Presidential Election of 1844: Issues, Candidates & Summary

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  • 0:00 Summary of 1844
  • 0:24 The Whig Party
  • 1:35 James K. Polk
  • 2:17 Election of 1844
  • 3:36 The Polk Presidency
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
The 1844 presidential election led to James Polk being elected the 11th President of the United States. It was a close election where Whig candidate Henry Clay narrowly lost. It also featured a third party push by Liberty Party candidate James Birney.

Summary of 1844

In 1844, the United States was a growing nation. The presidential election that year ensured that this growth would continue with more territorial expansion. The election of James Polk as the 11th President of the United States did much to shape the future of the United States, despite Polk only having one term in office. Let's learn more about how Polk won the presidency in 1844.

The Whig Party

The years leading up to the election of 1844 saw the growth of a new political party. During the Andrew Jackson presidency, those who disagreed with the president's usage of executive power and authority banded together and formed the Whig Party. The party triumphed in the election of 1840 when William Henry Harrison was elected the 9th President of the United States. However, Harrison's untimely demise just a few weeks into his presidency meant that Vice President John Tyler took over as the 10th President of the United States. Tyler proved a poor president. He did not advance the Whig agenda, and by 1844, it was all but decided he would not be the party's nominee for the presidency.

Instead, the Whigs turned to a leading figure in their party, a man who ran for president numerous times during his life. Henry Clay was one of the most influential American politicians of the 19th century. He was a Senator from Kentucky at the time, and ran for president twice before. Clay had done much to shape the United States over the past 20 years through promoting internal improvements and proposing compromises to sectional troubles. He was an easy choice for the Whigs in 1844.

James K. Polk

Clay's opponent was an unlikely candidate. James K. Polk was a Democrat from Tennessee, much like Andrew Jackson had been. Polk had been Speaker of the House during the Jackson presidency and favored many of the same policies. In 1839, he was elected Governor of Tennessee, strengthening his political resume. He lost reelection in 1841, but continued his political career. He received the Democratic nomination for president in 1844 after first seeking the nomination for vice president. Front runner and former president Martin Van Buren opposed the annexation of Texas, a major issue at this time but Polk favored the annexation, and won the nomination because of it.

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