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Election of 1848

Election of 1848


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Both of the major parties hoped to avoid the slavery issue's divisiveness in 1848. Since President Polk refused to consider a second term, the Democrats turned to Lewis Cass of Michigan, a rather colorless party loyalist. Cass advocated "Popular Sovereignty" on the slavery issue, meaning that each territory should decide the question for itself — a stance that pleased neither side. The Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor, hero of the Battle of Buena Vista, whose earlier military blunders had been forgotten. Taylor had no political experience and had never voted.The election picture was clouded by the presence of two other parties. The Free-Soil Party nominated former president Martin Van Buren, who garnered nearly 300,000 votes—more than enough to deny victory to Cass and the Democrats.

Election of 1848
Candidates

Party

Electoral Vote

Popular
Vote

Zachary Taylor (LA)
MillardFillmore (NY)

Whig

163

1,362,101

Lewis Cass (MI)
William O. Butler (KY)

Democratic

127

1,222,674

Martin Van Buren (NY)
Charles F. Adams (MA)

Free Soil

0

291,616

Gerrit Smith (NY)
Charles C. Foote (MI)

Liberty

0

2,733



Zachary Taylor Is Elected President in 1848

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

The Whig Party considered four candidates for the presidential election of 1848: Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, General Zachary Taylor, General Winfield Scott and Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts.

Clay was seventy years old. He knew it would be his last chance to get into the White House. He worked hard to get the support of party leaders. But they did not give Clay their support. They wanted to win the election, and they felt they had a better chance for victory with a military hero like General Taylor.

Now, with this week's program in our series, here are Doug Johnson and Gwen Outen.

Taylor was sixty-three years old. He had almost no formal education. He had spent almost forty years in the West as an Indian fighter and commander of small army posts.

A number of politicians did not believe he had the ability to be president. General Taylor's supporters put great energy into their campaign for his nomination. They tried to sell the idea that the old general was the only man who could defeat the candidate of the Democratic Party.

On the first vote of the convention, Taylor got the most votes. But no candidate got the necessary majority. On the fourth vote, all of Webster's supporters and many of Clay's supporters gave their votes to Taylor. He finally won the Whig Party's nomination for president.

The Democratic Party's candidate for president was Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan. Many Americans did not like either candidate, because of the candidates' policies on slavery. Lewis Cass saw nothing wrong with slavery if that was what the people wanted. Zachary Taylor was a slave owner.

In Ohio, a group of men decided to form a new political party. They called it the Free Soil Party, because they believed in free land for free settlers. They wanted no further spread of slavery.

The Free Soil leaders proposed a convention of all who supported their ideas. Ten thousand people went to the convention in Buffalo, New York.

For two days, the delegates debated the slavery issue and discussed their choice of a candidate for president. They also worked on a platform -- a statement of their party's purpose.

The platform declared that slavery was an institution of the states, not the nation. It said Congress had no right to help spread slavery by permitting it in the new western territories. The platform declared that the issue should be faced with firmness. No more slave states. No more slave territory. No more compromises with slavery, anywhere.

Convention delegates then voted on candidates. They chose former President Martin Van Buren as candidate for president.

The people of the nation voted on November seventh. It was the first time a presidential election was held on the same day in all parts of the country. Zachary Taylor won both the popular and electoral votes. He became the twelfth president of the United States.

Congress met a few weeks after the election, long before Taylor took office. It faced serious problems. Territorial governments were needed for the areas won in the war against Mexico.

California, especially, needed help. Gold had been discovered in California. Thousands were moving there. A government was needed to protect the lives and property of the new population.

The dispute over slavery had prevented Congress from acting earlier. Southerners wanted the right to take slaves into the new territories. Northerners wanted to keep slavery out.

Then there was the question of laws forcing northern states to return escaped slaves to their owners. The laws were not always obeyed. Southerners wanted a new law that would be easier to enforce.

Congress found it difficult to act on these problems. The House of Representatives was controlled by members of the Free Soil Party, which opposed slavery. The Senate was controlled by southerners, who supported slavery. The two houses found it almost impossible to agree on anything.

Early in January, 1849, a congressman proposed a bill to first limit, and then end, slavery in the District of Columbia. The bill would free all slaves in the district who were born after a certain time. It would permit the federal government to buy slaves and then free them.

Opposition to the bill was strong. It was amended. The new bill would simply close all places in the District of Columbia where slaves were bought and sold.

Southern congressmen disliked the bill, even as amended. They organized a committee representing every one of the southern states. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina said the committee should write a declaration explaining the position of the South. The committee agreed, and Calhoun wrote most of the declaration himself.

The southern declaration accused the North of many aggressions. The South, it said, faced many dangers. Soon there would be enough free states to control both the House and the Senate. And then the Constitution would be changed and all slaves would be freed.

And this, said the southern declaration, would lead to bitter hostility and war between North and South. The declaration called on the people of the South to unite and be firm in their opposition to the North.

With this new firmness, southern lawmakers fought to make slavery legal in the new territories. They effectively blocked proposals for territorial governments in California and New Mexico.

Congress ended its session on March fourth, 1849, without any progress. Zachary Taylor was sworn-in as president that same day.

The new president believed it would be easier to get statehood for California and New Mexico than to create territorial governments for them. Taylor, as we have said, was a slaveholder. But he believed that both California and New Mexico should be free states.

During these years around 1850, the people of the United States were becoming more and more involved in the dispute over slavery. In the North, more people joined the anti-slavery campaign. Even those who did not wish to end slavery in the South felt that slavery should not spread further.

