There was not one prominent party more devoid of vision than the Whigs. If they could not nominate Henry Clay, or a plethora of favorite son candidates, they loved to elevate the generals (they loved their generals, folks!). They also loved nominating people that were old as shit. William Henry Harrison 67-years old at the time of his nomination, Henry Clay was sixty-five at the time of his nomination, Zachary Taylor was sixty-four when he came out of nowhere to become the party’s candidate, and lastly Winfield Scott was sixty-five when his fat ass was the party’s sacrificial lamb to the immortal Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire.
The youngest candidate the Whigs nominated was the fifty-four year old Daniel Webster (also of New Hampshire, but also Massachusetts).
The party founded on anti-Jacksonian democracy continuously linked themselves to poor man’s versions of the man they despised. While having opinions of his own Andrew Jackson’s right-hand man was the Martin Van Buren, the real brains of the Democratic Party. If A-Jax was all about that action, MVB was the often overlooked bean counter without him Jackson doesn’t accomplish virtually everything he set out to do during his presidency. Granted everything Jackson accomplished was demonic, but he to give credit to the great Satan he had to win many legislative battles to do so.
By the time 1844 rolled around Jackson’s rival and punching bag Clay was his party’s nominee (like Clay literally birthed the Whigs). Looking to rebound from losing the election of 1832, the Bank War, opposing the Indian Removal, not winning his party’s nomination in 1836, losing Harrison thirty-days into his presidency in ‘40, and having Democrat turned Whig John Tyler reject his platform at every turn, the heroic loser hoped that this time would be when all the stars aligned to achieve an epic narrative changing victory.
Spoiler alert: he didn’t. DAMN BIRNEY BROS!
Former slave owner turn abolitionist James G. Birney compiled over 17,000 votes in the critical state of New York thereby giving the state and the election to “Young Hickory” James K. Polk.
But Clay obviously deserves blame here. The Great Compromiser proved once more he was not adaptable on the main issue of the election, that being Texas Annexation. Polk saw the independent nation bordering the fledgling Mexican Empire, it’s founding based around Anglo-Saxons wanting to practice slavery where it was ruled illegal thus causing a irreparable rift between sides, as ripped for expansion of the horrific practice.
All Clay offered was an ineffective moderate solution to the issue. Once in office Polk did everything in his power to provoke war with the Mexicans. Clay took the sails out of the anti-slavery “Conscience Whigs” by tepidly supporting expansion, whilst also angering the “Cotton Whigs” as rumored swirled that the slave owning Clay was secretly an abolitionist thanks in part to a letter by his cousin Cassius Clay stating Henry was in accord with the abolitionist movement.
Funnily enough a similar issue would pop up for the Democrats in the next election, northern Lewis Cass would be linked with the fervent slavery faction of his party, while his running mate William O. Butler would be dogged by rumors of being an abolitionist despite being a southern slave owner.
This era was defined by nut-jobs continuously driving the ship into the ice berg, whilst crying they did not have enough control in the government. 1844 would be the last time the Democrats united behind a candidate with little reservations or conspiracy. His successors the aforementioned Cass, Pierce, Buchanan, Douglas would be subjected to hotly contested conventions, partly held together with duck tape and even in victory enraged both sides of their own party constantly.
Just like his mentor what Polk sought to accomplish was demonic and God willing he’s in Hell for all of eternity as payment for his crimes against basic human decency. But he also did everything he promised to do. Annexed Texas, expanded the country’s borders and slavery. It’s a shame that considering the water in the White House was contaminated with human feces Polk didn’t bite the dust as quickly as his predecessor or even his successor.
Nope. History dictates any person that could remotely be a force of even marginal positive change need to die and pass the torch to a mediocre successor. Polk was a talented politician, but also a horrible person so he got to serve his entire term in relative good health.
Playing the game Campaign Trail on AmericanHistoryusa.com you can take control of the Clay campaign, pick from three options for Vice President and try to rewrite history. If you want Clay to steal southern states, you’ll have to be pro-annexation and come out strongly against abolition when Cassius’ letter comes to light. Keep in mind you’re doing this while inflaming New York, but they aren’t essentially anti-annexation or supportive of abolition they are moderates and their wants are complex and downright infuriating in their vagueness.
Democrats advantages in New York is the inroads to Irish arrivals, and to combat that the Whigs nominated nativist Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey to shore up the opposing side. It’s likely fools errand to try and soften your anti-immigrant stances, and Frelinghuysen split the baby as he was anti-expansion of slavery and voted against the Indian Removal Act.
If you pick a more progressive option in former congressman and legal counsel for the Second Bank of the United States John Sergeant, if you want a retread of the horrific defeat from twelve years earlier. Sergeant is more strong in his hostility to slavery and ousting of the American Indians from their ancestral land. Sergeant also voted against the 1820 Missouri compromise which allowed Missouri to become a state despite being above the 36 and one-half degree line and tipping the balance of power in Congress in favor of the “Slave Power.”
If you pick this guy you’ll have to spit in the face of immigrants to shore up nativist support in your party as it’s unlikely the Irish will swing to your side. Nativist will be easier to win over if you pick Frelinghuysen and you won’t have to be so toxic when answering questions. Regardless you usually start off with a lead in either play-through, one you’ll certainly bleed of once you start answering questions and, hopefully, form a coherent ideology that splits support in your big tent party.
