PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & ELECTIONS
OVERVIEWS & CHRONOLOGIES: 1844
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Election Year: 1844
Election Day Date: November 1 – December 4, 1844
- James K. Polk (49, Methodist), George M. Dallas (52, Episcopalian) Democratic 1,339,570 49.54% 170 61.8%
- Henry Clay (67, Episcopalian), Theodore Frelinghuysen (57, Dutch Reformed Church )Whig 1,300,157 48.09% 105 38.2%
- James G. Birney (52, Presbyterian), Thomas Morris (68 )Liberty 62,054 2.30% 0 0.0%
Voter Turnout: 78.9%
Incumbent President and Vice President on Election Day:
John Tyler, No Vice President, Whig, 1841-1845
Population: 1844: 19,157,000
Nominal GDP (billions of dollars): $1.69 Real GDP (billions of 2005 dollars): $36.82
GDP Deflator (index 2005=100%) 4.58 Population (in thousands): 19,157
Nominal GDP per capita (current dollars): $88 Real GDP per capita (year 2005 dollars): $1,922
Number of Daily Newspapers: 138
Average Daily Circulation: N/A
Method of Choosing Electors: Popular vote in all states except in South Carolina where the state legislature appointed electors
Method of Choosing Nominees: National party conventions
Central Issues (Nomination/Primaries): Westward expansion; territorial expansionism; Manifest Destiny; Oregon territory and boundary dispute; Annexation of Texas as a slave state despite British (and growing Northern) pressure to abolish slavery in Texas
Leading Candidates (Nomination/Primaries):
- James K. Polk, former Speaker of the House (Tennessee)
- Martin Van Buren, former President (New York)
- Lewis Cass, U.S. senator (Michigan)
- Richard M. Johnson, former Vice President (Kentucky)
- James Buchanan, U.S. senator (Pennsylvania)
- John C. Calhoun, former Vice President (South Carolina)
- Henry Clay, U.S. senator (Kentucky)
Main Controversies (Nomination/Primaries):
- Tyler’s policies were so sympathetic to the Democratic Party they alienated the Whigs. He was driven out of the Whig party September 13, 1841 for political heresy. Many Democrats backed Van Buren. Tyler faced reelection without the support of either of the major parties.
Campaign Innovations (Nomination/Primaries):
Use of telegraph to report the Democratic National Convention
Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries): John Tyler; Martin Van Buren; John C. Calhoun, Robert J. Walker (author of Democratic platform)
Turning Points (Nomination/Primaries):
- President Tyler presented the Annexation of Texas Treaty to the Senate in April 1844. Secretary of State John C. Calhoun defended slavery in Texas, but the Senate refused to pass the treaty, making it the issue of the 1844 election.
- Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren opposed the Annexation of Texas
- Tyler hoped to gain the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, however, most Northern Democrats initially supported former President Martin Van Buren
Conventions (Dates & Locations):
- Whig Party National Convention, May 1, 1844, the Universalist Church Building, Baltimore MD.
- Democratic National Convention, May 27-29, 1844, Odd Fellows Hall, Baltimore, MD. Hendrick Bradley Wright (Pennsylvania) 9th ballot, James K. Polk, (Tennessee) George M. Dallas (Pennsylvania)
- The National Democratic Tyler Convention May 27 and May 28, Baltimore, nominated Tyler for a second term but did not nominate a Vice President, possibly the convention hoped to influence the DNC.
Convention Turning Points:
Democratic National Convention:
- Martin Van Buren had a plurality of the delegate votes on the first ballot. His letter opposing the immediate annexation of Texas alienated Southern Democrats.
- The Convention divided into pro- and anti- Van Buren factions.
- Delegate support divided between Van Buren and Lewis Cass
- To reduce his chances, Van Buren’s opponents lobbied for a rule requiring the candidate to win nomination with a two-thirds majority instead of simple majority Once the convention adopted the “two thirds” rule to clinch the nomination, Van Buren lost support on subsequent ballots.
- Polk was nominated on the 9th ballot after shifts, after Van Buren withdrew.