In the South, many people felt that the constitutional equality of 15 southern states was being questioned. Sixteen hundred million dollars worth of slave property was threatened by Abolitionists. Southerners felt that if the campaign against slavery was successful, everything they believed in would be destroyed.

People hoped that President Taylor would be able to bring the North and South together again. But his message to Congress showed no signs of such leadership.

Taylor asked Congress to give statehood to California immediately. He reported that California leaders had written a state constitution. The constitution banned slavery. Settlers from both the North and South supported the document.

The president also reported that the people of New Mexico would be asking for statehood soon. He said it would be best to let the people themselves decide if New Mexico would be a slave or free state. Taylor's opponents described these proposals as his "no action plan."

President Taylor really had no policy. He could not support a bill to keep slavery out of the territories. That might start a quick revolt among the southern states. He could not support a bill to let slavery spread into the territories. That would make the North rise in anger.

Taylor tried to be neutral. He hoped the problem of slavery would solve itself. But the problem would not solve itself. The division between North and South grew wider. That will be our story next week.


Zachary Taylor: Campaigns and Elections

As a career officer in the regular Army, Zachary Taylor had never revealed his politics, nor had he even voted prior to 1848. Upon his victory at Buena Vista, "Old Rough and Ready" political clubs sprang up in support of Taylor's candidacy for President. Most southerners believed that Taylor supported slavery and its expansion into the new territories acquired from Mexico, which included present-day California, New Mexico, and Utah. They also thought that he was opposed to protective tariffs and government spending for internal improvements while supporting states' rights. In contrast, the Whigs hoped that Taylor was a Union man first, having fought so hard in defense of the nation. But no one knew for sure.

Political Leanings

Taylor thought of himself as an independent. He had always disliked the Democratic Party's stand on the money issue. He favored a strong and sound banking system and thought that Andrew Jackson had foolishly destroyed the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson's use of party politics to award patronage seemed dishonest and corrupt to Taylor. And while he owned slaves, he thought it impractical to talk about expanding slavery into western lands where neither cotton nor sugar could easily be grown in a plantation economy.

Although Taylor did not like the Whigs' stand on protective tariffs and expensive internal improvements, he aligned himself with Whig governing principles. He believed that the President should not and could not use the veto unless a law was unconstitutional. Taylor also felt that the President should not interfere with Congress. A strong cabinet and collective decision making were also important to him. These were all Whig principles and a reaction to Jackson's strong presidency.

Most importantly, Taylor was a strong nationalist. Because he had seen too many of his comrades die in battle, he did not look favorably upon secession as a solution to national problems. He also carried a personal grudge against President Polk. Taylor blamed Polk for allowing General Scott to cut his forces in half at Buena Vista—a plot to set Taylor up for defeat and thus sidetrack his growing popularity with the public.

As the 1848 party nominating conventions loomed closer, Taylor let it be known that he had always been a Whig in principle, although he liked to think of himself as a Jeffersonian-Democrat. On the burning issue of slavery in the territories acquired from Mexico, Taylor took a position that angered his southern supporters: He hinted that if elected President, he might not veto the Wilmot Proviso, a controversial bill prohibiting slavery in the western lands—this was in line with Taylor's belief in the Whig principle that the President should only veto legislation that clearly violates the Constitution. Interestingly, Taylor's position on slavery did not enhance his standing with the more activist antislavery elements in the North who had wanted Taylor's strong support of the Wilmot Proviso. Furthermore, few abolitionists could bring themselves to support a slave owner.

No-Platform Candidate

Relying on Taylor's national appeal as a war hero, the Whigs presented him as an ideal man "without regard to creeds or principles" and ran him without any platform. This tactic attracted criticism from many directions. Some thought that Taylor had no position while others felt that he lacked political experience and knowledge. Moreover, there were people who believed that his military success was not enough to qualify him for President. Taylor's refusal to actively campaign allowed him to stand above party politics, although his supporters waged a vigorous battle on his behalf.

On November 7, the first time the entire nation voted on the same day, 2,880,572 male voters, or 72.7 percent of the eligible voters, cast their ballots. Taylor won a plurality of the popular vote, with 1,360,967 votes to 1,222,342 votes for Cass and Van Buren's 291,263. Taylor's electoral college vote came in at 163 to Cass's 127. Surprisingly, despite the hotly debated issue of slavery's expansion, the Whigs retained 90 percent of their 1844 vote in the North and 97 percent in the South while the Democrats held onto 91 percent of their 1844 vote in the South and 89 percent in the North. Party loyalty remained strong: Taylor won principally because the Free-Soil Party had drained votes from the Democrats, especially in the mid-Atlantic states. Van Buren won 120,000 votes in New York, draining votes from the Democrats and giving Taylor New York's electoral votes. Taylor had triumphed both in the North and in the South, winning 46 percent and 51 percent of the popular vote, respectively. Taylor's military renown and reputation for independence clearly helped him, but in the end, Whig loyalty in the North and disproportionate Democratic abstentions in the South helped him carry the day.


Democratic Candidates

Despite being a popular President who likely would have been reelected had he chosen to be, Polk elected to honor a previous pledge to only serve one term (it actually was fortuitous, because of Polk's death due to cholera a few months after leaving office). Thus the nomination for the Democrats was wide open, largely contested between former Vice President Martin Van Buren, current Vice President George Dallas, Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan and Secretary of State James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, though mostly between Van Buren and Cass. Both were the respective leaders of their wings of the party, with Van Buren leading the northern anti-slavery Democrats and Cass leading the Manifest Destiny Democrats of Polk.

