1839 Whig National Convention

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1839 Whig National Convention
1840 Presidential Election
William Henry Harrison by James Reid Lambdin, 1835.jpg WHOportTyler.jpg
Nominees
Harrison and Tyler
Convention
Date(s) December 4-December 8, 1839
City Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Candidates
Presidential nominee William H. Harrison of Ohio
Vice Presidential nominee John Tyler of Virginia
1844

Whig candidates

For the first time in their history, the Whigs held a national convention to determine their presidential candidate. It opened in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on December 4, 1839, almost a full year before the general election. The three leading candidates were William Henry Harrison, a war hero and the most successful of Van Buren's opponents in the 1836 election, who had been campaigning for the Whig nomination ever since; General Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812 who had been active in skirmishes with the British in 1837 and 1838; and Henry Clay, the Whigs' congressional leader and former Speaker of the House.

Clay led on the first ballot, but circumstances conspired to deny him the nomination. First of all, the convention came on the heels of a string of Whig electoral losses. Harrison managed to distance himself from the losses, but Clay, as the party's philosophical leader, could not. Had the convention been held in the spring, when the economic downturn led to a string of Whig victories, Clay would have had much greater support. Secondly, the convention rules had been drawn up so that whoever won the majority of delegates from a given state would win all the votes from that state. This worked against Clay, who had solid majority support in almost all of the Southern delegations (with little potential for opponents to capitalize on a proportional distribution of delegates), and a large minority support in Northern delegations (with the potential for substantial proportional distributions in his favor eliminated). In addition, several Southern states whose Whig chapters supported Clay abstained from sending delegates to the convention. As a result, the nomination went to Harrison.

The state-by-state roll call was printed in the newspaper the Farmer's Cabinet on December 13, 1839:

Convention vote
Presidential vote 1 2 3 4 5 Vice Presidential Vote 1
William H. Harrison 94 94 91 91 148 John Tyler 231
Henry Clay 103 103 95 95 90 Abstaining 23
Winfield Scott 57 57 68 68 16

Because Harrison (born in Virginia) was considered a Northerner (as a resident of Ohio), the Whigs needed to balance the ticket with a Southerner. They also sought a Clay supporter to help unite the party. After being turned down by several Southern Clay supporters, the convention finally found a Southern nominee who had faithfully supported Clay throughout the convention and who would agree to run: former Senator John Tyler of Virginia, who had previously been the running-mate of Hugh Lawson White and Willie Person Mangum during the four-way Whig campaign at the previous election.

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