United States presidential election, 1840
|Presidential election results map. Orange denotes states won by Harrison/Tyler, Blue denotes those won by Van Buren & one of his three running mates. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.|
The United States presidential election of 1840 was the 14th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, October 30, to Wednesday, December 2, 1840. It saw President Martin Van Buren fight for re-election during a time of great economic depression against a Whig Party unified for the first time behind a single candidate: war hero William Henry Harrison. Under these circumstances, the Whigs easily defeated Van Buren.
This election was unique in that electors cast votes for four men who had been or would become President of the United States: current President Martin Van Buren; President-elect William Henry Harrison; Vice-President-elect John Tyler, who would succeed Harrison upon his death; and James K. Polk, who received one electoral vote for vice-president, and who would succeed Tyler in 1845. 42.4% of the voting age population voted for Harrison, the highest percentage in the history of the United States up to that time.
The 67-year-old Harrison was the oldest President elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980 and died little more than a month after his inauguration. The choice of Tyler for Vice President proved to be disastrous for the Whigs: while Tyler had been a staunch supporter of Clay at the convention, he was a former Democrat and a passionate supporter of states' rights who blocked the Whigs' political program in office.
- 1 Nominations
- 2 General election
- 3 Results by state
- 4 Campaign songs/slogans
- 5 Election paraphernalia
- 6 Electoral college selection
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
- 12 Navigation
Democratic Party nomination
Van Buren, the incumbent president, was re-nominated in Baltimore in May 1840. The party refused to re-nominate his sitting vice-president, Richard Mentor Johnson. In the electoral college, the Democratic vice-presidential votes were divided among Johnson, Littleton W. Tazewell, and James K. Polk.
Whig Party nomination
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:
|Presidential vote||1||2||3||4||5||Vice Presidential Vote||1|
|William H. Harrison||94||94||91||91||148||John Tyler||231|
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.
Anti-Masonic Party nomination
During the Van Buren administration, the Anti-Masonic Party had continued to disintegrate, as its leaders moved one by one to the Whig party. Party leaders met in September 1837 in Washington, D.C., and agreed to maintain the party. The third Anti-Masonic Party National Convention was held in Philadelphia in November 1838. The delegates voted to nominate William Henry Harrison for president and Daniel Webster for vice-president.
|Presidential vote||Vice Presidential vote|
|William Henry Harrison||119||Daniel Webster||119|
In the wake of the Panic of 1837, Van Buren was widely unpopular, and Harrison, following Andrew Jackson's strategy, ran as a war hero and man of the people while presenting Van Buren as a wealthy snob living in luxury at the public expense. Although Harrison was comfortably wealthy and well educated, his "log cabin" image caught fire, sweeping all sections of the country.
Harrison avoided campaigning on the issues, with his Whig Party attracting a broad coalition with few common ideals. The Whig strategy overall was to win the election by avoiding discussion of difficult national issues such as slavery or the national bank and concentrate instead on exploiting dissatisfaction over the failed policies of the Van Buren administration with colorful campaigning techniques.
Log cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison
Harrison was the first president to campaign actively for office. He did so with the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too". Tippecanoe referred to Harrison's military victory over a group of Shawnee Indians at a river in Indiana called Tippecanoe in 1811. For their part, Democrats laughed at Harrison for being too old for the presidency, and referred to him as "Granny", hinting that he was senile. Said one Democratic newspaper: "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."
Whigs took advantage of this quip and declared that Harrison was "the log cabin and hard cider candidate", a man of the common people from the rough-and-tumble West. They depicted Harrison's opponent, President Martin Van Buren, as a wealthy snob who was out of touch with the people. In fact, it was Harrison who came from a family of wealthy planters, while Van Buren's father was a tavernkeeper. Harrison however moved to the frontier and for years lived in a log cabin, while Van Buren had been a well-paid government official.
Nonetheless, the election was held during the worst economic depression in the nation's history, and voters blamed Van Buren, seeing him as unsympathetic to struggling citizens. Harrison campaigned vigorously and won.
Harrison won the support of western settlers and eastern bankers alike. The extent of Van Buren's unpopularity was evident in Harrison's victories in New York (the president's home state) and in Tennessee, where Andrew Jackson himself came out of retirement to stump for his former vice-president.
Few Americans were surprised when Van Buren lost by an electoral vote of 234 to 60. But many were amazed by the close popular vote. Of 2,400,000 votes cast, Van Buren lost by only 146,000. Given the circumstances, it is surprising that the Democrats did as well as they did.