- Polk originally sought the Vice Presidential nomination, but gained momentum from the delegates in the 8th vote as the only man to unite the divided Democrats.
- First dark horse candidates nominated.
- Sen. Silas Wright of New York won the Vice Presidential nomination practically by acclamation, however, because his friend Van Buren was denied the Presidential nomination, Silas notified the convention via telegraph that he was refusing the nomination.
Whig National Convention:
- Henry Clay was nominated on the first ballot despite losing two prior Presidential elections in 1824 and 1832
Number of Ballots to Choose Nominees:
Whig Party nomination:
Presidential 1st ballot
- Henry Clay 275
Vice Presidential 3rd ballot
- Theodore Frelinghuysen 101 118 154
- John Davis 83 75 79
- Millard Fillmore 53 51 40
- John Sergeant 38 33 0
- Abstaining 0 0 2
Democratic Party Nomination
Presidential 9th ballot after shifts
- Martin Van Buren 146 127 121 111 103 101 99 104 0 0
- Lewis Cass 83 94 92 105 107 116 123 114 29 0
- Richard M. Johnson 24 33 38 32 29 23 21 0 0 0
- John C. Calhoun 6 1 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
- James Buchanan 4 9 11 17 26 25 22 0 0 0
- Levi Woodbury 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
- Charles Stewart 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
- James K. Polk 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 44 231 266
- Abstaining 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 4 6 0
Vice Presidential 3rd ballot
- Silas Wright 258 0 0 (Declined the nomination)
- John Fairfield 0 107 30
- Levi Woodbury 8 44 6
- Lewis Cass 0 39 0
- Richard M. Johnson 0 26 0
- Charles Stewart 0 23 0
- George M. Dallas 0 13 230
- William L. Marcy 0 5 0
- Abstaining 0 11 0
Third Party Candidates:
- Anti-Slavery Liberty Party: President, James Birney
- The National Democratic Tyler Convention, President John Tyler (Tyler was at first enthusiastic about his chances and accepted the nomination; his address was referenced in the New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette on June 6, but the paper did not print the text of Tyler’s letter.)
- President Joseph Smith, Jr. (Founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints); Vice-President Sidney Rigdon. Smith’s presidential platform consisted of reducing government by a third, and ending slavery through constitutional means. Smith’s campaign ended when he was murdered on June 27, 1844.
Convention Keynote Speaker: N/A
Nominating Speech Speakers (President): N/A
- Democratic Party: Territorial expansion, annexation of Texas; acquisition of the entire Oregon Territory from Great Britain
- “That our title to the whole of the Territory of Oregon is clear and unquestionable; that no portion of the same ought to be ceded to England or any other power, and that the reoccupation of Oregon and the reannexation of Texas at the earliest practicable period, are great American measures, which this convention recommends to the cordial support of the democracy of the Union.” Democratic Party Platform
- Whig Party: Economic program, against immediate annexation of Texas
General Election Controversies/Issues:
Westward Expansion; territorial expansionism; Manifest Destiny; Oregon territory and boundary dispute; “re-annexation” Annexation of Texas, slavery in Texas, possible war with Mexico; abolition; the tariff
Campaign Innovations (General Election):
- Term “Roorback”: political forgery in Whig newspapers falsely accusing Polk of slave trading;
- Experience of Clay vs. the unknown Polk; focused on Polk’s mediocrity.
- Clay conducted an active and vocal campaign. Clay took a campaign tour a month prior to his nomination, disguised as a business meeting. Letter writing campaign after officially receiving the nomination.
- Democratic Party: Ads and pamphlets focusing on Henry Clay’s vices
Major Personalities (General Election):
Turning Points (General Election):
- Polk makes one term pledge to reassure disappointed rivals he will not be on the scene too long.
- The new democratic ethos generated pressure on Polk to clarify his policy positions. In his June 19, 1844 letter to John Kane, Polk opposed “a tariff for protection merely and not for revenue.” The firestorm the “Kane Letter” ignited – attacked by some for its clarity, others as a “straddle” — inhibited Polk – and other candidates – from further clarifications.
- Moreover, Polk was denounced for not clarifying further. Tennessee Governor Lean Jimmy Jones asked of Polk: “Why does he not speak out like a man? Why are his lips sealed as with the stillness of death?”
