1840 United States presidential election

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1840 United States presidential election

← 1836 October 30 – December 2, 1840 1844 →

294 members of the Electoral College
148 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout80.2%[1] Increase 22.4 pp
  William Henry Harrison (cropped).jpg Martin Van Buren circa 1837 crop.jpg
Nominee William Henry Harrison Martin Van Buren
Party Whig Democratic
Home state Ohio New York
Running mate John Tyler None[a]
Electoral vote 234 60
States carried 19 7
Popular vote 1,275,390 1,128,854
Percentage 52.9% 46.8%

1840 United States presidential election in Maine1840 United States presidential election in New Hampshire1840 United States presidential election in Massachusetts1840 United States presidential election in Rhode Island1840 United States presidential election in Connecticut1840 United States presidential election in New York1840 United States presidential election in Vermont1840 United States presidential election in New Jersey1840 United States presidential election in Pennsylvania1840 United States presidential election in Delaware1840 United States presidential election in Maryland1840 United States presidential election in Virginia1840 United States presidential election in Ohio1840 United States presidential election in Michigan1840 United States presidential election in Indiana1840 United States presidential election in Illinois1840 United States presidential election in Kentucky1840 United States presidential election in Tennessee1840 United States presidential election in North Carolina1840 United States presidential election in South Carolina1840 United States presidential election in Georgia1840 United States presidential election in Alabama1840 United States presidential election in Mississippi1840 United States presidential election in Louisiana1840 United States presidential election in Arkansas1840 United States presidential election in MissouriElectoralCollege1840.svg
About this image
Presidential election results map. Buff denotes states won by Harrison/Tyler and blue by Van Buren. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes cast by each state.

President before election

Martin Van Buren

Elected President

William H. Harrison

The 1840 United States presidential election was the 14th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, October 30 to Wednesday, December 2, 1840. Economic recovery from the Panic of 1837 was incomplete, and Whig nominee William Henry Harrison defeated incumbent President Martin Van Buren of the Democratic Party. The election marked the first of two Whig victories in presidential elections.

In 1839, the Whigs held a national convention for the first time. The 1839 Whig National Convention saw 1836 nominee William Henry Harrison defeat former Secretary of State Henry Clay and General Winfield Scott. Van Buren faced little opposition at the 1840 Democratic National Convention, but controversial Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson was not re-nominated. The Democrats thus became the only major party since the passage of the Twelfth Amendment to fail to select a vice presidential nominee.

Referencing vice presidential nominee John Tyler and Harrison's participation in the Battle of Tippecanoe, the Whigs campaigned on the slogan of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." With Van Buren weakened by economic woes, Harrison won a popular majority and 234 of 294 electoral votes. Voter participation surged as white male suffrage became nearly universal,[2] and a contemporary record of 42.4% of the voting age population voted for Harrison.[1] Van Buren's loss made him the third president, and the first outside the Adams family, to lose re-election.

The Whigs did not enjoy the benefits of victory. The 67-year-old Harrison, the oldest U.S. president elected until Ronald Reagan won the 1980 presidential election, died a little more than a month after inauguration. Harrison was succeeded by John Tyler, who unexpectedly proved not to be a Whig. While Tyler had been a staunch supporter of Clay at the convention, he was a former Democrat, a passionate supporter of states' rights, and effectively an independent. As President, Tyler blocked the Whigs' legislative agenda and was expelled from the Whig Party, subsequently the second independent (after Washington) to serve as president.


Whig Party nomination[edit]

1840 Whig Party ticket
William Henry Harrison John Tyler
for President for Vice President
William Henry Harrison (cropped).jpg
John Tyler (cropped 3x4).png
Former U.S. Senator
from Ohio
Former U.S. Senator
from Virginia

Three years after Democrat Martin Van Buren was elected President in the election of 1836 over three Whig candidates, the Whigs met in national convention determined to unite behind a single candidate. The convention was chaired by Isaac C. Bates of Massachusetts and James Barbour of Virginia presided over the convention. The party nominated the popular retired general William Henry Harrison of Ohio for president, the most successful of the three Whig presidential candidates from the previous election. Harrison won a close victory on the convention's fifth ballot against party founder Henry Clay and General Winfield Scott. Harrison, though a slave-owner and aristocrat, was perceived as being simple and a commoner.[3] The convention nominated former Senator John Tyler from Virginia for vice president. The two would go on to win the 1840 presidential election by defeating Van Buren.

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 Clay's loss on the balloting. Tyler was finally chosen by the convention after several Southern Clay supporters had been approached but refused. Tyler had previously been the running-mate of Hugh Lawson White and Willie Person Mangum during the four-way Whig campaign at the previous election.

Democratic Party nomination[edit]

1840 Democratic Party ticket
Martin Van Buren
for President
Martin Van Buren circa 1837 crop.jpg
President of the United States

Van Buren, the incumbent president, was re-nominated in Baltimore in May 1840.

While the Democratic Party refused to re-nominate the incumbent vice-president, Richard M. Johnson, they were unable to agree on an alternative running mate at the convention, and adjourned without having nominated one. As of 2020, this is the only time since the passage of the 12th Amendment in 1804 that a major party has failed to do so.