The convention was seemingly deadlocked between the two candidates. Van Buren had support from some old guard Jacksonians, just enough to keep Cass from clinching the nomination in the hope of securing an anti-slavery platform. However, after the sixth deadlocked ballot, a draft campaign was held to try and get Polk to seek a 2nd term, largely led by Buchanan and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, both of whom sought to stop Van Buren (who had gained on Cass in the previous two ballots slightly) from gaining any momentum. Southern Democrats swarmed the convention and pushed for Polk's renomination. President Polk however sent word to the convention that he would remain firm in not accepting any nomination, however he officially endorsed Cass and the platform he represented. This pushed Cass over the 2/3ds majority necessary for nomination.

In response to what they felt to be "a railroaded convention," many of Van Buren's delegates and the candidate himself stormed out of the convention hall before the final tally of the final ballot was read. They would form their own party, joining up with other anti-slavery northerners to form the Free Soil party.

Democratic Nomination

  • Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan
  • Former Representative William O. Butler of Kentucky

Other Candidates

  • Secretary of State James Buchanan of Pennsylvania
  • Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina
  • Vice President George M. Dallas of Pennsylvania
  • President James K. Polk of Tennessee (refused to be nominated)
  • Former Vice President Martin Van Buren of New York
  • Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire

UKnowledge

The presidential election of 1848, known as the Free Soil election, marked the emergence of antislavery sentiment as a determining political force on a national scale. In this book Joseph G. Rayback provides the first comprehensive history of the campaign and the election, documenting his analysis with contemporary letters and newspaper accounts.

The progress of the campaign is examined in light of the Free Soil movement: agitation for Free Soil candidates and platforms at the national conventions proved ineffective, and the nominations of Zachary Taylor and Lewis Cass completed the major parties’ alienation of the various antislavery groups. Thwarted in their attempts to capture the national parties, the Free-Soilers formed a massive coalition, which met in Buffalo, and formally created the Free Soil party, nominating their own candidate, ex-President Martin Van Buren. The Whigs and the Democrats, forced by the new party to take a position on the touchy slavery question, attempted to use Free Soil to elect their candidates—in the North by claiming, it in the South by disclaiming it.

Rayback concludes that the Free Soil election was one of the most significant in American history, a turning point in national politics that marked the end of the Jacksonian Era. Although Taylor was elected president, Van Buren took about ten percent of the popular vote away from the Whigs and the Democrats. It was the first presidential election in which a third party made substantial inroads on major party loyalties, one in which the electorate indicated a desire for a moderate solution to the problem of slavery extension—a solution that was attempted by the Thirty-first Congress with its Compromise of 1850.

Joseph G. Rayback has published widely in American history and was formerly editor of The Historian. He is presently professor of history at Temple University.


1848 Democratic Party Platform

Resolved, That the American Democracy place their trust in the intelligence, the patriotism, and the discriminating justice of the American people.

Resolved, That we regard this as a distinctive feature of our political creed, which we are proud to maintain before the world as the great moral element in a form of government springing from and upheld by the popular will and we contrast it with the creed and practice of Federalism, under whatever name or form, which seeks to palsy the will of the constituent, and which conceives no imposture too monstrous for the popular credulity.

Resolved, therefore, That, entertaining these views, the Democratic party of this Union, through their Delegates assembled in general convention of the States, coming together in a spirit of concord, of devotion to the doctrines and faith of a free representative government, and appealing to their fellow-citizens for the rectitude of their intentions, renew and reassert before the American people the declaration of principles avowed by them when, on a former occasion, in general convention, they presented their candidates for the popular suffrage.

1. That the Federal Government is one of limited powers, derived solely from the Constitution and the grants of power shown therein ought to be strictly construed by all the departments and agents of the Government and that it is inexpedient and dangerous to exercise doubtful constitutional powers.

2. That the Constitution does not confer upon the General Government the power to commence and carry on a general system of internal improvements.

3. That the Constitution does not confer authority upon the Federal Government, directly or indirectly, to assume the debts of the several States, contracted for local internal improvements, or other State purposes nor would such assumption be just and expedient.

4. That justice and sound policy forbid the Federal Government to foster one branch of industry to the detriment of another, or to cherish the interests of one portion to the injury of another portion of our common country that every citizen, and every section of the country, has a right to demand and insist upon an equality of rights and privileges, and to complete and ample protection of persons and property from domestic violence or foreign aggression.

5. That it is the duty of every branch of the Government to enforce and practice the most rigid economy in conducting our public affairs, and that no more revenue ought to be raised than is required to defray the necessary expenses of the Government, and for the gradual but certain extinction of the debt created by the prosecution of a just and necessary war, after peaceful relations shall have been restored.

6. That Congress has no power to charter a national bank that we believe such an institution one of deadly hostility to the best interests of the country, dangerous to our republican institutions and the liberties of the people, and calculated to place the business of the country within the control of a concentrated money power, and above the laws and the will of the people and that the results of Democratic legislation, in this and all other financial measures upon which issues have been made between the two political parties of the country, have demonstrated to candid and practical men of all parties, their soundness, safety, and utility in all business pursuits.

7. That Congress has no power under the Constitution to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States, and that such States are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the Constitution that all efforts of the Abolitionists or others made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and endanger the stability and permanence of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend to our political institutions.

