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Whig Party

Whig Party campaign poster

The Whig Party was a major American political party that existed from the late 1820s - mid 1850s. It was mainly led by Henry Clay.


The roots of the Whig Party go back to supporters of John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election who at the time referred to themselves as "National Republicans". (The National Republicans were not at all related to the modern Republican party) After Adams lost in the election, all opponents of Andrew Jackson came together and formed the Whig party. It was led mainly by Henry Clay. In fact, Clay would be the very first Whig candidate in a presidential election, in the election of 1832. However, Clay lost to Jackson. In the 1836 election, the Whigs thought they could beat the Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren by running four different Whig candidates, but they once again failed. However, by 1840, Van Buren was unpopular and the Whigs finally won an election when Whig candidate William Henry Harrison won.


The Whig Party was very diverse as it was more of a culmination of everyone that opposed Democrats than its own party with set beliefs. However, Whigs mostly supported a second bank of the United States, higher tariffs and legislative power. While a majority of Whigs were anti-slavery, it would become a divisive issue that would lead to one of the downfalls of the party.


Only one month after being president, William Henry Harrison died in office. In fact, Zachary Taylor, the only other Whig president elected, also died in office in 1850. Both vice presidents that took over after them were unpopular and made the party begin to lose support. This was especially true during Millard Fillmore's presidency, which was when the issue of slavery became mainstream. In the 1852 election, the Whigs had a hard time nominating a candidate, and while they did end up nominating general Winfield Scott, he lost badly to Franklin Pierce. After this, everything started to collapse. Henry Clay had died years earlier, so there was no one to unite the party. Even though Pierce's presidency was a failure for the Democrats, the Whigs could never regain their momentum. By 1856, most former Whigs joined the Native-American Party or the brand new Republican party.

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