Of the 1,179 counties/independent cities making returns, Harrison won in 699 (59.29%) while Van Buren carried 477 (40.46%). Three counties (0.25%) in the South split evenly between Harrison and Van Buren.
Harrison's victory won him precious little time as chief executive of the United States. After giving the longest inauguration speech in U.S. history (about 1 hour, 45 minutes, in cool weather), Harrison served only one month as president before dying of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.
|Presidential candidate||Party||Home state||Popular vote(a)||Electoral
|Count||Pct||Vice-presidential candidate||Home state||Elect. vote|
|William Henry Harrison||Whig||Ohio||1,275,390||52.9%||234||John Tyler||Virginia||234|
|Martin Van Buren||Democratic||New York||1,128,854||46.8%||60||Richard Mentor Johnson||Kentucky||48|
|Littleton W. Tazewell||Virginia||11|
|James Knox Polk||Tennessee||1|
|James G. Birney||Liberty||New York||6,797||0.3%||0||Thomas Earle||Pennsylvania||0|
|Needed to win||148||148|
Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1840 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 27, 2005). Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (July 31, 2005).
(a) The popular vote figures exclude South Carolina where the Electors were chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.
Geography of results
Cartogram of presidential election results by county.
Results by state
|William Henry Harrison
|Martin Van Buren
|James G. Birney
|North Carolina||15||46,567||57.68||15||34,168||42.32||-||no ballots||80,735||NC|
|South Carolina||11||no popular vote||no popular vote||11||no popular vote||-||SC|
First verse and chorus.
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All twelve verses.
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- Rockabye, baby, Daddy's a Whig
- When he comes home, hard cider he'll swig
- When he has swug
- He'll fall in a stu
- And down will come Tyler and Tippecanoe.
- Rockabye, baby, when you awake
- You will discover Tip is a fake.
- Far from the battle, war cry and drum
- He sits in his cabin a'drinking bad rum.
- Rockabye, baby, never you cry
- You need not fear of Tip and his Ty.
- What they would ruin, Van Buren will fix.
- Van's a magician, they are but tricks.
Ribbon for Danvers, Mass. delegation to Harrison Rally, Bunker Hill, 1840; engraved by George Girdler Smith
Cover of Boston Harrison Club's Harrison Melodies, 1840
Electoral college selection
|Method of choosing Electors||State(s)|
|Each Elector appointed by state legislature||South Carolina|
|Each Elector chosen by voters statewide||(all other States)|
In popular culture
- History of the United States (1789-1849)
- Second Party System
- United States House of Representatives elections, 1840
- United States Senate elections, 1840
- Between 1828-1928: "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828 - 2008". The American Presidency Project. UC Santa Barbara. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (2006) 226
- Boston Harrison Club. Harrison melodies: Original and selected. Boston: Weeks, Jordan and company, 1840. Google books
- Foner, Eric (March 1998). "The Amistad Case in Fact and Film".
- Chambers, William Nisbet. "The Election of 1840" in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (ed.) History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–1968 (1971) vol 2; analysis plus primary sources
- Formisano, Ronald P. "The new political history and the election of 1840," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Spring 1993, Vol. 23 Issue 4, pp. 661–82 in JSTOR
- Gunderson, Robert Gray (1957). The Log-Cabin Campaign. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.
- Greeley, Horace (1868). Recollections of a Busy Life.
- Greeley's description of the 1840 election is posted on Wikisource.
- Holt, Michael F. "The Election of 1840, Voter Mobilization, and the Emergence of the Second American Party System: A Reappraisal of Jacksonian Voting Behavior," in Holt and nd John McCardell, eds. A Master's Due: Essays in Honor of David Herbert (1986); emphasizes economic factors; See Formisano (1993) for criticism
- Holt, Michael F. (1999). The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505544-6.
- Shade, William G. "Politics and Parties in Jacksonian America," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 110, No. 4 (Oct. 1986), pp. 483–507 online
- Zboray, Ronald J., and Mary Saracino Zboray. "Whig Women, Politics, and Culture in the Campaign of 1840: Three Perspectives from Massachusetts," Journal of the Early Republic Vol. 17, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 277–315 in JSTOR
- Presidential Election of 1840: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- "The Campaign of 1840: William Henry Harrison and Tyler, Too" high school level lesson plans and documents
- "Overview of Whig National Convention of 1839". Our Campaigns.com. Retrieved 2006.
- How close was the 1840 election? — Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Election of 1840 in Counting the Votes