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Presidential Election of 1840: Significance & Explanation

Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
The Presidential Election of 1840 saw William Henry Harrison become the 9th President of the United States. While his presidency was short lived, Harrison was the first member of the Whig Party to become president.

In 1840, the American political landscape saw a fundamental change. For the first time, a new national party, the Whigs, won the presidency by running a war veteran and popular leader. Let's learn more about the election of William Henry Harrison as the 9th President of the United States in 1840.

Jackson and Van Buren

During the 1830s, the Democratic Party was dominant in American politics. In 1828, Andrew Jackson won the presidency after believing he was wronged in losing the 1824 election by a vote in the House of Representatives. Jackson's presidency was one of the more remarkable administrations in American history. He left lasting legacies of clashing with states' rights advocates, getting rid of the national bank, removing Native Americans from their territories, and accomplishing all of these things through strong executive power.

In response, Jackson's political opponents came together to form the Whig Party, based on opposition to strong executive power. Yet, in 1836, the Whigs were unable to do anything to stop Martin Van Buren, Jackson's successor and fellow Democrat, from winning the presidency. Van Buren inherited much of the political legacy of Jackson, but he also inherited an economy that was not set up for success. By the time Van Buren was up for reelection in 1840, the Whigs saw an opportunity to seize the presidency for the first time.

President Martin Van Buren
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William Henry Harrison

While the Democrats were running President Van Buren for reelection, the Whigs held a national convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They chose a leader who was a hero from the War of 1812: William Henry Harrison. Harrison was quite old (68 years old to be exact) but he had a strong track record. In 1811, he defeated Indian forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He was thus nicknamed 'Tippecanoe' for the rest of his life.

William Henry Harrison
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Following the War of 1812, Harrison served as a congressman and Senator from Ohio. He also served as a foreign minister abroad, dealing with Simon Bolivar in Colombia. In 1840, his national fame led him to be nominated by the Whigs to run for the presidency.

1840 Campaign

Because of his advanced age, the Democrats mercilessly mocked Harrison as old and unable to serve as president. They accused him of sitting in a log cabin and drinking cider, essentially being too out of touch to serve as the nation's chief executive. The Whigs turned this around on the Democrats, adopting the log cabin and cider campaign mantra as symbols of their message and connection with ordinary Americans. To bolster Harrison's national appeal, John Tyler was added as his vice presidential running mate. This led to the famous campaign slogan, Tippecanoe and Tyler too!

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