United States Elections: Presidential Elections (1852)

Figure 1.-- George Bingham's 'The County Election' painted in 1852 gives a good idea as to how election day looked like at mid-century. At the time not all elections were held on the same day in November, but the painting is a wonderful depiction of an American elction. In the era before movie and television, elections were popular ebtertainment. Note all the booze and that the ladies are all at home. I'm not sure what the boys are playing, perhps mumblety-peg. Remember that at the time, there was nothing like this in Europe. Even Britain was at the time just beginning to become a represettive democracy. The painting shows how voting was a very public practice at the time. Voters did not retreat behind a curtain for privacy. People could not only see who was voting, but how they voted as well. The image hereis only part of Bingham's painting. To see the actual voting, click on the image.

Many Democrats were doubtful that they could win the 1852 election. Lewis Cass again pursued the Democratic nomination. Other leading Democratic candidates were William Marcy, and Stephen Douglas. The Convention was deadlocked, but eventully settled on a dark-horse candidate, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire. Pierce had a substantial Congressional background, but was largely unknown as a national figure. His appeal stemmed largely from the fact that he was not involved with the Compromise of 1850. The Democrats chose William King as his running mate. President Fillmore wanted another term. He could point to the Compromise of 1850 as defusing the slavery and secession issue. Southern Whigs were ready to renomiate him. Despite the fact that he was a northerner. Northern Whigs, however, opposed his remomination. The Compromise was widely seen as a sell-out to southern slave interests. The Whigs thus passed over the their incumbent for nomination. They rejected the not very popular Fillmore for General Winfield Scott, another Mexican War hero. The Whigs chose William Graham of North Carolina as their vice-presidential candidate. Interestingly the Whigs who originally came together as aarty resisting war hero ndrew Jackson, now seized on nominating war heros as an election-winning strategy. In this case they tried it once too often. The Free Soil Democrats nominated John Parker Hale of New Hampshire. The 1852 presidential election was similar in many ways to the 1844 election. The incumbent President was a Whig who had succeeded to the presidency upon the death of his war hero predecessor. In 1852 it was Millard Fillmore who followed the popular General Zachary Taylor. The Whigs attempted to make an issue on Pierce's obscurity. The strategy failed because of Scott's image and the fact that the betterknown candidates were tainted in one way or another by the slavery issue. It was the slavery that dominated the campaign. At the slave issue undid the Whig Party. Scott's had an anti-slavery reputation which made hom unacceptable to the South. The pro-slavery Whig platform did little good in the North where the anti-slavery vote went to the Free Soilers. Scott's reputation as a war hero was impaired by his military image as a fuss-budget. His men called him "Old Fuss and Feathers" in sharp contrast to the more down-to-earth Taylor. And Pierce himself was a Mexican War veteran. Pierce outpolled Scott and even Hale's Free Soil candidacy did not prevent a sweeping Democratic victory. Pierce gained 254 electoral votes. Scott carried only four states with 42 electoral votes. The dark horse Pierce won one of the largest electoral victories in American history. The election oroved to be the end of the Whig Party. The national Whig Party collapsed after the electoral disaster. The Whigs did not even nominate a presidential candidate in 1856. The northern Whigs formed the core of the new Republican Party, It began as a northern sectional party with a strong anti-slavery (but not abolitionist) party. As a result, there were virtually no southern Republicans, another step for sectional division and ultimately civil war.


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Created: 11:13 PM 9/19/2012
Last updated: 7:46 AM 9/20/2012