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A Tale of Two Tickets, Part I

Mar 21, 2003 - © John S. Cooper

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 copyright of the article A TALE OF TWO TICKETS, PART I is owned by John S. Cooper. Permission to republish A TALE OF TWO TICKETS, PART I in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

John Cooper

MS/HS Social Studies / Alumni Director

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