Henry Clay
National Archives

Henry Clay
1836: Whigs: Henry Clay

The Whig Party formed out of the National Republican Party, the leaders of which were John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. They were nationalists, supported internal improvements and moral reforms, and desired gradual westward expansion in congruence with economic growth and modernization. The Whigs were based in New England and New York, mostly made up of Northern middle-class people, market-oriented farmers, and native-born skilled workers. In 1836, the Whigs factioned off, but generally united against Jackson's policies of the last eight years. They especially disliked Martin Van Buren, Jackson's hand-chosen successor.


Martin Van Buren
National Archives

Martin Van Buren
1836: Democrats: Martin Van Buren

The Democrats were the successors of Jeffersonian democracy. They favored localism and freedom from modern institutions such as banks, factories, and reform movements. They had a commitment to states' rights, a limited government, and an agrarian ideal. They believed in westward expansion by the acquisition of new territories. They were made up of Northern artisans who felt threatened by industry; farmers hurt by tariffs; immigrants who desired to keep their own traditions; and Southerners and Westerners in favor of land acquisition. In 1836 they threw their support behind Andrew Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren.


William Henry Harrison
National Archives

William Henry Harrison
1840: Whigs: William Henry Harrison

In 1840 the Whig Party ran a "Log Cabin and Hard Cider" campaign in which they presented their presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison, a Virginia aristocrat, as a simple man and hero of the people. The Whigs believed in a "loose construction" of the Constitution which included supporting big government with a national bank and the congressional regulation of the expansion of slavery.


1840: Democrats: Martin Van Buren

The Democrats upheld a platform which endorsed "strict construction" of the Constitution in 1840. They opposed the government's interference with the spread of slavery, the existence of a national bank, and the federal funding of internal improvements.


James G. Birney
National Archives

James G. Birney
1840: Liberty Party: James G. Birney

The Liberty Party was the political outgrowth of the growing anti-slavery movement. It had been born in 1839, when the movement factionalized into conservative and radical parts. The radicals followed William Lloyd Garrison, who demanded the immediate ending of slavery, denounced the U.S. Constitution, and allowed female activists into the movement. The conservatives formed the Liberty Party and sought to end slavery gradually through traditional, political channels.


1844: Whigs: Henry Clay

The Whigs were unanimous in their nomination of Henry Clay for the presidency, standing on the same platform as previous elections.


James K. Polk
National Archives

James K. Polk
1844: Democrats: James K. Polk

Democrats desired the annexation of Texas and the complete control of Oregon Territory, then shared with England as well. They nominated James K. Polk, who was a Southerner and sure to favor westward expansion.


1844: Liberty Party: James C. Birney

Again nominating James C. Birney, the Liberty Party continued to stand on an anti-slavery platform, including several planks for equal rights and the elimination of racial discrimination in the North.


Zachary Taylor
National Archives

Zachary Taylor
1848: Whigs: Zachary Taylor

The Whigs were split by the annexation from the Mexican War. They attempted to offset this damage by declaring no platform at all and nominating Zachary Taylor, a man who up until 1848 had had very little to do with politics.


Lewis Cass
National Archives

Lewis Cass
1848: Democrats: Lewis Cass

The Democrats were also split by the Mexican War annexation. Southern and Western Democrats allied along a moderate platform to extend slavery, not going far enough for many slaveholding Southerners, who desired a firmer assurance of slavery's expansion.


1848: Martin Van Buren

The Free Soil Party absorbed men from the Liberty Party who had nowhere else to go; "Conscience," or anti-slavery, Whigs; and "Barnburner" Democrats, whose anti-black prejudices allied them with anti-slavery men.

 

Winfield Scott
National Archives

Winfield Scott
1852: Whigs: Winfield Scott

Whigs were dedicated to the enforcement of the provisions of the Compromise of 1850, which included the admission of California as a free state and a stricter fugitive slave law. With Winfield Scott, they condemned further agitation of the slavery issue and saw the Compromise of 1850 as the solution. Yet they did not come out as vehemently pro-slavery, and some Southern Whigs deserted the party to join the Democrats.


Franklin Pierce
National Archives

Franklin Pierce
1852: Democrats: Franklin Pierce

Democrats and Franklin Pierce also supported the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 and united along pro-slavery lines.


John P. Hale
National Archives

John P. Hale
1852: Free Soil Party: John P. Hale

Free Soilers were the only political group to officially denounce the Compromise of 1850. They demanded the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law and opposed the further admission of slave states.


John C. Fremont
National Archives

John C. Fremont
1856: Republicans: John C. Fremont

The Republican Party grew out of resistance to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which overrode the Missouri Compromise and allowed slavery to spread into Western territory by popular sovereignty. "Anti-Nebraska" men included anti-slavery Whigs, Democrats, Free Soilers, reformers, and abolitionists.


Millard Fillmore
National Archives

Millard Fillmore
1856: American Party: Millard Fillmore

The unprecedented rate of immigration at mid-century, particularly from Catholic Ireland, caused many nativists to fear foreign invasion. They organized into a secret order known as the "Know-Nothings" or the "Order of the Star Spangled Banner" and then politicized themselves in 1856 as the American Party. It was made up of mostly ex-Whigs who were anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, and desired to lengthen the naturalization period, allow only citizens to vote, and only native-born citizens to hold office.


James Buchanan
National Archives

James Buchanan
1856: Democrats: James Buchanan

Democrats again united along a pro-slavery platform, endorsing states' rights, the Fugitive Slave Law, and popular sovereignty in the territories.


Abraham Lincoln
National Archives

Abraham Lincoln
1860: Republicans: Abraham Lincoln

The Republican Party absorbed anti-slavery Whigs and most Know-Nothings. It became more moderate in its stance on the exclusion of slavery and denounced John Brown's raid. The platform endorsed a protective tariff, the Homestead Act, and internal improvements.


John Bell
National Archives

John Bell
1860: Constitutional Union Party: John Bell

The Constitutional Union Party was the anti-extremist party, absorbing Southern Whigs who didn't want to vote Democratic and Northern Whigs who felt the Republicans were too radical. They united in order to block a Republican victory.


Stephen Douglas
National Archives

Stephen Douglas
1860: Democrats: Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckenridge

The Democratic Party split completely along sectional lines. Southern Democrats walked out of the Democratic National Convention, which nominated Stephen A. Douglas on a popular sovereignty platform, to name their own candidate, John C. Breckenridge, on a slave code ticket.


1864: Republican / National Union Party: Abraham Lincoln

In the midst of the Civil War, the Republican Party asked that the country continue to fight according to Lincoln's war measures. The party demanded an unconditional surrender and supported a constitutional amendment to end slavery.


George McClellan
National Archives

George McClellan
1864: Democrats: George McClellan

The Democrats were split along "war" and "peace" factions, but managed to unite behind George McClellan in the 1864 election. With a "Union first, then peace" platform, the Democrats appeased both those who desired to defeat the Confederacy at all costs as well as those who favored negotiation and compromise.


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