8. That the separation of the moneys of the Government from banking institutions is indispensable for the safety of the funds of the Government and the rights of the people.

9. That the liberal principles embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, and sanctioned in the Constitution, which makes ours the land of liberty, and the asylum of the oppressed of every nation, have ever been cardinal principles in the Democratic faith, and every attempt to abridge the present privilege of becoming citizens and the owners of soil among us, ought to be resisted with the same spirit which swept the alien and sedition laws from our statute book.

Resolved, That the proceeds of the public lands ought to be sacredly applied to the national object specified in the Constitution and that we are opposed to any law for the distribution of such proceeds among the States, as alike inexpedient in policy and repugnant to the Constitution.

Resolved, That we are decidedly opposed to taking from the President the qualified veto power, by which he is enabled, under restrictions and responsibilities amply sufficient to guard the public interests, to suspend the passage of a bill whose merits cannot secure the approval of two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, until the judgment of the people can be obtained thereon, and which has saved the American people from the corrupt and tyrannical domination of the Bank of the United States, and from a corrupting system of general internal improvements.

Resolved, That the war with Mexico, provoked on her part by years of insult and injury, was commenced by her army crossing the Rio Grande, attacking the American troops, and invading our sister State of Texas and that, upon all the principles of patriotism and laws of nations, it is a just and necessary war on our part, in which every American citizen should have shown himself on the side of his country, and neither morally nor physically, by word or by deed, have given "aid and comfort to the enemy."

Resolved, That we would be rejoiced at the assurance of peace with Mexico founded on the just principles of indemnity for the past and security for the future but that, while the ratification of the liberal treaty offered to Mexico remains in doubt, it is the duty of the country to sustain the administration in every measure necessary to provide for the vigorous prosecution of the war, should that treaty be rejected.

Resolved, That the officers and soldiers who have carried the arms of their country into Mexico, have crowned it with imperishable glory. Their unconquerable courage, their daring enterprise, their unfaltering perseverance and fortitude when assailed on all sides by innumerable foes, and that more formidable enemy, the diseases of the climate, exalt their devoted patriotism into the highest heroism, and give them a right to the profound gratitude of their country, and the admiration of the world.

Resolved, That the Democratic National Convention of the thirty States composing the American Republic, tender their fraternal congratulations to the National Convention of the Republic of France, now assembled as the free-suffrage representatives of the sovereignty of thirty-five millions of republicans, to establish government on those eternal principles of equal rights for which their Lafayette and our Washington fought side by side in the struggle for our own national independence and we would especially convey to them, and to the whole people of France, our earnest wishes for the consolidation of their liberties, through the wisdom that shall guide their counsels, on the basis of a democratic constitution, not derived from grants or concessions of kings or parliaments, but originating from the only true source of political power recognized in the States of this Union, the inherent and inalienable right of the people, in their sovereign capacity, to make and to amend their forms of government in such manner as the welfare of the community may require.

Resolved, That in view of the recent development of the grand political truth, of the sovereignty of the people, and their capacity and power for self-government, which is prostrating thrones and erecting republics on the ruins of despotism in the Old World, we feel that a high and sacred duty is devolved, with increased responsibility, upon the Democratic party of this country, as the party of the people, to sustain and advance among us constitutional "liberty, equality, and fraternity," by continuing to resist all monopolies and exclusive legislation for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many, and by a vigilant and constant adherence to those principles and compromises of the Constitution which are broad enough and strong enough to embrace and uphold the Union as it was, the Union as it is, and the Union as it shall be, in the full expansion of the energies and capacity of this great and progressive people.

Voted, That a copy of these resolutions be forwarded, through the American Minister at Paris, to the National Convention of the Republic of France.

Resolved, That the fruits of the great political triumph of 1844, which elected James K. Polk and George M. Dallas President and Vice-President of the United States, have fulfilled the hopes of the Democracy of the Union—in defeating the declared purposes of their opponents to create a national bank in preventing the corrupt and unconstitutional distribution of the land proceeds, from the common treasury of the Union, for local purposes in protecting the currency and the labor of the country from ruinous fluctuations, and guarding the money of the people for the use of the people, by the establishment of the constitutional treasury in the noble impulse given to the cause of free trade, by the repeal of the tariff in 1842 and the creation of the more equal, honest, and productive tariff of 1846 and that, in our opinion, it would be a fatal error to weaken the bands of political organization by which these great reforms have been achieved, and risk them in the hands of their known adversaries, with whatever delusive appeals they may solicit our surrender of that vigilance, which is the only safeguard of liberty.

Resolved, That the confidence of the Democracy of the Union in the principles, capacity, firmness, and integrity of James K. Polk, manifested by his nomination and election in 1844, has been signally justified by the strictness of his adherence to sound Democratic doctrines, by the purity of purpose, the energy and ability which have characterized his administration in all our affairs at home and abroad that we tender to him our cordial congratulations upon the brilliant success which has hitherto crowned his patriotic efforts, and assure him, that at the expiration of his Presidential term, he will carry with him to his retirement the esteem, respect, and admiration of a grateful country.

Resolved, That this Convention hereby present to the people of the United States, Lewis Cass, of Michigan, as the candidate of the Democratic party for the office of President, and William O. Butler, of Kentucky, as the candidate of the Democratic party for the office of Vice-President of the United States.

APP Note: The American Presidency Project used the first day of the national nominating convention as the "date" of this platform since the original document is undated.


