The New International Encyclopædia/Whig Party

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WHIG PARTY. In American history, the name first applied to those who during and immediately preceding the Revolutionary War opposed the measures of the British Government, in contradistinction to the Loyalists or Tories. The name came to be synonymous with patriot in America, and is believed to have made its appearance first in New York in 1768. After the Revolution the word disappeared as an American party term until about 1834, when it came to be applied to a new political party opposed to the Democratic Party. After the close of the War of 1812 the Federalists as a party disappeared, and with the absence of any well-defined political issues an ‘era of good feeling’ followed. During the administration of John Quincy Adams party lines were again drawn, those who supported the Administration and favored a system of internal improvements, a protective tariff, and a national bank, together with a broad construction of the Constitution generally, being designated as National Republicans, while their opponents were known as Democrats or Democratic-Republicans. (See Democratic Party.) In the Presidential election of 1828 those of the former belief voted for Adams, while the latter supported Jackson. Nullifiers, whose enmity President Jackson had incurred by his measures in 1832 (see Nullification), Anti-Masons, the followers of Hugh L. White (q.v.) in Tennessee, and the States Rights Party in Georgia constituted in addition to the National Republicans some of the elements of the opposition, and by 1833 these were drawing together on the basis of their common dislike for Jackson. In 1834 the opposing elements became fused into a new party, which was called ‘Whig,’ in allusion to its opposition to executive usurpation, by Col. James Watson Webb, editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer. By 1836 the party had not become sufficiently well organized to enter successfully into a Presidential contest. No national convention was held, but Gen. W. H. Harrison was put forward as their candidate by numerous mass meetings and by several Whig State conventions in 1835. Several other candidates appeared in opposition to the Democratic nominee, Martin Van Buren, who was elected. In 1840 the party passed over its real leaders, Clay and Webster, renominated General Harrison, and went before the people with no platform except the personal popularity of the candidate. After a remarkable campaign, the Whigs triumphed, but their rejoicing was soon cut short by the death of the President and the accession of a Vice-President, Tyler, who was not of their political faith and whose policy of opposition demoralized and weakened the party. In 1844 the Whig Party, true to itself for the first time, nominated its leader, Henry Clay, and likewise for the first time adopted a platform of principles, summed up in the following words: “A well-regulated national currency; a tariff for revenue to defray the necessary expenses of the Government, and discriminating with special reference to the protection of the domestic labor of the country; the distribution of the proceeds from the sales of the public lands; a single term for the Presidency; a reform of executive usurpations.” The hopes of the party were destroyed by the injection of the Texas question into the campaign, for the ‘trimming’ attitude of their candidate caused many anti-slavery Whigs in the North to refuse their support. The question of the annexation of Texas did not sever the bond between the Northern Whigs and Southern Whigs, although it was the first of the series of causes which ultimately led to the disruption. The Whigs of both North and South supported the war with Mexico after it was once declared, but the question of admitting or excluding slavery from the territory acquired thereby (see Wilmot Proviso) clearly revealed that Northern and Southern Whigs could not much longer stand together. The anti-slavery or ‘Conscience’ wing of the Whig Party in Massachusetts now arose in opposition to the so-called ‘Cotton Whigs.’ In the Presidential election of 1848 the Whigs, with Gen. Zachary Taylor as their candidate, were for the second and last time successful. It was chiefly through the efforts of Henry Clay that the passage of the Compromise Measures of 1850 was effected. The Whig National Convention at Baltimore in 1852, by a vote of 212 to 70, recognized this compromise as a finality. The election of that year resulted in the overwhelming defeat of the Whig candidate, General Scott. The Kansas-Nebraska Bill (q.v.) of 1854 led to the disruption of the Whig Party and to the formation of a new party in the North (see Republican Party), which was finally joined by most of the Northern Whigs, many of whom were at first also affiliated with the Know-Nothing movement. In the South most of the Whigs for a time acted with the Know-Nothing Party. In 1856 a convention representing what was left of the Whig Party indorsed the nomination of Fillmore, the candidate of the Know-Nothings, for the Presidency. In the Presidential election of 1860 remnants of the old Whig and Know-Nothing parties under a different name, the Constitutional-Union Party (q.v.), supported Bell and Everett for President and Vice-President, but upon the outbreak of the Civil War the last trace of the Whigs disappeared, the Southern Whigs having become absorbed by the Democratic Party. Consult: Gordy, History of Political Parties in the United States (New York, 1900—); Hopkins, History of Political Parties in the United States (New York, 1900); Ormsby, History of the Whig Party (Boston, 1859); McKee, National Conventions and Platforms (Washington, 1892). For the Whig Party in Great Britain, see Whig and Tory.