Whig Party

Author:Paul Finkelman

Page 2884

The Whig party emerged as a coalition of politicians opposed to ANDREW JACKSON and Jacksonian Democracy. Some prominent Whigs, like DANIEL WEBSTER, traced their political roots to the old FEDERALIST party, while others, like HENRY CLAY, had been Jeffersonian Democrats. Most had also been National Republicans and, as such, supported the presidencies of JAMES MONROE and JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. When the Anti-Masonic party collapsed, most of its members became Whigs. Some extreme STATES ' RIGHTS southerners briefly affiliated with the Whigs in reaction to Jackson's heavy-handed response to South Carolina in the NULLIFICATION controversy. A few Democrats joined the Whigs because they disagreed with Jackson over the BANK OF THE UNITED STATES or because they were disillusioned with Old Hickory's successor, MARTIN VAN BUREN. In the 1850s the Whig party collapsed. Most northern Whigs joined the REPUBLICAN PARTY, while southern Whigs became Know-Nothings or Democrats.

Whigs favored high tariffs, federally funded INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS, a national banking system, a relatively weak presidency, and deference to Supreme Court rulings on constitutional questions. In 1832 the Young Men's National Republican Convention, which nominated Henry Clay for President, resolved "that the Supreme Court of the United States is the only tribunal recognized by the constitution for deciding, in the last resort, all questions arising under the constitution and laws of the United States, and that, upon the preservation of the authority and jurisdiction of that court inviolate, depends the existence of the Union."

The Whig party avoided taking any position on SLAVERY, seeking northern compromise on the issue in return for southern support for northern economic interests. Northern Whigs, like Daniel Webster, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, and WILLIAM H. SEWARD, opposed slavery with differing degrees of passion. In the 1830s some Whig congressmen, led by John Quincy Adams and Joshua Giddings, fought for the right to petition Congress on slavery. Adams viewed this as a constitutional right guaranteed by the petition clause of the FIRST AMENDMENT. However, when Whigs controlled Congress and the White House in the early 1840s, they, too, adopted gag rules to prevent the reading of abolitionist petitions. Southern Whigs supported slavery, but they never supported southern extremists. Indeed, southern Whigs opposed states' rights, southern nationalism, and SECESSION...

To continue reading