Historical Events in 1848

    King of Naples grants his subjects a constitution Sicily accepts new Constitution (choose parliament/freedom of press) 1st ship load of Chinese immigrants arrive in San Francisco Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican–American War: US acquires Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona for $15 million Ballet "Faust" premieres at La Scala in Milan Sarah Roberts barred from white school in Boston Tuscany gets liberal Constitution

Event of Interest

Feb 21 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish "The Communist Manifesto" in London

Event of Interest

Mar 3 American education reformer Horace Mann joins the US Senate, representing Massachusetts

    Sardinia-Piemonte gets new Constitution Carlo Alberto di Savoia signs the Statuto Albertino that will later represent the first constitution of the Regno d'Italia Louis Antoine Garnier-Pages is named French minister of Finance In Hawaii, Great Mahele (division of lands) signed Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin become the first Prime Ministers of the Province of Canada to be democratically elected under a system of responsible government 2nd Republic established in France A revolution breaks out in Hungary. The Habsburg rulers are compelled to meet the demands of the Reform party. The ship John Wickliffe arrives at Port Chalmers carrying the first Scottish settlers for Dunedin, New Zealand. Otago province is founded. State of siege proclaimed in Amsterdam John Parker Paynard originates medicated adhesive plaster

Niagara Falls Stops Flowing

Mar 29 Niagara Falls stops flowing for 30 hours due to an ice jam

The flow of water stops completely over both of Niagara's two falls due to an ice jam in the upper river

Historic Expedition

Apr 3 German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt is seen for the last time at McPherson's Station, Coogoon, before he disappears on the same expedition to reach the Swan River in Australia

    Jews of Prussia granted equality 1st battle at Gioto: Sardinia-Piemonte beats Austrians Battle at Xaquixaguana, Peru: Pedro de la Gasca beats Gonzalo Pizarro

Event of Interest

Apr 26 Alfred Russel Wallace departs the U.K. for South America, beginning four years of travel, collecting, and research in the region

    Slavery abolished in French colonies The Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta is founded at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania Otto Tank ends slavery in Suriname colony Prussians stop insurrection in Varsovia First performance of Finland's national anthem Gerrit, Count Schimmelpenninck resigns as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Netherlands Opening of the first German National Assembly (Nationalversammlung) in Frankfurt, Germany Battle at Curtazone: Austrians beat Sardinia-Piemonte Wisconsin becomes 30th US state Second Battle at Gioto: Sardinia-Piemonte beats Austrians William G Young patents ice cream freezer Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between US and Mexico comes into force, giving New Mexico, California and parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Colorado to the US in return for $15 million The Slavic congress in Prague begins. Statue of prince William the Silent, Prince of Orange by Lodewyk Royer unveiled in The Hague's Het Plein New York Yacht Club holds its first annual regatta won by the schooner Carnelia 1st telegraph link between NYC & Chicago Battle at Vicenza: Austrians beat Sardinia-Piemonte

Presidential Convention

Jun 22 Barnburners (anti-slavery) party nominates Martin Van Buren for President

    Beginning of the June Days uprising in Paris by French workers Bloody insurrection of workers in Paris 1st pure food law enacted in US End of the June Days uprising in Paris by French workers Slaves freed in Danish West Indies (now US Virgin Islands) Edmund Hickly gets 1st known 10 wicket innings (Kent v England) London's Waterloo Station opens

Conference of Interest

Jul 19 1st US women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls NY, organised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott

    German Parliament demands Dutch province of Limburg Battle of Custoza-Italian War of Independence, starts 1st battle at Custozza: Austrians under Radetzky beat Italian Irish Potato Famine: Tipperary Revolt - an unsuccessful nationalist revolt against British rule put down by police Austria & Sardinia sign cease fire US Barnburners (anti-slavery) party merges with Free Soil Party nominating Martin Van Buren for president Oregon Territory created M Waldo Hanchett patents dental chair Camila O'Gorman and Ladislao Gutierrez are executed on the orders of Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas The United States annexes New Mexico National Black Convention meets in Cleveland

WHSmith: a Retail Giant Born From a Widow's Might

Nov 1 WHSmith opens its 1st railway bookstall, at Euston Station in London

Retail pioneer William Henry Smith and one of the station bookstalls that spread across the UK in the last century

Election of Interest

Nov 7 General Zachary Taylor elected as 12th President of US

    Post office at Clay & Pike opens, 1st in San Francisco Robert Blum, a German revolutionary and MP (Liberal), is executed in Vienna. Alfred de Musset's "Andre del Sarto" premieres in Paris Cincinnati Turngemeinde founded Female Medical Educational Society forms in Boston

Event of Interest

Dec 2 Franz Joseph I becomes Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia

Scientific Discovery

Dec 5 US President James K. Polk triggers Gold Rush of 1849 by confirming a gold discovery in California


Election of 1848 - History

The Free Soil Party
Digital History ID 317

Author: Gerrit Smith
Date:1848

In 1848, antislavery Democrats and Conscience Whigs (in contrast to Cotton Whigs) merged with the Liberty party to form the Free Soil Party. Unlike the Liberty Party, which was dedicated to slavery's abolition and equal rights for blacks, the Free Soil party narrowed its demands to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and exclusion of slavery from the federal territories. The Free Soilers also wanted a homestead law to provide free land for western settlers, high tariffs to protect American industry, and federally-sponsored internal improvements.

The Free Soil Party nominated Martin Van Buren as its presidential candidate, even though Van Buren had supported the Gag Rule that had quashed consideration of abolitionist petitions while he was President. In the following letter, Gerrit Smith discusses Van Buren's nomination. In the election of 1848, Van Buren polled 291,000 votes, enough to split the Democratic vote and throw the election to the Whig candidate Zachary Taylor.