This is also one of only two elections (as of 2020) where a major party did not have a vice-presidential candidate on their ticket on Election Day; the other was in 1912, as the incumbent vice-president, James S. Sherman (of the Republican Party), died six days before the election.

In the electoral college, the Democratic vice-presidential votes were divided among Johnson, Littleton W. Tazewell, and James K. Polk.

Anti-Masonic Party nomination[edit]

After the negative views of Freemasonry among a large segment of the public began to wane in the mid 1830s, the Anti-Masonic Party had begun to disintegrate. Its leaders began to move 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 on November 13–14, 1838. By this time, the party had been almost entirely supplanted by the Whigs. The delegates unanimously voted to nominate William Henry Harrison for president (who the party had supported for president the previous election along with Francis Granger for vice president) and Daniel Webster for vice president. However, when the Whig National Convention nominated Harrison with John Tyler as his running mate, the Anti-Masonic Party did not make an alternate nomination and ceased to function and was fully absorbed into the Whigs by 1840.

Convention vote
Presidential vote Vice Presidential vote
William Henry Harrison 119 Daniel Webster 119

Liberty Party nomination[edit]

The Liberty Party was announced in November 1839, and first gathered in Warsaw, New York. Its first national convention took place in Arcade on April 1, 1840.

The Liberty Party nominated James G. Birney, a Kentuckian, former slaveholder, and prominent abolitionist, for president while Thomas Earle of Pennsylvania was selected as his running mate.

General election[edit]


Caricature on the aftermath of the panic of 1837

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[edit]

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 Native Americans 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."

Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage of the winning candidate in each county. Shades of yellow are for Harrison (Whig) and shades of blue are for Van Buren (Democrat).

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 had come out of retirement to stump for his former vice-president.

Few Americans were surprised when Van Buren lost in the electoral vote by 234 to 60, but many were amazed by the closeness of the popular vote: of 2.41 million votes cast, Van Buren lost by only 146,500, and a shift of 20,000 votes to Van Buren in Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania would have left the electoral college in a 147–147 tie, forcing a contingent election in the House of Representatives.

Given all the circumstances, it is surprising that the Democrats performed as well as they did.[4]

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 (lasting about 1 hour and 45 minutes, in cold weather and rain), Harrison served only one month as president before dying of pneumonia on April 4, 1841. This was also the first election in US history in which a candidate won more than a million popular votes.

This was the last election where Indiana voted for the Whigs. It is also the only election where the Whigs won Maine, Michigan, and Mississippi. The election was also the last time that Mississippi voted against the Democrats until 1872, the last in which Indiana did so until 1860 and the last in which Maine and Michigan did so until 1856.

The 1840 presidential election was the only U.S. presidential election in which four people who either had been or would become a U.S. President (Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, and Polk) received at least one vote in the Electoral College.[5]

United States Electoral College 1840.svg

Electoral results
Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a) Electoral
Running mate
Count Percentage Vice-presidential candidate Home state Electoral vote
William Henry Harrison Whig Ohio 1,275,390 52.88% 234 John Tyler Virginia 234
Martin Van Buren Democratic New York 1,128,854 46.81% 60 Richard Mentor Johnson Kentucky 48
Littleton Waller Tazewell Virginia 11
James Knox Polk Tennessee 1
James Gillespie Birney Liberty New York 6,797 0.31% 0 Thomas Earle Pennsylvania 0
Other 767 0.00% Other
Total 2,411,808 100% 294 294
Needed to win 148 148

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. "1840 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved July 27, 2005. Source (Electoral Vote): "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved July 31, 2005.[6]

(a) The popular vote figures exclude South Carolina where the Electors were chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.

Popular vote
Van Buren
Electoral vote
Van Buren

Geography of results[edit]

Cartographic gallery[edit]

Results by state[edit]

Source: Data from Walter Dean Burnham, Presidential ballots, 1836–1892 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1955) pp 247–257.

