Martin Van Buren: Presidential Election, Opponent & Campaign Slogan

Instructor: Anthony Galouzis

Anthony has taught middle and high school History/Social Studies and holds two master's degrees in History and Education, focusing on U.S. History and online studies.

The Election of 1836 was unlike any other election in U.S. history. The growing opposition to President Jackson and the Democratic Party resulted in the creation of the Whig party. However, due to a lack in unity, the Whigs would run four candidates against a unified Democratic ticket, led by vice president Martin Van Buren.

A Contested Election

The Election of 1836 was held between November 3 and December 7. At its conclusion, the people of the United States elected Martin Van Buren as their eighth President. The election itself was closely contested, with Van Buren securing 170 of 294 electoral votes and taking just over half of the popular vote. The election is remembered as the first, and only, time that the Senate was needed to elect a vice president, and it was the only time that a political party ran four candidates in separate parts of the nation.

A Split Ticket

Martin Van Buren

After serving two terms as president, Andrew Jackson unofficially backed his vice president, Martin Van Buren, to be the next presidential candidate for the Democratic party. Van Buren had spent many years organizing and promoting the Democratic party. He was known as a skilled politician, though his personal skills were found to be lacking. His efforts with the party, matched with his support from President Jackson, allowed him to take the presidential nomination unanimously in May 1835.

William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison

The opposition to Van Buren was taken up by the Whigs, a party that developed from those who opposed President Jackson's policies. The Whigs, unlike the Democrats, had no unifying platform to run on. As such, the Whigs were unable to secure a singular candidate, resulting in four bids for president. William Henry Harrison, a former U.S. senator from Ohio, was selected to represent the northern and border states. Tennessee senator, Hugh Lawson White, represented the southern and middle states. In Massachusetts, Senator Daniel Webster was given the Whig ticket, while Senator Willie Person Mangum was put on the North Carolina ticket.

Hugh Lawson White
Hugh Lawson White

The Whig plan for winning the election was to pull enough votes away from Van Buren in their respective regions that they would prevent Van Buren from winning the 148 electoral votes needed to win the election. If the Whigs could, as a party, secure the majority of electoral votes, they would force the Senate to select one of their candidates as the next president of the United States.

An Ugly Campaign

The fact that the Whig party could not agree on one candidate only goes to show how polarized the nation was in their own problems and concerns. The candidates needed to address several issues that the people found important, such as the economy, public land distribution, and the very polarizing issue of slavery.

Whig campaign poster
King Andrew the First

Van Buren made it clear that he intended to continue with the policies established by President Jackson and worked to appeal to both northern and southern voters by purposely avoiding controversial subjects. Meanwhile, the Whigs went on an aggressive smear campaign against both Van Buren and his running mate Richard Mentor Johnson. They drew attention to Johnson's marriage to a former slave, which prevented many southern Democrats from supporting the ticket. They also depicted Van Buren as a puppet for Andrew Jackson by making posters depicting 'King Andrew the First.' They also painted the Democrats as a danger to industry running on the slogan Equal and Full Protection to American Industry.

The Democrats worked hard to counter the Whig attacks, running on the slogan Van Buren and Democracy. They also used Johnson's military success during the War of 1812, with the slogan Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson Killed Tecumseh, which was from 'Tecumseh of the Battle of the Thames,' a popular play and poem written by Richard Emmons. Andrew Jackson believed that Johnson's military record and his reputation as an 'Indian fighter' would help to balance out the Democratic ticket and gain support in the west.

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