Sunday, March 4, 2012

The US Presidential Election of 1840

The United States presidential election of 1840 saw President Martin Van Buren fight for re-election against an economic depression and a Whig Party unified for the first time behind war hero William Henry Harrison and his "log cabin campaign". Rallying under the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too,” the Whigs easily defeated Van Buren.
This election was unique in that electors cast votes for four men who had been or would become President of the United States: current President Martin Van Buren; President-elect William Henry Harrison; Vice-President-elect John Tyler, who would succeed Harrison upon his death; and James K. Polk, who received one electoral vote for Vice President, and who would succeed Tyler come 1845.
Having tried unsuccessfully to become the new Whig Party's only candidate for president in 1836, William Henry Harrison continued campaigning for the nomination until the next election cycle. At the December 1839 Whig convention, Harrison became the party's official nominee for president.
To attract support in the South, former Virginia Senator John Tyler was named the Whig nominee for vice president. The Whig strategy was to win the election by avoiding discussion of difficult national issues such as slavery or the national bank.
Harrison was the first president to campaign actively for office. He did so with the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Tippecanoe referred to Harrison's military victory over a group of Shawnee Indians at a river in Indiana called Tippecanoe in 1811. Democrats laughed at Harrison for being too old for the presidency, and referred to him as "Granny," hinting that he was senile. Said one Democratic newspaper: "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."
Whigs, eager to deliver what the public wanted, took advantage of this and declared that Harrison was "the log cabin and hard cider candidate," a man of the common people from the rough-and-tumble West. They depicted Harrison's opponent, President Martin Van Buren, as a wealthy snob who was out of touch with the people. In fact, it was Harrison who came from a wealthy, prominent family while Van Buren was from a poor, working family.
Nonetheless, the election was held during the worst economic depression in the nation's history, and voters blamed Van Buren, seeing him as unsympathetic to struggling citizens. Harrison campaigned vigorously and won. After giving the longest inauguration speech in U.S. history (about 1 hour, 45 minutes, in freezing cold weather), Harrison served only one month as president before dying of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.
Harrison won the support of western settler and eastern banker alike. The extent of Van Buren's unpopularity was clearly demonstrated in Harrison's victories in New York, the president's home state, and in Tennessee, where that state's aging hero Andrew Jackson came out of retirement to stump for his former vice president.
Few Americans were surprised when Van Buren lost by an electoral vote of 234 to 60. But many were amazed by the close popular vote. Of 2,400,000 votes cast, Van Buren lost by only 147,000. Given the circumstances, it is surprising that the Democrats did as well as they did


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