Presidential Election of 1836: History & Explanation

Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Presidential Election of 1836 witnessed the continued support of Jacksonian Democracy amid the rise of the Whig Party. Learn more about the candidates and the results of the election.

The Parties and Conflict of the 1836 Presidential Election

The Presidential Election of 1836 was far more civilized than the contentious contests of 1828 and 1832. Yet, like all elections, it still had a certain degree of political aggressiveness. The 1836 election was pitted between President Andrew Jackson's hand-chosen successor, Martin Van Buren, and several candidates from the growing Whig Party. This was the first election in which the issue of slavery began to surface at the national level in addition to the continued battle over federal oversight and intervention.

Meet the Candidates

As mentioned above, Martin Van Buren was President Jackson's selection for the presidency in 1836. Van Buren had served Jackson loyally as Vice President of the United States, and Jackson, along with the Democratic Party, believed that Van Buren would perpetuate the ideals of Jacksonian Democracy. Van Buren believed in a small government that bolstered states' rights and prevented a renaissance of the Bank of the United States.

The Whig Party was the antithesis to Van Buren and Jacksonian Democracy. It is important to remember that the National Republican Party capitulated following Jackson's triumphant victory over Henry Clay in 1832. Pieces of the shattered party, along with former members of the Anti-Masonic Party, founded the Whig Party by 1834.

Needless to say, the Whig Party condemned Jacksonian Democracy. The Whigs believed in a hands-on federal government. Whigs supported the Bank of the United States, paper currency, high tariffs and massive appropriations for internal improvements. Unfortunately, the Whig Party did not have enough power nor funds to orchestrate a national convention. Therefore, the Whigs chose not to nominate one candidate, but four.

The Whig strategy was to nominate a candidate within each region of the United States. With any luck, the party would siphon enough support away from Van Buren and the Democratic Party and force an electoral draw. Then, due to the Twelfth Amendment, the election would be determined by the Whig-controlled House of Representatives. The four Whig candidates included: William Henry Harrison, West; Hugh Lawson White, South; Daniel Webster, North; and Willie Person Magnum, Coastal-South (some historians considered him an Independent Democrat).

The Campaign

The respective candidates of both parties ran a campaign that mirrored their political ideologies. Van Buren pushed for federal oversight and intervention to be limited throughout the nation. He also insisted that the Bank of the United States would never take root in the nation's financial plans. Moreover, to secure support in the South, Van Buren placated to slave owners. He promised to protect the institution of slavery from federal intervention. However, to keep northerners happy, he suggested that Congress consider banning slavery in Washington, D.C.

Harrison, White, Webster and Lawson pushed for a larger federal government. Each candidate insisted on major internal improvements, which scored significant points with voters in the West. Additionally, the Whig candidates all backed the rebirth of the Bank of the United States as the leading financial system of the country. This was done largely to gain support and funds from the nation's aristocracy.

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