By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS


Election Year: 1840

Election Day Date: October 30 – December 2, 1840

10/30 – OH, PA; 11/2 – AR, CT, GA, IL, IN, KY, MD, MI, MS, MO, NH, VA; 11/2-4 – NY; 11/3 – LA; 11/3-4 – NJ; 11/9 – AL, MA; 11/10 – DE, ME; 11/12 – NC; 11/13 – RI;

11/19 – TN, VT

Winning Ticket:

  • William H. Harrison (67, Episcopal), John Tyler (50, Episcopal), Whig 1,275,583 52.87% 234 79.6%

Losing Ticket(s):

  • Martin Van Buren (58, Dutch Reformed), Richard M. Johnson (60, Baptist), Democratic 1,129,645 46.82% 60 20.4%
  • James G. Birney (48, Presbyterian), Thomas Earle (48), Liberty 7,453 0.31% 0 0.0%

Voter Turnout: 80.2% 2,412,698 voters

Central Forums/Campaign Methods for Addressing Voters:

  • Mass appeal; increased involvement of the average citizen; torchlight parades;  barbecues, rallies, songfests; Tippecanoe Shaving Soap, Log-Cabin Emollient, “Harrrison and Tyler” neckties.
  •  “Old Cabin Whisky” made by E.C. Booz Distillery of Philadelphia.
  • Tippecanoe Song Sheets, Long Cabin Cotillions

Election Law/Campaign Finance Changes: Gradual democratization of American politics; extension of suffrage by lowering or abolishing property or tax-paying qualifications.

Incumbent President and Vice President on Election Day:

Martin Van Buren, Richard M. Johnson, Democratic, 1837-1841

Population: 1840: 17,120, 000

Nominal GDP (billions of dollars): $1.56 Real GDP (billions of 2005 dollars): $31.46
GDP Deflator (index 2005=100%) 4.95 Nominal GDP per capita (current dollars): $91 Real GDP per capita (year 2005 dollars): $1,838

Number of Newspapers: 1,577 with 209 dailies

Method of Choosing Electors: Popular vote in all states except in South Carolina where the state legislature appointed electors

Method of Choosing Nominees: National and/or regional conventions

Central Issues:

  • Panic of 1837
  • Continuing fights over Tariff, over nullification, over the early Abolition movement.
  • “Gag Rules” squelching discussion about slavery in Congress.

Leading Candidates (Nomination/Primaries):

Democratic Party candidates

  • Martin Van Buren, President of the United States (New York)

Whig Party candidates

  • William Henry Harrison, former U.S. senator (Ohio)
  • Henry Clay, U.S. senator (Kentucky)
  • Winfield Scott, Commanding General of the U.S. Army (New Jersey)

Main Controversies (Nomination/Primaries): Abolition, the Bank, tariff

Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries): Henry Clay; Thurlow Weed; Thaddeus Stevens

Turning Points (Nomination/Primaries):

  • Henry Clay’s Senate speech February 7, 1839, “I had rather be right than president”; Petitions for the Abolition of Slavery, supported the gradual and eventual abolition of slavery over time, deemed pro-Southern and pro-slavery, it was reminiscent of the 1824 Corrupt Bargain.

Conventions (Dates & Locations):

  • Democratic National Convention, May 5-6, 1840, Hall of the Musical Association, Baltimore
  • Anti-Masonic Party National Convention, Philadelphia, November, 1838
  • Democratic Whig National Convention, Harrisburg, December 4-7, 1839 Temporary Chairman: Isaac C. Bates MA; Permanent Chairman: James Barbour, VA

Convention Turning Points:

Democratic National Convention:

  • Delegates refused to renominate Richard Johnson; a weak vote-getter; he was the only Vice Presidential candidate to be elected through a vote in the House of Representatives.
  • Southerners were offended by his personal life; Johnson lived with a slave Julia Chinn he had two children with; however, Chinn died in 1833.
  • North was offended that Johnson still was a slave owner.
  • State Democratic leaders given the decision to nominate a Vice Presidential candidate.
  • The first time a party platform was adopted at a convention.

Number of Ballots to Choose Nominees:

Democratic Party

Presidential 1st ballot

Martin Van Buren

Vice Presidential ballot

  • Refused to re-nominate Richard Mentor Johnson.
  • No official nominee; Richard Johnson, Littleton W. Tazewell, and James Knox Polk remained in the running for electoral votes.