- Tyler withdrew from the race on August 25. His official letter was printed in several newspapers on August 29, 1844. Tyler possibly feared his candidacy would take away votes from Polk and give the election to Clay.
- Henry Clay also ran into trouble with his “Raleigh Letter” and two backpedaling “Alabama Letters” fueling controversy about his stance on slavery and Texas, then raising questions about his integrity and consistency.
- Henry Clay’s inability to take a solid position on the annexation of Texas and the slavery issue which would have garnered him strong support in either the North or South might have cost him the election.
- James G. Birney, the Liberty Party, ran on an anti-slavery platform and was Clay’s main competition for northern anti-slavery Whigs, Clay’s show of support for the annexation of Texas mollified Southern voters but alienated New York Whigs.
- Birney threatened to siphon off enough votes of anti-slavery Whigs in the North to put Polk in the White House.
- The popularity of the Democrats’ proposed total acquisition of the Oregon Territory and westward expansion, prompted Henry Clay to support annexation despite his original opposition, only if it would be accomplished with “just and fair” terms and without war.
- Many new citizens voted against Henry Clay, fearing Whigs’ anti-immigration sentiments.
Popular Campaign Slogans:
- James K. Polk: “Reannexation of Texas and reoccupation of Oregon”; “Oregon, Texas and Democracy”; “The People’s Candidate”; “Texas and No Bank
- All of Oregon or None!”
- “Polk, Dallas, Shunk and the DEMOCRATIC TARRIF OF 1842: WE DARE THE WHIGS TO REPEAL IT”
- Whigs, Henry Clay: “Just Who is James K. Polk?”
- Whigs: “Polk, Slavery and Texas” vs. “Clay Union, and Liberty”
- Henry Clay: “the fearless Friend of his Country’s rights”; “The People’s Choice”;
- Henry Clay and A Protective Tariff: NO ANNEXATION OF TEXAS! NO extension of Slavery”
- Democrats: “Jimmy Polk of Tennessee”
- Whigs: “The Clay Girl’s Song,” and Sung to the tune of “Vive la Companie”:
“Come join in a shout for the name we love best!/Hurrah for Henry Clay!
The friend of the People — the man of the West —/Hurrah for Henry Clay!”
- Clay Minstrel or national Songster includes (to Yankee Doodle) “Our noble Harry is the man/The Nation most delights in; To place him first is now the plan; for this we’re all uniting”
Influential Campaign Appeals or Ads:
- Democratic: “Henry Clay’s Moral Fitness for the Presidency, Tested by the Decalogue”: “The history of Mr. Clay’s debaucheries and midnight revelries in Washington is too shocking, too disgusting to appear in public print.”;
- “Twenty-one Reasons Why Clay Should Not Be Elected” Reason Two: “Clay spends his days at the gaming table and his nights in a brothel.”
- “a pistol, a pack of cards, and a brandy-bottle”; “No Duellist!”; “No Gambler!”;
- Christian Voters!
Read, Pause and Reflect!
- Whigs: “Polk the Plodder”
- Democrats about Clay: “He wires in and wires out, And leaves the people still in doubt, Whether the snake that made the track, Was going South or coming back.”
- “Orator Clay had two tones in his voice: The one squeaking thus and the other down so, And mighty convenient he found them both – the squeak at the top and the guttural below.”
- Harry of the West, Prince Hall, The Great Compromiser
- Polk dismissed as tool of radical Locofoco movement of New York:
- “Mr Polk is a loco, out and out, of the free trade school. He is for Free Trade and every other Loco abomination; and against every Whig principle and measure.”