Had he won it’s chief attribute was to be that Clay found a way to dissuade people from engaging in abolition sentiments and channeled their rage against an other scapegoat the Irish Catholic. Seeing as one of the main successors to the Whig Party was the Know-Nothings was premised on anti-Catholic sentiment it is feasible to see that the party of Clay survives longer upon his victory and veers closer to anti-immigration and away from domestic policy. The elections of this era were defined by slavery and an abundance of social issues, not much about domestic policy is to be found. Course the likes of Abe Lincoln had his guiding principal be Clay’s “American System” and the Homestead Act as his main legislative accomplishment outside of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Prior to Lincoln the Whigs/Republicans struggled to engage with southerners in an alternative to their wishes of rampant expansionism. Never understanding all they wanted was land and cheap labor. Seeing as the government wasn’t going to give them land that was held by the planter elite they went after the American Indians to secure themselves a plantation of their own.
A little known fact about the Whigs is their candidates did promise to run for only one term. They believed the president existed solely as a figurehead, a sort of rubber stamp for the congress and senate where the real power laid. If Clay did serve only one term it’s likely the sixty-six year old does not survive his entire four-years as drinking the poo-water did Zachary Taylor in by his second year in the office. So you’ll likely get Frelinghuysen as your president. Since he was not much of a departure from Clay in terms of policy you only lose the best deal maker in 19th century American politics at a time of great and constant strife, with the threat of succession looming. No biggie.
Clay probably acquires Texas, but not by war. It probably doesn’t even achieve full statehood until a Democrat takes office. The issue that killed the Whigs as a party was Millard Fillmore signing the Fugitive Slave Act; in this timeline it could have been the statehood of Texas that did them in if Clay or his Whig successors sided with the Democrats in granting them the status cretans like John C. Calhoun lusted.
If there is no war, and Clay is dead, Frelinghuysen is the party’s de facto nominee in 1848 facing either Lewis Cass or Martin Van Buren. With no Texas to stick in his craw Van Buren doesn’t anger Jackson and potentially keeps his place at the table after being a good solider in the previous election supporting Polk. Van Buren ran a third-party campaign on the abolitionist ticket known as the “Free-Soilers” despite never once being an abolitionist a day in his life. He’d like to see slavery curtailed but never thought of it being expunged from the nation.
His campaign was rooted in showing his party how they were playing with fire constantly wavering to the south, expanding slavery and flaring up the north. Seeking only to deny Cass the office Van Buren accomplished his modest goal and sent war hero Zack Taylor to the White House instead. Taylor was more unapologetic towards the south, demanding California be admitted as a free state and if the south tried to secede he wouldn’t hesitate having all of them killed. It’s likely the Civil War kicks off then and there if he hadn’t kicked the bucket and Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act, something Taylor also vehemently opposed.
The only reason Fillmore found himself in presidential bullpen was the party’s attempt to reconcile with the Clay faction unhappy his party nominated a candidate so closely associated with slavery. All anyone knew about Taylor’s upbringing was he descended from a class of rich Virginian planters and owned plentiful amounts of slaves. Fillmore, a slavery agnostic was installed to secure balance on the ticket. Little did people know just how little did that Alec Baldwin looking motherfucker cared about the issue of slavery.
But in TL Frelinghuysen is the nominee (maybe Georgian rep. Thomas King Butler would be his tuning mate), and either him or Cass or Van Buren are the president. But I see Clay/Frelinghuysen merely being able to kick the can of Texas down the road and ‘48 being a redux of the issue. Maybe Frelinghuysen wins, still signs the Fugitive Slave Act and kills the party as despite his previous history as an anti-slavery proponent he like all politicians is guilty of cowardice.
Or maybe Cass wins and he does what Polk did only four-years later.
I think Frelinguysen wins. My nativity wants to believe he’ll veto the Fugitive Slave Act, make California a free state, continue to drag his heels on Texas annexation, and try mightily to shift the focus of slavery to hatred of Irish Catholics and maybe with expansion halted, for a brief time that’ll work and the Civil War is kicked down the road. Maybe Abe Lincoln runs for president but on the Whig ticket? Maybe Lincoln’s defining moments isn’t the war with the south to end slavery and preserve the union, but his war in the west to secure land for poor whites at the cost of Native Americans.
In history we see great men falter, we see blood soaked generals rise to power, and sometimes useless or thought to be irrelevant individuals secure an eternal place in our textbooks and more often than not leave a mark whether we know it or not. Accidental presidents like John Tyler authorized the annexation of the Lone Star state six-days before Polk took office, Millard Fillmore did the bidding of the south and destroyed their only opposition to their political project in the process, Andrew Johnson brought unspeakable apocalyptic nightmarish atrocities, Chester Arthur existed, Theodore Roosevelt blissfully ended the Gilded Age, Harry Truman flushed all the Communists in the work force down the toilet and lead us to the Hell world we currently inhabit, Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty and expanded civil rights…
And the little thought senator from New Jersey, later mayor of Newark, would Bible thump and catholic bash to comical extremes.