I hardly need say, that I am deeply interested in the present movement against the extension of slavery and that I infinitely prefer the election of the candidates, who are identified with it, to the election of the Whig and Democratic candidates. Gen. [Zachary] Taylor and Gen. [Lewis] Cass are proslavery candidates. Mr. Van Buren and Mr. Adams are antislavery candidates. The former are the shameless tools of the slave-power. The latter bravely resist it.

It is true, that, among all the persons, whom there was the least reason to believe the Buffalo Convention [of the Free Soil Party] would nominate for President, Mr. Van Buren was my preference. He was my preference, because I believed he would obtain a much larger vote than any of the others and, that his nomination would go much farther than that of any of the others toward breaking up the great political parties, which, along with the ecclesiastical parties, are the chief shelters and props of slavery.

But it is not true that I shall vote for Mr. Van Buren. I can vote for no man for President of the United States, who is not an abolitionist for no man, who votes for slaveholders, or for those, who do for no man, whose understanding and heart would not prompt him to use the office, to the utmost, for the abolition of slavery. And, let me here confess, that I am not of the number of those, who believe, that the Federal Government has no higher power over slavery than to abolish it in the District of Columbia, and to abolish the inter-State traffic in human beings. On the contrary, I claim that this Government has power, under the Constitution, to abolish every part of American slavery, whether without, or within, the States and that it is superlatively guilty against God and man for refusing thus to use it. The still higher ground do I take, that no man is fit for President of the United States, who does not scout the idea of the possibility of property in man, and who does not insist, that slavery is as utterly incapable of legalization, as is murder itself. Why is it not? Is it not as bad as murder? Is not, indeed, murder itself one of the elements in that matchless compound of enormous crimes. There should be no surprise, that, from the day this Nation came into being until the present day, no white man has, in any one of the Southern States, been put to death, under the laws, for the murder of a slave.…


Millard Fillmore: Campaigns and Elections

Millard Fillmore remained loyal to Henry Clay heading into the Whig nominating convention, but the presidency would elude Clay yet again. Southern proslavery forces in the party mistrusted his compromise policies. Meanwhile, the recent Mexican War had made heroes of two generals, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Both were courted by the Whigs. Their nicknames spoke of the contrast in their styles: Taylor, an unsophisticated man of little education who had never voted, was called "Old Rough and Ready" Scott, refined and pompous, "Old Fuss and Feathers."

Since Andrew Jackson's election to the presidency in 1828, military leaders with a rough-hewn public persona—whether genuine or not—had been popular with voters. Helped largely by the behind-the-scenes negotiations of Thurlow Weed, Taylor led on the first ballot and clinched the nomination on the fourth. The selection of the general, a slave owner from Louisiana, enraged antislavery Whigs from the North. For a few hours it looked like the party would split between its "cotton" and "conscience" wings. As a consolation prize to slavery opponents, the party searched for a vice presidential nominee who was more aligned with their views. Daniel Webster was offered the spot but refused, growling that Taylor was nothing but "an illiterate frontier colonel." A New York ally of Millard Fillmore's brought up his name, and the Whigs selected him as their candidate. As with so many other tickets, it was hoped that Fillmore's contrast in beliefs, style, and geographic origin with the presidential nominee would broaden the ticket's appeal.

Both major parties—the Whigs and the Democrats—avoided a platform statement on the contentious slavery-extension issue in order to preserve their national unity. But the issue hung over the campaign like a great, low cloud. The United States had made massive territorial gains in the wake of the Mexican War, and an argument raged over whether slavery should be allowed in these new territories. The Wilmot Proviso, which would have forbidden it, had been defeated in the Senate two years earlier. A third party added to the turbulence. A coalition of abolitionists, "Barn Burners," Conscience Whigs, and others had formed the Free-Soil Party led by former President Martin Van Buren.

It proved to be a close, bitter race between Zachary Taylor and Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, the Democratic candidate. Charges and countercharges flew on each man's stand on slavery. Both struggled to neutralize the hopelessly divisive issue. Van Buren siphoned off enough votes in his native New York to hand the critical state to Taylor. Farmers and other working-class voters saw in Old Rough and Ready much of what they had liked in Andrew Jackson. It proved to be just enough. Zachary Taylor won with a 5 percent margin in the popular vote and a four-to-three ratio in the Electoral College.

In retrospect, the Whigs of 1848 repeated the mistake they had made with William Henry Harrison eight years earlier. They had gained the White House by running a colorful but politically undistinguished war hero, distinctly showing his age by election day. Within a year and a half, the Whigs would see the same unfortunate result with Zachary Taylor.

An Odd Match: Taylor and Fillmore

The new vice president and President were an odd match. The tall, gentlemanly, well-dressed Millard Fillmore looked every bit the statesman. Zachary Taylor stood on unusually short legs—during the Mexican War, he needed help climbing onto his horse, which he rode sidesaddle into battle Old Rough and Ready was craggy, unkempt, and unlearned. The two had not met until after the election, and they did not hit it off when they did. Once in Washington, Taylor wasted no time shutting Millard Fillmore out of his administration. Other Whig leaders such as Thurlow Weed and William H. Seward found favor with the new President and convinced him to deny Fillmore most patronage appointments in New York. The vice president's key ally, Henry Clay, was not offered a cabinet post. As vice president and thus president of the Senate, Fillmore held the tie-breaking vote in Senate sessions. In fulfilling these responsibilities, he was respected for his wisdom, humor, and ability to accommodate diverse views there. But he had virtually no role in Taylor's presidency.