Money Spent (Each Campaign/Party/Overall):
- Whigs had the financial advantage because of wealthy supporters
Defining Quotation (Winning Candidate):
- “It has been well observed that the office of President of the United States should neither be sought nor declined. I have never sought it, nor should I feel at liberty to decline it, if conferred upon me by the voluntary suffrages of my fellow citizens.” James K. Polk
Defining Quotation (Losing Candidate):
- “In the contingency of my election, to which you have averted, if the affair of acquiring Texas should become a subject of consideration, I should be governed by the state of fact, and the state of public opinion existing at the time I might be called upon to act. Above all, I should be governed by the paramount duty of preserving this Union entire, and in harmony, regarding it as I do as the great guaranty of every political and public blessing, under providence, which as a free people, we are permitted to enjoy.” Henry Clay, August 16, 1844, Tuscumbia North Alabamian, August 16, 1844, “Second Alabama Letter”
- “I have never said that I would nor would not be a candidate at the next election.” Henry Clay
- “The opposition and persecution to which I have been exposed” Martin Van Buren
- “I pray you to desist from the abuse of Tyler or his supporters, but treat them as brethren in democracy.” Andrew Jackson
Charles Sellers, James K. Polk, Continentalist: 1843-1846 (1966)
Lasting Legacy of Campaign:
- Polk was the first “dark horse” candidate.
- Excruciatingly close election, Polk won the popular vote by 1.4 percentage points and in 15 of the 26 states the winning lead was less than 8 percentage points.
- Last election held on different days in different states. In 1848 the elections would be held in all states on the same date in November.
- April 6, 1841: William Henry Harrison dies. John Tyler succeeds as President.
- September 11, 1841: Tyler vetoes a bill to reestablish a National Bank of the United States, prompting his entire cabinet to resign except for Secretary of State Daniel Webster.
- September 13, 1841: The Whig Party drives out President Tyler for political heresy. Tyler’s policies are considered too sympathetic to the Democratic Party that they alienate the Whigs.
- August 31, 1843: Liberty Party nominates James G. Birney for President. The party runs on an anti-slavery platform and is Clay’s main competition for northern anti-slavery Whigs. Clay’s show of support for the annexation of Texas mollifies Southern voters, but alienates New York Whigs.
- January 10, 1843: Congresses attempts to impeach President Tyler for vetoing a tariff bill in June 1842 fails.
- Westward expansion; territorial expansionism; Manifest Destiny; Oregon territory and boundary dispute; Annexation of Texas as a slave state despite British (and growing Northern) pressure to abolish slavery in Texas
- Many Democrats back Van Buren. Tyler faces reelection without the support of either of the major parties.
- April 12, 1844: Secretary of State John C. Calhoun negotiates annexation with the Texas government
- April 18, 1844: John Calhoun writes a letter to the British minister defending slavery in Texas.
- April 22, 1844: President Tyler presents the Annexation of Texas Treaty to the Senate. Tyler tries to garner Southern support by warning Britain could interfere with slavery in Texas (abolition) if the US does not annex Texas.
- June 8, 1844: The Northern states are suspicious of Calhoun’s defense of slavery to Britain. As a result, the Senate refuses to pass the treaty, making it the issue of the 1844 election. The Treaty will not pass by a two-thirds majority, therefore Tyler pushes for a joint Congressional resolution, but at the June recess, nothing is resolved.
- April 27, 1844: Whig Henry Clay and Democrat Martin Van Buren each write letters that state they oppose the Annexation of Texas. They believe it is the only way can garner their party’s nomination.
- April 19, 1844: Henry Clay writes his Raleigh Letter “I entertain no fears from the promulgation of my opinion. Public sentiment is every where sounder than at Washington.” Henry Clay runs into trouble with his “Raleigh Letter”: “menace the existence, if not certainly sow the seeds of dissolution of the Union. I consider the annexation of Texas, at this time, without the assent of Mexico, as a measure compromising the national character, involving us certainly in war with Mexico, probably with foreign powers, dangerous to the integrity of the Union, inexpedient in the present financial condition of the country, and not called for by any general expression of public opinion.”
- May 6, 1844: Henry Clay to New York’s Thurlow Weed, “I am firmly convinced that my opinion on the Texas question will do me no prejudice at the South.”
- May 1844: Tyler is a President without a party; he hopes to gain the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, however, most Northern Democrats initially support former President Martin Van Buren for the nomination.
- May 1, 1844: Whig Party National Convention convenes at the Universalist Church Building, Baltimore MD. Henry Clay is unanimously nominated for President.
