The “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” Campaign
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New York, which gave Mr. Van Buren the largest majority of any State in 1836, had been held against him throughout his administration, tho she was his own State, and he had therein a powerful body of devoted, personal adherents, led by such men of eminent ability as Silas Wright, William L. Marcy, and Edwin Croswell. She had been so held by the talent, exertion, and vigilance of men equally able and determined, among whom Thurlow Weed, William H. Seward, John C. Spencer, and Willis Hall were conspicuous. But our majority of 15,000 in 1837 had fallen to 10,000 in 1838, and to 5,000 in 1839, despite our best efforts; Governor Seward's school recommendations and dispensation of State patronage had made him many enemies; and the friends of Mr. Van Buren counted, with reason, on carrying the State for his reelection, and against that of Governor Seward, in the impending struggle of 1840. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, and all the Northwest, had been carried against the Whigs in the most recent contests; Mr. Van Buren's star was clearly in the ascendant at the South; while New England and New Jersey were nicely balanced—Massachusetts, as well as Maine and New Hampshire, having chosen a Democratic Governor (Marcus Morton) in 1839.
Mr. Van Buren's administration, tho at first condemned, was now sustained by a popular majority: New York alone—his own State—stood forth the flagship of the opposition. Both parties were silently preparing to put forth their very best efforts in the Presidential contest in prospect; but fully two-thirds of the States, choosing about that proportion of the electors, were now ranged on the Democratic side—many of them by impregnable majorities—while scarcely one State was unquestionably Whig. Mr. Van Buren, when first overwhelmed by the popular surge that followed close upon the collapse of the pet bank system, had calmly and with dignity appealed to the people's “sober second thought”; and it now seemed morally certain that he would be triumphantly reelected.
Such were the auspices under which the first Whig National Convention (the second National Convention ever held by any party—that held in 1840 by the Democrats at Baltimore, which nominated Van Buren and Johnson, having been the first) assembled at Harrisburg, Pa., early in December, 1839. Of its doings I was a deeply interested observer. The States were nearly an represented, tho in South Carolina there were no Whigs but a handful; even the name was unknown in Tennessee, and the party was feeble in several other States. But the delegations convened included many names widely and favorably known—including two ex-Governors of Virginia (James Barbour and John Tyler), one of Kentucky (Thomas Metcalf), one of Ohio (Joseph Vance), and at least one from several other States. I recollect at least two ex-Governors of Pennsylvania (John Andrew Shultze and Joseph Ritner) as actively counseling and sympathizing with the delegates.
The sittings of the convention were protracted through three or four days, during which several ballots for President were taken. There was a plurality, tho not a majority, in favor of nominating Mr. Clay; but it was in good part composed of delegates from States which could not rationally be expected to vote for any Whig candidate. On the other hand, the delegates from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana said, “We can carry our States for General Harrison, but not for Mr. Clay.” New York and New Jersey cast their earlier votes for General Scott, but stood ready to unite on General Harrison whenever it should be clear that he could be nominated and elected; and they ultimately did so. The delegates from Maine and Massachusetts contributed powerfully to secure General Harrison's ultimate nomination. Each delegation cast its vote through a committee, and the votes were added up by a general committee, which reported no names and no figures, but simply that no choice had been effected; until at length the Scott votes were all cast for Harrison, and his nomination thus effected; when the result was proclaimed.
Governor Seward, who was in Albany (there were no telegraphs in those days), and Mr. Weed, who was present, and very influential in producing the result, were strongly blamed by the ardent, uncalculating supporters of Mr. Clay, as having cheated him out of the nomination—I could never see with what reason. They judged that he could not be chosen, if nominated, while another could be, and acted accordingly. If politics do not meditate the achievement of beneficent ends through the choice and use of the safest and most effective means, I wholly misapprehend them.
Mr. John Tyler, with many or quite all his fellow delegates from Virginia, was for Clay first, last, and all the time; for him whether he could be elected or not. When it was announced that Mr. Clay was defeated, he cried (so it was reported); and that report (I think) gave him the nomination for Vice-President without a contest. It was an attempt of the triumphant Harrisonites to heal the wounds of Mr. Clay's devoted friends. Yet the nomination was, for several reasons, a strong one.
Mr. Tyler, tho a Jackson man, had received, in 1828, the votes for United States Senator of the Adams men in the Virginia Legislature, and been thereby elected over John Randolph. When Jackson removed the deposits from the United States Bank, he united with the Whigs in publicly condemning the act; and, having been superseded therefor, he was thereafter regarded as a Whig. He had voted alone in the Senate of 1832-33 against the Force bill, which provided for the collection of the Federal revenue in South Carolina in defiance of the nullifying ordinance of her convention. He had run for Vice-President on the White ticket in 1836, and so had acquired a hold on the Southern opponents of Van Buren, which soon brought them all heartily into the support of the Harrisburg ticket. In short, the convention made the strongest possible ticket, so far as success was regarded; and the Democrats in attendance all felt, tho they did not confess it. Everyone who had eyes could see that they desired and worked for the nomination of Mr. Clay. One of them, after the ticket was made, offered to bet that it would not be elected; but, his offer being promptly accepted, and he requested to name the amount, he hauled off. In short, we left Harrisburg with that confidence of success which goes far to secure its own justification; and we were greeted on our way home as tho the battle were already won.