Compromise of 1850

The critical issue of slavery continued to plague Taylor's administration. In particular, discussion focused on whether to adopt the Compromise of 1850. The election of 1848 had turned on the question of whether to allow slavery in the lands gained by the United States in the war with Mexico, and little had happened since Taylor's election to cool the debate on this matter. In his annual message of December 1849, he had dismayed fellow Southerners by announcing his support for admitting California and New Mexico into the Union as free states. In the Senate, Henry Clay bundled several provisions into a single omnibus bill that would attempt a compromise on the slavery issue. Clay's bill entailed the organization of Utah and New Mexico Territories on a popular sovereignty basis, California statehood, and the prohibition of public slave auctions in the District of Columbia. For slaveholders, it also offered a new fugitive slave law. This piece of legislation decreed that runaway slaves apprehended anywhere in the United States would be returned to their masters if new federally appointed commissioners decided that they were in fact fugitive slaves. It denied any due process to such slaves and allowed authorities to arrest African American suspects and return them to slave territory—whether the arrested person was an actual slave or not. Finally, it empowered federal marshals to enforce the law. The Fugitive Slave Law also cited severe penalties for noncompliance. The act horrified Americans openly opposed to slavery, and they vowed to fight its passage.

Clay urged Taylor to join the debate over the compromise, but the President wanted little part of it. Seeming to take a wait-and-see approach to the legislative fight, he simply contested some of the positions of the compromise and threatened a veto. Gradually, support in Congress for the compromise lost steam, and the omnibus bill was tied up in endless Senate debates by mid-1850. America was no closer to deciding the slavery issue than it had been before.

Fillmore watched much of the debate from the sidelines, isolated from the President's administration. Events, however, took a rapid turn. At a Fourth of July celebration in 1850 on the White House lawn, the President sought relief from the oppressive heat and humidity by gulping iced beverages and a large bowl of cherries. He suddenly began to experience intestinal cramps. It is likely that either the ice or the fruit was contaminated with cholera, a stomach ailment caused by unsanitary conditions that could—and frequently did—kill a person in scant hours in those times. Physicians, resorting to the medical practices of the day, prescribed bleedings and opiates that only made matters worse. Within five days, Zachary Taylor was dead. He had been President for just sixteen months. The presidency had suddenly fallen upon a forgotten man. Millard Fillmore, who had been all but banished from the Taylor administration and held opinions very different from the late chief executive, was suddenly the President of the United States. He immediately replaced Taylor's cabinet with proponents of the compromise and threw the full weight of his new administration behind its passage.

The Campaign and Election of 1852

Weary from the epic compromise fight and the criticism that it had drawn toward him, Millard Fillmore showed little enthusiasm for serving another term. He did no campaigning and did not even disclose his intentions on running again. In March of 1851, using an editor allied to him, Fillmore planted a report in a newspaper that he was retiring from office. Then Daniel Webster announced his candidacy. The candidacy of his own secretary of state did not greatly trouble the President indeed, he was honestly sympathetic towards Webster's longtime ambition for the office. Webster's announcement, however, comprised the last straw for Fillmore, and the President tried to formally withdraw from consideration until others in the cabinet talked him out of it.

The Whig Party was fragmenting over slavery disputes. None of the leading candidates—Fillmore, Webster, and General Winfield Scott—greatly appealed to a majority of the Whig Party members. Fillmore was disliked by abolitionists for enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law. Webster was aged and unwell. Southern Whigs disliked Scott, who had served as President Jackson's personal emissary in 1832 when Jackson threatened to use federal troops in South Carolina in a tariff and secession dispute.

The Whigs opened their convention in Baltimore in mid-June of 1852. Fillmore led in the early balloting. Webster's cause was quickly seen as hopeless, and if he had given the President his delegates, Fillmore would have ended the argument quickly. Webster, however, stubbornly clung to his delegates, and they slowly began to defect to Winfield Scott. On the fifty-third ballot, Scott wrapped up the nomination.

The convention was the end of the Whig Party as a national force. With Southern opposition to Scott so strong, he was unelectable. Many Southern Whigs abstained and a few threw their support behind the Democratic candidate, Franklin Pierce, and the slim, moody New Englander won the election with ease.


WAR WITH MEXICO, 1846–1848

In 1845, when Texas joined the United States, Mexico insisted the United States had a right only to the territory northeast of the Nueces River. The United States argued in turn that it should have title to all land between the Nueces and the Rio Grande as well.

Expansionistic fervor propelled the United States to war against Mexico in 1846. The United States had long argued that the Rio Grande was the border between Mexico and the United States, and at the end of the Texas war for independence Santa Anna had been pressured to agree. Mexico, however, refused to be bound by Santa Anna’s promises and insisted the border lay farther north, at the Nueces River. To set it at the Rio Grande would, in effect, allow the United States to control land it had never occupied. In Mexico’s eyes, therefore, President Polk violated its sovereign territory when he ordered U.S. troops into the disputed lands in 1846. From the Mexican perspective, it appeared the United States had invaded their nation.

In January 1846, the U.S. force that was ordered to the banks of the Rio Grande to build a fort on the “American” side encountered a Mexican cavalry unit on patrol. Shots rang out, and sixteen U.S. soldiers were killed or wounded. Angrily declaring that Mexico “has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil,” President Polk demanded the United States declare war on Mexico. On May 12, Congress obliged.

