PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & ELECTIONS
OVERVIEWS & CHRONOLOGIES: 1848
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Election Year: 1848
Election Day Date: November 7, 1848
Winning Ticket: Zachary Taylor (64, Episcopal), Millard Fillmore (48, Unitarian), Whig, 1,360,235 47.28% 163 56.2%
- Lewis Cass (66), William O. Butler (57), Democratic, 1,222,353 42.49% 127 43.8%
- Martin Van Buren (66, Dutch Reformed) Charles F. Adams (41) Free Soil 291,475 10.13% 0 0.0%
- Other (+) – – 2,755 0.10% 0 0.0%
Voter Turnout: 72.7%
Central Forums/Campaign Methods for Addressing Voters:
Election Law/Campaign Finance Changes: Act passed by Congress in 1845, all thirty states in the Union vote on the same first Tuesday after the second Monday in November (always to stay within 34 days of the Electoral College convening, as mandated by Congress since 1792).
Incumbent President and Vice President on Election Day: James Knox Polk, George M. Dallas, Democratic, 1845-1849
Population: 1848: 21,706,000
Nominal GDP (billions of dollars): $2.40 Real GDP (billions of 2005 dollars): $46.73
GDP Deflator (index 2005=100%) 5.14 Nominal GDP per capita (current dollars): $111 Real GDP per capita (year 2005 dollars): $2,153
Number of Daily Newspapers: 254 (1850)
Average Daily Circulation: 758,454
Method of Choosing Electors:
- Popular vote except in South Carolina where the electors were appointed by the state legislature
- In Massachusetts if the electors could not garner a majority vote in the election the state legislature would appoint the state’s electors. In 1848, this law was invoked.
Method of Choosing Nominees: National party conventions
Central Issues (Nomination/Primaries):
- Mexican-American War, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, new territories of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah: would they be slave or free?
Leading Candidates (Nomination/Primaries):
Whig Party candidates
- Zachary Taylor, U.S. General (Virginia)
- Henry Clay, U.S. senator (Kentucky)
- Winfield Scott, U.S. General (New Jersey)
- Daniel Webster, U.S. senator (Massachusetts)
Democratic Party candidates:
- Lewis Cass, U.S. senator (Michigan)
- Levi Woodbury, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice (New Hampshire)
- James Buchanan, Secretary of State (Pennsylvania)
Main Controversies (Nomination/Primaries): Slavery in the Territories.
Fights over the Wilmot Proviso attempting to stop slavery from expanding into the new territories acquired in the Mexican-American War.
Campaign Innovations (Nomination/Primaries):
- Democratic National Committee with thirty members, one from each state, and a three-man executive committee, coordinates the election.
- Whigs seven-man executive committee of Congress is chaired by Representative Truman Smith of Connecticut.
Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries):
Martin Van Buren; “Hunkers”; “Barn burners”;
Turning Points (Nomination/Primaries):
- Whigs gained control of the House in 1846 due to the backlash against the unpopular Mexican-American War.
- Lewis Cass’s “Nicholson Letter” endorsed popular sovereignty, trusting the people in each territory to decide on slavery.
- The Free Soil Party headed by Salmon P. Chase and John Parker Hale nominated Martin Van Buren for President. Most of the Liberty party supported Van Buren
- Henry Clay, frustrated by Taylor’s popularity as Old “Rough and Ready,” the war hero of Buena Visita, sighed: “I wish I could slay a Mexican.”
Conventions (Dates & Locations):
- Democratic National Convention: May 22-25, 1848, Universalist Church; Baltimore, Andrew Stevenson (Virginia) 4th ballot, Lewis Cass (Michigan); William O. Butler (Kentucky)
- Whig Party, June 1848, Chinese Museum Building, Philadelphia
- Free Soil Party, August 1848, Buffalo
Convention Turning Points:
Democratic National Convention:
- Martin Van Buren’s New York supporters, “Barn burners,” opposed Cass’s nomination at the convention; as anti-slavery Democrats, they feared Cass would extend slavery into the new western territories. They walked out of the convention and formed the Free Soil Party.