Convention Chairman: Gov. William Carroll (Tennessee)

Convention Speaker- Sen. Felix Grundy (Tennessee)

Whig Party

Presidential 5th ballot

  • William H. Harrison OH 94 94 91 91 148
  • Henry Clay KY 103 103 95 95 90
  • Winfield Scott NJ 57 57 68 68 16

Vice Presidential 1st ballot

  • John Tyler 231
  • Abstaining 23

Keynote speaker- former governor James Barbour of Virginia

Third Party Candidates:

Anti-Masonic Party nomination

Presidential vote

  • William Henry Harrison 119

Vice Presidential vote

  • Daniel Webster 11

Nominating Speech Speakers (President):

Party Platform/Issues:

  • Whig Candidate William H. Harrison’s position on the issues was essentially unknown. There was no Whig platform.
  • Democrats: Against national bank; pro-slavery/anti-abolitionists; slavery to be decided by the states, against the federal assumption of state debts; pro “economy in government”; minimal amount of taxes

General Election Controversies/Issues: Panic of 1837; Economic depression

Campaign Innovations (General Election):

  • The Whigs helped popularize the campaign, it was called the “Hurrah and Hallelujah” campaign
  • Harrison was the first Presidential candidate to go on the stump and gave speeches at Fort Meigs, Columbus, Cleveland, and elsewhere.

Campaign Tactics:


  • “Log-Cabin-Hard-Cider campaign: (speeches, songs, cheers, and hard cider; log cabins decorated with coonskins; log-cabin newspapers; songbooks, pamphlets, and leaflets; thousands of Tippecanoe badges, Tippecanoe handkerchiefs, and other Tippecanoe products); Horace Greeley The Log Cabin;
  • Vast encampments “acres of men” [and women] – tens of thousands at gatherings at the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe, at Springfield, Illinois, at Columbus, Ohio, more than 100,000 at Nashville, Tennessee
  • 60,000 march from Boston Common to Bunker Hill.
  • Harrison’s campaign trips in June and September 1840 to show he was healthy, only recounted military anecdotes. Wrote letters, strategize.

Democratic Party:

  • Van Buren conducted a passive campaign, wrote a few letters on his position on the issues.

Major Personalities (General Election): Horace Greeley

Turning Points (General Election):

  • Whigs: Depicted Democrat President Van Buren as being out of touch with the people living in luxury in the newly renovated White House,
  • Harrison hailed as a man of the people despite his lush lifestyle.
  • Democrats: Whiggery is “federalism and abolition united.” Whigs portrayed as corrupting public morals with hard-cider-and-booze campaign.

Popular Campaign Slogans:

  • Whigs William Henry Harrison, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”; “Old Buckeye”; “Van, Van, is a used-up man”; “Keep the ball rolling”; “The Farmer’s President”; “The Hero of Tippecanoe”; “Harrison, Two Dollars a Day and Roast Beef”
  • “Harrison and Reform”
  •  “As rolls the ball, Van’s reign does fall, And he may look to Kinderhook”
  • Van Buren as O.K. “Old. Kinderhook”

Campaign Song:

  • Whig songs: “The Soldier of Tippecanoe”, “The Farmer of North Bend”, The Harrison Cause,” Hurrah for Old Tip,” The Log Cabin Song,” Old Tip and the Log Cabin Boys”; “Should Brave Old Soldiers Be Forgone”
  • Democratic songs: “Hush-a-bye-baby; Daddy’s a Whig”

Influential Campaign Appeals or Ads:

  • Whig, “Martin Van ruin”; The Whigs rolled balls called “Harrison Balls” down the streets using twine, paper, leather, or tin.  They would grow to be as large as ten or twelve feet in diameter and would be covered with slogans: “Stop that barrel!” “The North Bend Farmer and His Visitors”.
  • “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace” a mass pamphlet circulated the speech of Rep. Charles Ogle (Whig-PA) on April 14-16, 1840, attacking Van Buren as an aristocrat, also known as “The Gold Spoon Oration.”
  • Democratic called Harrison “General Mum” and the “Imbecile” attacking Harrison’s silence on national issues.