- May 27-28, 1844: The National Democratic Tyler Convention convenes in Baltimore and nominates John Tyler for a second term, but does not nominate a Vice President. The convention occurs currently with the Democratic convention and hopes to influence the Democrats in the nomination choice. Tyler is at first enthusiastic about his chances and accepts the nomination.
- May 27-29, 1844: Democratic National Convention convenes in Odd Fellows Hall, Baltimore, MD. Hendrick Bradley Wright (Pennsylvania) serves as chairman. The convention nominates on the 9th ballot, James K. Polk, (Tennessee) for President and nominates George M. Dallas (Pennsylvania) for Vice President. Martin Van Buren has a plurality of the delegate votes on the first ballot. His letter opposing the immediate annexation of Texas alienates Southern Democrats, but also Andrew Jackson who supports annexation. The Convention divides into pro- and anti- Van Buren factions. To reduce his chances, Van Buren’s opponents lobby for a rule requiring the candidate to win nomination with a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority. Once the convention adopts the “two thirds” rule to clinch the nomination, Van Buren loses support on subsequent ballots. Polk is nominated on the 9th ballot after shifts after Van Buren withdraws. Polk originally sought the Vice Presidential nomination, but gains momentum from the delegates in the 8th vote as the only man to unite the divided Democrats. Polk makes a one term pledge to reassure disappointed rivals he will not be on the scene too long.
- June 6, 1844: New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette refers to John Tyler’s nomination acceptance address from the National Democratic Tyler Convention, but the paper does not print the text of Tyler’s letter.
- June 8, 1844: (The Annexation of Texas Treaty fails to receive the required two-thirds vote in the Senate in order to pass.)
- June 19, 1844: The new democratic ethos generatees pressure on Polk to clarify his policy positions. In his letter to John Kane, Polk opposes “a tariff for protection merely and not for revenue.” The firestorm the “Kane Letter” ignites – and is attacked by some for its clarity, others as a “straddle” — inhibits Polk – and other candidates – from further clarifications.
- June 26, 1844: President John Tyler marries Miss Julia Gardiner.
- Polk is denounced for not clarifying further his position on annexation. Tennessee Governor Lean Jimmy Jones asks of Polk: “Why does he not speak out like a man? Why are his lips sealed as with the stillness of death?”
- Joseph Smith, Jr. (Founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) runs for President Sidney Rigdon as his Vice-Presidential running mate; Smith’s presidential platform consisted of reducing government by a third, and ending slavery through constitutional means.
- June 23, 1844: (Ewing to Clay letter, discusses Liberty Party Presidential nominee Birney’s threat to siphon off enough votes of anti-slavery Whigs in the North to put Polk in the White House; “aboli[tionis]ts had more hope from the election of Mr. Polk than yourself.”)
- June 27, 1844: Smith’s campaign ends when he is murdered.
- July 1, 1844: Clay writes his first Alabama Letter. The popularity of the Democrats’ proposed total acquisition of the Oregon Territory and westward expansion, prompts Henry Clay to support annexation despite his original opposition, only if it would be accomplished with “just and fair” terms and without war.
- July 27, 1844: Clay writes his Second Alabama Letter. Henry Clay’s inability to take a solid position on the annexation of Texas and the slavery issue which would have garnered him strong support in either the North or South might have cost him the election.
- August 16, 1844: Henry Clay, Tuscumbia North Alabamian, “Second Alabama Letter” Two backpedaling “Alabama Letters” fueling controversy about his stance on slavery and Texas, then raising questions about his integrity and consistency.
- August 25, 1844: Tyler withdraws from the Presidential race.
- August 29, 1844: Tyler’s official letter is printed in several newspapers. Tyler possibly feared his candidacy would take away votes from Polk and give the election to Clay.
- November 1 – December 4, 1844: Many new citizens vote against Henry Clay, fearing Whigs’ anti-immigration sentiments.
- December 4, 1844: Presidential Electors cast the electoral votes in their state capitals.
- December 12, 1845: Congress assembles in joint session to count the electoral votes. Democrat James K. Polk is elected President, and George M. Dallas is elected Vice President.