The election of 1812 is the first presidential election to take place during a time when America was at war and the incumbent, James Madison is getting a run for his money from challenger and Mayor of New York, DeWitt Clinton… So with all that said, let’s get into it.
The War Of 1812
As discussed in previous election articles, Great Britain was a thorn in the side of the U.S. due to the British constantly taking U.S. shipping vessels and former British soldiers who became Americans; Not only that but Britain were also disrupting the U.S.’s overseas trading with France as America was in support of France during that country’s war with the British. Britain would further escalate tensions with the U.S. by working with and even supplying groups like the Barbary Pirates and Native American tribes, the latter of which was famously led by the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh during the Battle of Thames and the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Ultimately, in June of 1812, President James Madison asked Congress to declare war against the British, which of course they did, however many in Congress (particularly the Federalists) refused to support the idea of going to war with Great Britain especially with how their naval fleets were more dominate than America’s in the early beginnings of the war. This led to many of Madison’s opponents referring to the War of 1812 as “Madison’s War”. So, James Madison has gotten America into its very first war since officially becoming the United States, but this war isn’t the only problem that Madison has to deal with in 1812 as this is an election year and there’s a lot of people who want to see him gone.
A Party Divided
Between some in Congress being against the war to Madison’s continuation of acquiring new territories and especially the continuation of “The Virginia Dynasty” many American’s including those within the Democratic-Republican Party were getting sick and tired of the 4th President.
When the time came for the Democratic-Republicans to nominate a candidate during their congressional caucus the Southern wing of the party nominated James Madison, however the Northern wing of the party was instead thinking about nominating Madison’s vice president and former Governor of New York, George Clinton for a time but that doesn’t go anywhere as Clinton died in April of 1812.
Madison would get the nomination by the southern section of his party with Massachusetts Governor John Langdon nominated as his running mate, but he decided not to accept due to his old age; Instead, Madison’s running mate would founding father Albridge Gerry who is famously known today as the man that created the art of ‘Gerrymandering’ aka redistricting areas that would give political parties the edge in elections.
Despite Madison getting the nomination, many Democratic-Republicans in the northern section of the party were not happy with this and they decided to find someone they could nominate to run against the incumbent president.
Clinton For President
The northern section of the Democratic-Republicans found their candidate in the form of George’s nephew and the Mayor of New York, DeWitt Clinton; Clinton was nominated with little opposition as the northern supporters of the party were hoping to get Madison out of the White House. Clinton had a problem following his nomination as some of his supporters were ‘Warhawks’ aka people in favour of war and most of those people were already going to support James Madison, so DeWitt decides to use a strategy that seems commonplace in politics today, which is to promise a group of supporters that you’ll be in favour of something while also promising to do the opposite when confronted by the other side.
Because cell phones or telegrams weren’t around at this time, Clinton’s plan of favouring both sides on the same issue seemed to be a good idea as DeWitt could garner support from both sides of the Democratic-Republicans with neither side knowing where Clinton stood on the issue until it was too late. So, now that we know the candidates for the Democratic-Republicans, let’s see what the Federalist Party has in store.
Making A Decision
The Federalist party were feeling much better about their chances going into this election as the Democratic-Republicans were divided and some American’s were against the war, so Federalists felt that this was the perfect time to reclaim the White House after losing it back in the election of 1800. John Marshall who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court looked like the odds-on favourite to win the Federalist Party’s nomination as Marshall’s influence as a Chief Justice was legendary, not to mention that he could potentially win the state of Virginia as he most certainly would get the Northern states like New England, Connecticut and perhaps even New York which were filled with Federalists and Anti-Madison supporters.
However, once DeWitt Clinton was chosen as the candidate by the Northern section of the Democratic-Republicans many Federalists decided not to run a candidate and they didn’t publicly endorse Clinton as they believed that would hurt not only Clinton’s chances of winning states in the South, but it would lead to an easy victory for Madison. Some Federalists quietly supported DeWitt Clinton as his promises of wanting to get out of the war resonated with them and he could be the closest thing to what the Federalists needed to get back into the White House. Others in the Federalist Party instead nominated Rufus King who was the running mate for Charles C. Pinckney in the elections of 1804 and 1808. The Federalists decided to nominate Jarod Ingersoll from Pennsylvania as Clinton’s running mate which Clinton accepted as Pennsylvania was a key state that could help him win the race. So, we have James Madison vs. DeWitt Clinton in want looks to be a very close contest, Can Madison be able to keep his position as President? Let’s look at the results and find out.
As you can see from the map, James Madison narrowly wins re-election receiving 128 electoral votes, you only needed 109 votes to win at this time but, DeWitt Clinton isn’t too far off with 89 electoral votes. In terms of the popular vote, it’s just as close with Madison receiving 50.4% of the popular vote to Clinton’s 47.6%, meanwhile, Rufus King got no electoral votes but did get 2% of the popular vote. This election marked the first time an incumbent president won re-election with less of either the electoral or popular vote as Madison’s popular vote percentage in 1808 was 64.8, so his popularity dropped by 14.4%; Some other presidents would end up doing the same in the elections to come but in the end, Madison was able to keep his job as President of the United States
So that was the election of 1812, the first election to take place during wartime but it certainly wouldn’t be the last… The Virginia Dynasty continues as the Federalist Party fall further into disarray with the Democratic-Republicans not too far away.