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US History: The Election of 1836 – Martin Van Buren & The Whig Party

In one of the weirdest elections in U.S. history, the Election of 1836, Martin Van Buren wants to become the new president of the United States, but a new political party is looking to stop that from happening… Let’s get into it.  

Martin Van Buren For President?

So, Andrew Jackson decides to step down after two successful and controversial terms as president and sees his vice president, Martin Van Buren as his logical successor. Van Buren is one of the founders of the Democratic Party alongside Andrew Jackson, he also is a great political organizer as he helped to get Jackson the presidency in 1828 and Van Buren has also held many political positions as Senator and later Governor of his home state of New York, Secretary of State and of course VP under the Jackson Administration… So he has a very impressive track record, and he gets the Democratic Party’s nomination without any question.

Van Buren chooses Richard Mentor Johnson, a U.S. Representative from Kentucky as his running mate to balance out the ticket by having a southerner run alongside Van Buren who is from the North. Richard Johnson isn’t loved by many Democrats due to his habit of having affairs with his female slaves, in fact, one of these slaves by the name of Julie Chinn was described as his wife by the man himself and despite his record as a war hero and senator, many people aren’t too hot on Johnson, but no serious competition could be raised to change Johnson and so, therefore, he got the nomination for VP. Now that the ticket for the Democrats has been established it’s time to look at their opponents in this election.

The Rise Of The Whig Party

Following their defeats to Andrew Jackson in the 1828 and 1832 elections, the National Republican Party came to an end and in its place was a new political party known as ‘The Whig Party’ with the term ‘Whig’ being used to by many Americans who opposed the monarchy of Great Britain during the Revolutionary War.

By the 1834 midterm elections, the party won seats in the House and was created under the leadership of Henry Clay with much of the party being made up of former Federalists and National Republicans, members of the Anti-Masonic Party and former Democrats who disagreed with Jackson on a number of issues. The ideals for the Whig Party were based entirely on Herny Clay’s ‘American System’ which focused on having a national bank, high tariffs for industrial goods and a bigger focus on infrastructure projects among other things and by the time of the 1836 election they think they can beat the Democrats, but to do so they have a very unusual strategy when it comes to this election.

The Whigs Unusual Strategy

Due to the Whigs not having a nominating convention by 1836, many of the state legislatures nominated the candidates with four different people representing the Whig Party.

The strategy by the Whig Party in this election was to run multiple candidates in order to eat away at Martin Van Buren’s chances of winning the presidency and if possible, see one of them become the new president. The four Whig candidates running in the 1836 election were:

  • Hugh Lawson White- Senator from Tennessee
  • Willie Person Magnum- Senator from North Carolina
  • Daniel Webster- Senator from Massachusetts
  • William Henry Harrison- Former Senator and Governor from Ohio

Because White, Magnum and Webster were only on the ballot in one or two states, William Henry Harrison was the only one most likely to get the majority of the electoral and popular votes for the Whig Party but with the other three involved, it helped in the party’s plan of stopping a Van Buren presidency.

In terms of the Whigs running mate for Vice President, they chose two different people: Francis Granger who was a U.S. Representative of New York and who ran with Harrison and Webster, while John Tyler, a Senator from Virginia ran with Magnum and White. So, the Whigs are trying a unique plan to stop Van Buren from becoming president now let’s see if that plan worked out by looking at the results.

The Results

Before I explain the results, it’s important to mention that Arkansas and Michigan became states thereby making the electoral votes needed to win the presidency becoming 148; However, Michigan became an official state in 1837 so a compromise was made in which the votes would be continued twice: one with Michigan’s votes included and one without it… but as you can see from looking at the map, this didn’t make much of a difference as Martin Van Buren won the election with 170 electoral votes and 50.8% of the popular vote making him the 8th president in U.S. history.

The Whig’s plan to divide and conquer backfired with William Henry Harrison getting 73 electoral votes, Hugh Lawson White getting 26 electoral votes from the state of Kentucky and Georgia, Daniel Webster got 14 electoral votes from his home state of Massachusetts and Willie Magnum getting 11 electoral votes from the state of South Carolina, However, the Whigs did win nearly 50% of the popular vote overall. While the other plan the Whigs had in this election was to throw it into the House of Representatives in order for Congress to decide the winner, that plan wouldn’t have worked either as the Democrats still had enough of the majority in the House and Senate, so Van Buren would have won regardless. However, we are not done yet as we have some controversy regarding the Vice Presidency and for that, we will have to send this to the Senate.

The Battle Of The Vice Presidents

Despite the fact Martin Van Buren won the presidency, Richard Mentor Johnson had some problems with his bid for the vice presidency as 23 electors in the state of Virginia threw their support to a senator from South Carolina named William Smith. These electors didn’t like Johnson due to his history with female slaves and so they voted for Smith as a protest vote, leaving Johnson one electoral vote short needed to become the vice president and so it was thrown into the Senate which they had to choose between Johnson and Granger (who had more votes than Tyler but was also short). Due to the fact that the Democrats had a majority of support in the Senate, they voted for Richard Mentor Johnson who became the 9th vice president in U.S. History and the only VP to win the position by way of a congenital election.

So, that is the election of 1836, Martin Van Buren has become the third vice president to immediately become president in the next election since Thomas Jefferson and his hopes to bring his expertise as a political Mannisto to the White House. But will he be successful as president by the time the election of 1840 rolls around? We will just have to wait and see.

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