Defining Quotation (Winning Candidate):

  • “I am the most persecuted and calumniated individual now living,” William Henry Harrison in response to Democratic mockery.
  • “I am not with you today, Fellow Citizens, in accordance with my own sense of propriety. Much more consonant would it be with my feelings to remain at the domestic fireside… Indeed I sometimes fear that upon me will fall the responsibility of establishing a dangerous precedent… You must have already perceived, that I am not CAGED, and that I am not the old man on crutches … they accuse me of being.” William Henry Harrison at a Chillicothe, Ohio rally.
  • “I suffer from the numerous (and as to the larger portion) most rediculous [sic] applications for opinions on almost every subject.” William H. Harrison

Defining Quotation (Losing Candidate):

  • “In what grave and important discussion are the Whig journals engaged? . . . We speak of the divorce of bank and state, and the Whigs reply with a dissertation on the merits of hard cider. We defend the policy of the Administration; and the Whigs answer ‘log cabin,’ ‘big canoes,’ ‘go it Tip, Come it Ty.’ We urge re-election of Van Buren because of his honesty, sagacity, statesmanship . . . and the Whigs answer that Harrison is a poor man and lives in a log cabin.” A frustrated Democrat.
  • Campaign Quotations:
  • “Without a why or wherefore/We’ll go for Harrison therefore,” Whig doggerel
  • “The whole country is in a state of agitation upon the approaching Presidential election such as was never before witnessed. . . . Not a week has passed within the last few months without a convocation of thousands of people to hear inflammatory harangues against Martin Van Buren and his Administration!  Here is a revolution in the habits and manners of the people. Where will it end? These are party movements, and must in the natural progress of things become antagonistical. . . . Their manifest tendency is to civil war.” John Quincy Adams
  • “Providence will cure all —  abolition nothing. It may ruin all; it can save none…. I beseech the abolitionists themselves, solemnly to pause in their mad and fatal course…Amid the infinite variety objects of humanity and benevolence which invite the employment of their energies, let them select some one more harmless, that does not threaten to deluge our country in blood.” Henry Clay, February 7, 1839
  • “I am the most unfortunate man in the history of parties: always run by my friends when sure to be defeated, and now betrayed for a nomination when I, or any one, would be sure of an election.” Henry Clay
  • “They have at last learned from defeat the art of victory. We have taught them how to conquer us!” Democratic Review

Further Reading:

Gunderson, Robert G. The Log-Cabin Campaign. Kentucky: Univ. of Kentucky Pr, 1957.

Lasting Legacy of Campaign:

  • Largest voter turnout in United States history to date
  • The electoral vote featured four candidates who were or would become President: 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 (one electoral vote for Vice President)
  • Popularized campaigning – and national politics.



  • May 10, 1837: Panic of 1837 begins.
  • August 5, 1837: Van Buren announces he opposes the annexation of Texas, to both ease Mexican-American tensions and to show opposition to early Abolition movement.
  • September 5, 1837: Van Buren calls a special session of Congress to deal with the financial crisis.
  • Continuing fights over Tariff and over nullification.
  • “Gag Rules” squelching discussion about slavery in Congress.
  • April 12, 1838: Whig members of Congress meet and decide to hold a national party convention to nominate their candidate for the upcoming election.
  • November 14, 1838:  Anti-Masonic Party National Convention convenes in Philadelphia and nominates William Henry Harrison for President.
  • February 7, 1839: Henry Clay’s gives his Senate speech, “I had rather be right than president”; Petitions for the Abolition of Slavery, supported the gradual and eventual abolition of slavery over time, deemed pro-Southern and pro-slavery, it is reminiscent of the 1824 Corrupt Bargain.
  • February 8, 1839: The New Bedford Mercury reports that the Whig front runners are Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison and that Daniel Webster withdrew from consideration
  • November 15, 1839: Independent Anti-Slavery Convention nominates James G. Birney for President.
  • December 4-7, 1839: Democratic Whig National Convention convenes in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and nominates William Henry Harrison for President and John Tyler for Vice President.
  • Apr 2, 1840: Liberty Party Convention nominates James G. Birney for President.
  • April 14-16, 1840: “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace” a mass pamphlet circulates the speech of Rep. Charles Ogle (Whig-PA) attacking Van Buren as an aristocrat, also known as “The Gold Spoon Oration.”
  • May 5-6, 1840: Democratic National Convention convenes at the Hall of the Musical Association in Baltimore, Maryland and renominates Martin Van Buren for President.
  • July 4, 1840: Van Buren signs the Independent Treasury Act.
  • September 25, 1840: Whig’s organize a club “Original Jackson Men” that hold their convention in Columbus, Ohio, John Tyler is the keynote speaker
  • 60,000 march from Boston Common to Bunker Hill.
  • December 2, 1840: Presidential Electors meet in their respective state capitals and cast the electoral votes.
  • December 10, 1841: Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes.
  • February 10, 1841: Joint session of Congress meets and counts the Electoral votes. Whigs William H. Harrison is elected President and John Tyler is elected Vice President.
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