 votes. The Democrats had named a weak ticket and attacked Reconstruction rather than pursuing economic issues, but revealed surprising strength.
Election of 1872
Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley
President Ulysses S. Grant ran against New YorkTribune editor Horace Greeley in 1872. Greeley headed an uneasy coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans. Despite Greeley's history of attacking Democrats, that party endorsed him for the sake of expediency. The vice-presidential candidates were Republican senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts and Governor B. Gratz Brown of Missouri.
Disaffected by Grant administration corruption and the controversy over Reconstruction, Greeley ran on a platform of civil service reform, laissez-faire liberalism, and an end to Reconstruction. The Republicans came out for civil service reform and the protection of black rights. They attacked Greeley's inconsistent record and his support of utopian socialism and Sylvester Graham's dietary restrictions. Thomas Nast's anti-Greeley cartoons in Harper's Weekly attracted wide attention.
Grant won the century's biggest Republican popular majority, 3,597,132 to 2,834,125. The electoral college vote was 286 to 66. Actually, the result was more anti-Greeley than pro-Grant.
Election of 1876
Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden
In 1876 the Republican party nominated Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for president and William A. Wheeler of New York for vice president. The Democratic candidates were Samuel J. Tilden of New York for president and Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana for vice president. Several minor parties, including the Prohibition party and the Greenback party, also ran candidates.
The country was growing weary of Reconstruction policies, which kept federal troops stationed in several southern states. Moreover, the Grant administration was tainted by numerous scandals, which caused disaffection for the party among voters. In 1874 the House of Representatives had gone Democratic; political change was in the air.
Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, receiving 4,284,020 votes to 4,036,572 for Hayes. In the electoral college Tilden was also ahead 184 to 165; both parties claimed the remaining 20 votes. The Democrats needed only 1 more vote to capture the presidency, but the Republicans needed all 20 contested electoral votes. Nineteen of them came from South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida--states that the Republicans still controlled. Protesting Democratic treatment of black voters, Republicans insisted that Hayes had carried those states but that Democratic electors had voted for Tilden.
Two sets of election returns existed--one from the Democrats, one from the Republicans. Congress had to determine the authenticity of the disputed returns. Unable to decide, legislators established a fifteen-member commission composed of ten congressmen and five Supreme Court justices. The commission was supposed to be nonpartisan, but ultimately it consisted of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The final decision was to be rendered by the commission unless both the Senate and the House rejected it. The commission accepted the Republican vote in each state. The House disagreed, but the Senate concurred, and Hayes and Wheeler were declared president and vice president.
In the aftermath of the commission's decision, the federal troops that remained in the South were withdrawn, and southern leaders made vague promises regarding the rights of the 4 million African-Americans living in the region.
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