But it was well understood that the struggle would be desperate, especially in our State [New York], and preparations were soon in progress to render it effective. Our adversaries now helped us to our most effective weapons. They at once commenced assailing General Harrison as an imbecile, dotard, granny, etc., who had seen no real fighting, but had achieved a good deal of tall running from the enemy; and one militia general, Crary, who represented Michigan in the House, having made a speech in this vein, provoked a response from Hon. Tom Corwin of Ohio, which for wit, humor, and withering yet good-natured sarcasm has rarely, if ever, been excelled. The triumph was overwhelming; and, when the venerable and grave John Quincy Adams, in a few casual remarks next morning, spoke carelessly of “the late General Crary,” a spontaneous roar attested the felicity of the allusion.
General Harrison had lived many years after his removal to Ohio in a log house, and had been a poor man most of his life, as he still was. A Democratic journalist, scoffing at the idea of electing such a man to the Presidency, smartly observed, in substance, “Give him a log cabin and a barrel of hard cider, and he will stay content in Ohio, not aspiring to the Presidency.” The taunt was immediately caught up by the Whigs: “log-cabins” and “hard cider” became watchwords of the canvass; and every hour the excitement and enthusiasm swelled higher and higher.
But the Democratic party claimed an unbroken series of triumphs in every Presidential election which it did not throw away by its own dissensions; and, being now united, regarded its success as inevitable. “You Whigs,” said Dr. Duncan, of Ohio, one of its most effective canvassers, “achieve great victories every day in the year but one—that is the day of election.” It was certain that a party which had enjoyed the ever-increasing patronage of the Federal Government for the preceding twelve years, which wielded that of most of the States also, and which was still backed by the popularity and active sympathy of General Jackson, was not to be expelled from power without the most resolute, persistent, systematic exertions. Hence, it was determined in the councils of our friends at Albany that a new campaign paper should be issued, to be entitled The Log-Cabin; and I was chosen to conduct it. No contributions were made or sought in its behalf. I was to publish as well as edit it; it was to be a folio of good size; and it was decided that fifteen copies should be sent for the full term of six months (from May 1 to November 1) for $5…. I tried to make The Log-Cabin as effective as I could, with wood engravings of General Harrisons battle-scenes, music, etc., and to render it a model of its kind; but the times were so changed that it was more lively and less sedately augumentative than The Jeffersonian.
Its circulation was entirely beyond precedent. I fixt the edition of No. 1 at 30,000; but before the close of the week I was obliged to print 10,000 more; and even this was too few. The weekly issues ran rapidly up to 80,000, and might have been increased, had I possest ample facilities for printing and mailing, to 100,000. With the machinery of distribution by news companies, expresses, etc., now existing, I guess that it might have been swelled to a quarter of a million. And, tho I made very little money by it, I gave every subscriber an extra number containing the results of the election. After that, I continued the paper for a full year longer; having a circulation for it of 10,000 copies, which about paid the cost, counting my work as editor nothing.
The Log-Cabin was but an incident, a feature of the canvass. Briefly, we Whigs took the lead, and kept it throughout. Our opponents struggled manfully, desperately; but wind and tide were against them. They had campaign and other papers, good speakers, and large meetings; but we were far ahead of them in singing, and in electioneering emblems and mottoes which appealed to popular sympathies. The elections held next after the Harrisburg nominations were local, but they all went our way; and the State contests, which soon followed, amply confirmed their indications. In September, Maine held her State election, and chose the Whig candidate for Governor (Edward Kent) by a small majority, but on a very full vote. The Democrats did not concede his election till after the vote for President, in November. Pennsylvania, in October, gave a small Democratic majority; but we insisted that it could be overcome when we came to vote for Harrison, and it was. In October, Ohio, Indiana, and Georgia all gave decisive Harrison majorities, rendering the great result morally certain. Yet, when the Presidential electors chosen were fully ascertained, even the most sanguine among us were astounded by the completeness of our triumph. We had given General Harrison the electoral votes of all but the seven States of New Hampshire, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas—sixty in all—while our candidate had 234; making his the heaviest majority by which any President had ever been chosen. New York, where each party had done its best, had been carried for him by 13,290 majority; but Governor Seward had been reelected by only 5,315. With any other candidate for President, he could scarcely have escaped defeat.