The small but vocal antislavery faction decried the decision to go to war, arguing that Polk had deliberately provoked hostilities so the United States could annex more slave territory. Illinois representative Abraham Lincoln and other members of Congress issued the “Spot Resolutions” in which they demanded to know the precise spot on U.S. soil where American blood had been spilled. Many Whigs also denounced the war. Democrats, however, supported Polk’s decision, and volunteers for the army came forward in droves from every part of the country except New England, the seat of abolitionist activity. Enthusiasm for the war was aided by the widely held belief that Mexico was a weak, impoverished country and that the Mexican people, perceived as ignorant, lazy, and controlled by a corrupt Roman Catholic clergy, would be easy to defeat.

Anti-Catholic sentiment played an important role in the Mexican-American War. The American public widely regarded Roman Catholics as cowardly and vice-ridden, like the clergy in this ca. 1846 lithograph who are shown fleeing the Mexican town of Matamoros accompanied by pretty women and baskets full of alcohol. (credit: Library of Congress)

U.S. military strategy had three main objectives: 1) Take control of northern Mexico, including New Mexico 2) seize California and 3) capture Mexico City. General Zachary Taylor and his Army of the Center were assigned to accomplish the first goal, and with superior weapons they soon captured the Mexican city of Monterrey. Taylor quickly became a hero in the eyes of the American people, and Polk appointed him commander of all U.S. forces.

General Stephen Watts Kearny, commander of the Army of the West, accepted the surrender of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and moved on to take control of California, leaving Colonel Sterling Price in command. Despite Kearny’s assurances that New Mexicans need not fear for their lives or their property, and in fact the region’s residents rose in revolt in January 1847 in an effort to drive the Americans away. Although Price managed to put an end to the rebellion, tensions remained high.

Kearny, meanwhile, arrived in California to find it already in American hands through the joint efforts of California settlers, U.S. naval commander John D. Sloat, and John C. Fremont, a former army captain and son-in-law of Missouri senator Thomas Benton. Sloat, at anchor off the coast of Mazatlan, learned that war had begun and quickly set sail for California. He seized the town of Monterey in July 1846, less than a month after a group of American settlers led by William B. Ide had taken control of Sonoma and declared California a republic. A week after the fall of Monterey, the navy took San Francisco with no resistance. Although some Californios staged a short-lived rebellion in September 1846, many others submitted to the U.S. takeover. Thus Kearny had little to do other than take command of California as its governor.

Leading the Army of the South was General Winfield Scott. Both Taylor and Scott were potential competitors for the presidency, and believing—correctly—that whoever seized Mexico City would become a hero, Polk assigned Scott the campaign to avoid elevating the more popular Taylor, who was affectionately known as “Old Rough and Ready.”

Scott captured Veracruz in March 1847, and moving in a northwesterly direction from there (much as Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés had done in 1519), he slowly closed in on the capital. Every step of the way was a hard-fought victory, however, and Mexican soldiers and civilians both fought bravely to save their land from the American invaders. Mexico City’s defenders, including young military cadets, fought to the end. According to legend, cadet Juan Escutia’s last act was to save the Mexican flag, and he leapt from the city’s walls with it wrapped around his body. On September 14, 1847, Scott entered Mexico City’s central plaza the city had fallen. While Polk and other expansionists called for “all Mexico,” the Mexican government and the United States negotiated for peace in 1848, resulting in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

In General Scott’s Entrance into Mexico (1851), Carl Nebel depicts General Winfield Scott on a white horse entering Mexico City’s Plaza de la Constitución as anxious residents of the city watch. One woman peers furtively from behind the curtain of an upstairs window. On the left, a man bends down to pick up a paving stone to throw at the invaders.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in February 1848, was a triumph for American expansionism under which Mexico ceded nearly half its land to the United States. The Mexican Cession , as the conquest of land west of the Rio Grande was called, included the current states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and portions of Colorado and Wyoming. Mexico also recognized the Rio Grande as the border with the United States. Mexican citizens in the ceded territory were promised U.S. citizenship in the future when the territories they were living in became states. In exchange, the United States agreed to assume $3.35 million worth of Mexican debts owed to U.S. citizens, paid Mexico $15 million for the loss of its land, and promised to guard the residents of the Mexican Cession from Indian raids.

As extensive as the Mexican Cession was, some argued the United States should not be satisfied until it had taken all of Mexico. Many who were opposed to this idea were southerners who, while desiring the annexation of more slave territory, did not want to make Mexico’s large mestizo (people of mixed Indian and European ancestry) population part of the United States. Others did not want to absorb a large group of Roman Catholics. These expansionists could not accept the idea of new U.S. territory filled with mixed-race, Catholic populations.


The fractious outcome of the 1800 election led to the passage and ratification of the 12th Amendment, which changed the way the electoral college functioned.

Because Jefferson didn't trust Burr, he gave him nothing to do as vice president. Burr and Hamilton continued their epic feud, which finally culminated in their famous duel in Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804. Burr shot Hamilton, who died the next day.

Burr wasn't prosecuted for killing Hamilton, though he later was accused of treason, tried, and acquitted. He lived in exile in Europe for several years before returning to New York. He died in 1836.

Jefferson served two terms as president. He and Adams eventually put their differences behind them and wrote a series of friendly letters during the last decade of their lives. They both died on a noteworthy day: July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


Watch the video: Election of 1848 (July 2022).


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