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Election of 1844
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Politics
Election of 1844
The rise of the abolitionists was notable in the Election of 1844. James Birney, the Liberty Party candidate received a surprising 62,000 votes, up from 6,800 the previous election.
Besides the rise of the abolitionists, many other Causes of the Civil War arose from this election. Perennial Whig loser Henry Clay stood firmly on his American System, combining tariffs to fund the government, a strong central bank and internal improvements funded by the sale of government lands. He won the nomination because John Tyler, the sitting Whig President, had been thrown out of the party following a presidential veto of a central bank act.
The Democrats had Martin Van Buren trying to rally support under his banner, but many remembered the Panic of 1837 and the ensuing depression, which the United States was just starting to come out from under. Van Buren, a New Yorker, was unpopular in the southern states because he was viewed as being anti-slavery and in other regions because he was not for the annexation of Texas. In spite of indicating that Jacksonian Democrat James Polk of Tennessee would be his Vice-President, Van Buren could not swing enough votes in the convention.
The major Democratic candidate opposing Van Buren was John C. Calhoun. He had resigned his Senate seat in 1843 to have more time for his campaign. Young fire-eater Robert Barnwell Rhett served as campaign chairman.
After 9 ballots Democrats turned to Polk, who was strongly pro-expansion, and not just for Texas but the Oregon Territory as well. A friend of Andy Jackson's who supported Van Buren for President, Polk had strong support throughout the party.
Among the popular Democratic slogans for the election were "Polk, Dallas, and Texas (a reference to vice-presidential candidate George Dallas)," "Polk, Dallas, and the tariff of '42," "Texas or disunion" (popular with southern Democrats) and "Fifty-four forty or fight" while Whigs asked "Who is James K. Polk." Polk worked heavily on the expansionist rhetoric, a popular idea in the West and the northeast. While it is normal to associate the term "Manifest Destiny" with the Election of 1844 the term would not be coined until 1845.
By linking the annexation of Texas with the expansion of American interests in the Great Northwest, Polk tried to assuage the South's fear of adding non-slave states to the Union. On Texas, Clay tried to skirt the issue of annexation, which hurt him in the northeast and probably cost him the election. Clay's American System did play well in the same area, where internal improvements (good canals, railroads and postal roads) were important. The early abolitionists were having much of their success in the northeast as well. In New York, where Birney won 15,812 votes, Clay lost to Polk by 5,106 votes. With New York's 36 Electoral votes, Clay would have been president.
The Deep South and West broke for the Democrats, although the race was close in many states. Whigs had backed the American System with the understanding that the imposed tariffs would not be protectionist, but fairly balanced. They won in New England and the mid-central states. Polk garnered 1.339 million votes while Clay pulled 1.3 million votes, the difference being Birney's 62,000. Polk was a minority president, with 49.5% of all votes cast.
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Election of 1844 was last changed on - November 23, 2007
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