The Whigs and Their Party
Who Were the Whigs?
In a sense, the Whigs were Jackson’s “myriad antagonists, some old, some new, some champions of the American System and others its erstwhile enemies.” (1) Politics can make strange bedfellows. Those who opposed Jackson found themselves as friends in politics. They would do anything, including becoming a united front, to prevent Jackson's followers from taking over the country.
They saw the popularity of Andrew Jackson as something to be frightened of. His positions were not popular among many members of his own party. They saw it as a step back from the progress obtained during the American Revolution. Unable to stand behind his positions, many Democrats created their own party—the Whigs.
The name of the party was taken from a British party that fought against the monarchy. As they nicknamed the president as "King Andrew," it seemed only fitting for his opponents to obtain that title. They saw Jackson and his people trying to create a monarchy and refused to let them achieve that goal.
The leaders in this new party were William Henry Harrison, John Eaton, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Clay to name a few. The party started with “disaffected Jackson men” and those “who had credulously backed him [Jackson] and the American System in 1828” being the first to start congregating together and voice dissatisfaction with Jackson’s decisions. (2) If they were on the opposite side of Jackson, they found themselves as Whigs even if they once supported the President. Many found themselves allies after being vicious enemies. They decided it was better to bury the hatchet and defeat the man and his followers who were trying to take the nation in a direction they feared.
These were big names in politics at the time. They had experience in government and pull with the American people. It was that pull that they hoped would help them keep the Jacksonians out of office.
There were no formal political stances for the Whig party as it did not have a “national convention, candidate, or platform” as of 1836. (3) It was a group of anti-Jacksonian people. That is what they had in common. They have been seen as supporting banks and other institutions but only because they opposed the moves of the Jacksonian Democrats.That was their platform. It changed based on what their enemies stood for. Whatever Jackson followers supported, the Whigs stood against. It was as simple as that.
The Whigs were successful in capturing the White House in two elections. The party had gotten the attention of America, and their wins was a loud message to politicians. The people were dissatisfied enough to oppose those who wanted too much control. They banded together to stop the government from becoming everything they had once together fought against.
Each member of the 'party' had their own agendas. Their backgrounds were various. Their interests just as much so. But they had one common thread - defeat Jackson's followers.
After a more detailed look, historians can create a general collection of political concerns though they were more informal than the Democratic Party was. There was a general consensus aside from just being anti-Jackson on several issues. Many Whigs “espoused improvement under the fostering care of government” as well as a “less aggressive tariff” and a desire to follow the “plan of distributing land revenues to the states for internal improvement, schools, and black colonization in place of direct federal spending” as Henry Clay proposed. (4) Some wanted to “regulate currency and credit” while others were not too sure of such a stance. (5) They promoted advancements that went beyond economic and involved “moral and intellectual” advancements. (6)
Whigs typically stood for everything Jackson and his followers did not. They wanted school systems designed and supported by the state. They also wanted a more “humane and just approach to Indian removal” and “principles of system and discipline.” (7) The end result was an appearance of piety that went beyond any other party that had ever loosely existed in the past.
Whigs could be said to stand for:
- Government involvement in economic growth
- Power of Congress, not President
- Move toward modernization
- Anything against President Jackson and his followers
(1) Daniel Feller, The Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815-1840, (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1995), 184.
(2) Ibid, 186.
(3) Ibid, 187.
(4) Ibid, 187.
(5) Ibid, 187.
(6) Ibid, 187.
(7) Ibid, 187.