States/districts won by Van Buren
States/districts won by Harrison/Tyler
William Henry Harrison
Martin Van Buren
James G. Birney
Margin State Total
State electoral
# % electoral
# % electoral
# % electoral
# % #
Alabama 7 0001361828,515 45.62 - 0004866933,996 54.38 7 no ballots -5,481 -8.76 62,511 AL
Arkansas 3 5,160 43.58 - 6,679 56.42 3 no ballots -1,519 -12.84 11,839 AR
Connecticut 8 31,598 55.55 8 25,281 44.45 - no ballots 6,317 11.10 56,879 CT
Delaware 3 5,967 54.99 3 4,872 44.89 - no ballots 1,095 10.10 10,852 DE
Georgia 11 40,339 55.78 11 31,983 44.22 - no ballots 8,356 11.56 72,322 GA
Illinois 5 45,574 48.91 - 47,441 50.92 5 160 0.17 - -1,867 -2.01 93,175 IL
Indiana 9 65,302 55.86 9 51,604 44.14 - no ballots 13,698 11.72 116,906 IN
Kentucky 15 58,488 64.20 15 32,616 35.80 - no ballots 25,872 28.40 91,104 KY
Louisiana 5 11,296 59.73 5 7,616 40.27 - no ballots 3,680 19.46 18,912 LA
Maine 10 46,612 50.23 10 46,190 49.77 - no ballots 422 0.46 92,802 ME
Maryland 10 33,528 53.83 10 28,752 46.17 - no ballots 4,776 7.66 62,280 MD
Massachusetts 14 72,852 57.44 14 52,355 41.28 - 1,618 1.28 - 20,497 16.16 126,825 MA
Michigan 3 22,933 51.71 3 21,096 47.57 - 321 0.72 - 1,837 4.14 44,350 MI
Mississippi 4 19,515 53.43 4 17,010 46.57 - no ballots 2,505 6.86 36,525 MS
Missouri 4 22,954 43.37 - 29,969 56.63 4 no ballots -7,015 -13.26 52,923 MO
New Hampshire 7 26,310 43.88 - 32,774 54.66 7 872 1.45 - -6,464 -10.78 59,956 NH
New Jersey 8 33,351 51.74 8 31,034 48.15 - 69 0.11 - 2,317 3.59 64,454 NJ
New York 42 226,001 51.18 42 212,733 48.18 - 2,809 0.64 - 13,268 3.00 441,543 NY
North Carolina 15 46,567 57.68 15 34,168 42.32 - no ballots 12,399 15.36 80,735 NC
Ohio 21 148,157 54.10 21 124,782 45.57 - 903 0.33 - 23,375 8.53 273,842 OH
Pennsylvania 30 144,010 50.00 30 143,676 49.88 - 340 0.12 - 334 0.12 288,026 PA
Rhode Island 4 5,278 61.22 4 3,301 38.29 - 42 0.49 - 1,977 22.93 8,621 RI
South Carolina 11 no popular vote no popular vote 11 no popular vote - - - SC
Tennessee 15 60,194 55.66 15 47,951 44.34 - no ballots 12,243 11.32 108,145 TN
Vermont 7 32,445 63.90 7 18,009 35.47 - 319 0.63 - 14,436 28.43 50,773 VT
Virginia 23 42,639 49.35 - 43,757 50.65 23 no ballots -1,120 -1.30 86,394 VA
TOTALS: 294 1,275,583 52.87 234 1,129,645 46.82 60 7,453 0.31 - 145,938 6.05 2,412,694 US
TO WIN: 148

Close states[edit]

States where the margin of victory was under 1%:

  1. Pennsylvania 0.12% (334 votes)
  2. Maine 0.46% (422 votes)

States where the margin of victory was under 5%:

  1. Virginia 1.3% (1,120 votes)
  2. Illinois 2.01% (1,867 votes)
  3. New York 3.0% (13,268 votes)
  4. New Jersey 3.59% (2,317 votes) (tipping point state)
  5. Michigan 4.14% (1,837 votes)

States where the margin of victory was under 10%:

  1. Mississippi 6.86% (2,505 votes)
  2. Maryland 7.66% (4,776 votes)
  3. Ohio 8.53% (23,375 votes)
  4. Alabama 8.76% (5,481 votes)

Campaign songs/slogans[edit]


"Tippecanoe and Tyler too"

Van Buren[edit]

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.

Election paraphernalia[edit]

Electoral college selection[edit]

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[edit]

In the film Amistad, Van Buren (played by Nigel Hawthorne) is seen campaigning for re-election. These scenes have been criticized for their historical inaccuracy.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ While there was no official Democratic nominee, the majority of the Democratic electors still cast their electoral votes for incumbent Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson.


  1. ^ a b Between 1828–1928: "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828–2008". The American Presidency Project. UC Santa Barbara. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  2. ^ "White Manhood Suffrage". National Museum of American History. Archived from the original on June 29, 2021. Retrieved July 6, 2021.
  3. ^ "About US President William Henry Harrison". What is USA News. September 17, 2013. Archived from the original on April 13, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2012.
  4. ^ Watson, Harry L. (2006). Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 226. ISBN 0-8090-6547-9.
  5. ^ "1840 Presidential Election". 270toWin. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  6. ^ "1840 Presidential General Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  7. ^ Boston Harrison Club. Harrison melodies: Original and selected. Boston: Weeks, Jordan and company, 1840. Google books
  8. ^ Foner, Eric (March 1998). "The Amistad Case in Fact and Film".

Further reading[edit]

  • 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
  • Cheathem, Mark. R. The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)
  • Ellis, Richard J. Old Tip vs. the Sly Fox: The 1840 Election and the Making of a Partisan Nation (U of Kansas Press, 2020) online review
  • 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 John McCardell, eds. A Master's Due: Essays in Honor of David Herbert Donald (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.
  • Leahy, Christopher J. President without a Party: The Life of John Tyler (LSU, 2020), a major scholarly biography; excerpt also online review
  • 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[permanent dead link]
  • 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

Primary sources[edit]

  • Chester, Edward W A guide to political platforms (1977) online
  • Porter, Kirk H. and Donald Bruce Johnson, eds. National party platforms, 1840-1964 (1965) online 1840-1956

External links[edit]