- Lewis Cass, the front runner is nominated on the fourth ballot.
- William O. Butler is nominated for the Vice President slot on the second ballot.
- Cass’s is position on the Wilmot Provisio, helped him win the nomination
- Cass originally supported the Wilmot Provisio, which would have prevented slavery in the newly acquired territories. However, because of the issue was so divisive; Cass supported the position of “popular sovereignty” allowing the states to make the decision about slavery within their territory.
Number of Ballots to Choose Nominees:
Whig Party Nomination
Presidential 4th ballot
- Zachary Taylor 111 118 133 171
- Henry Clay 97 86 74 32
- Winfield Scott 43 49 54 63
- Daniel Webster 22 22 17 14
- John Middleton Clayton 4 3 1 0
- John McLean 2 1 0 0
Vice Presidential 2nd ballot
- Millard Fillmore 115 173
- Abbott Lawrence 109 87
- Andrew Stewart 14 0
- Thomas M.T. McKennan 13 0
- Abstaining 23 6
Democratic Party Nomination
Presidential 4th Ballot
- Lewis Cass 125 133 156 179
- Levi Woodbury 53 56 53 38
- James Buchanan 55 54 39 33
- John C. Calhoun 9 0 0 0
- William Jenkins Worth 6 6 5 1
- George M. Dallas 3 3 0 0
- William O. Butler 0 0 0 4
- Abstaining 39 38 37 35
Vice Presidential 2nd ballot after shifts
- William O. Butler 114 169 290
- John A. Quitman 74 62 0
- William R. King 26 8 0
- John Y. Mason 24 3 0
- James I. McKay 13 11 0
- Jefferson Davis 1 0 0
Third Party Candidates:
Free Soil Party Nomination
- Martin Van Buren 154
- John Parker Hale 129
- Charles Francis Adams
- The Whig Party: Chose not to be defined by a platform, running on Taylor’s popularity as a hero.
- The Democratic Party: The platform limited the power of the federal government over commerce, internal improvement and slavery. Opposed a national bank and praised the Mexican-American War. The party remained divided over the issue of expanding slavery in the new Western territories. Cries of “Popular sovereignty,” “squatter sovereignty,” to let the new territories decide the question of slavery within their boundaries, disappointed anti-slavery Democrats. “Hunkers” accepted the platform.
- The Free Soil Party: Opposed the expansion of slavery in the Western territories
General Election Controversies/Issues:
- Expansion of Slavery into the new Western territories. Antislavery Northerners opposed any expansion, believing if slavery remained within the original 15 Southern states it would eventually end.
Campaign Tactics: Mud-slinging: Refusing to debate the main issue, both campaigns focused on attacking each other’s candidates.
- Democratic: Called Taylor a “military autocrat”, Britain’s candidate due to the London Times endorsement; criticism of his personal habits; greedy, stingy “economical, comical old Zach”, semi-illiterate, a cruel slave master who swore at his troops
- Whig: Accused Cass of sponsoring legislation that would “effect the sale of white vagabonds into slavery”; graft as Superintendant of Indian Affairs (disproved); real estate speculation while Secretary of War for Jackson and Van Buren. He was accused of being “a sly, artful, intriguing politician,” a windbag (“General Gass”), a Michi-gander, and a “pot-bellied, mutton-headed cucumber”; “GEN. CASS NOTATRUTHFUL MAN.”
Turning Points (General Election):
- After his nomination, weeks passed yet Zachary Taylor did not officially accept his nomination. Taylor’s refusal to pay for non-prepaid letters resulted in 48 envelopes, including the official notification, sitting in the dead-letter office for weeks.
- Zachary Taylor’s “Allison Letter” saying he was “a Whig but not an ultra Whig” reassured some partisans unsure where this apolitical war hero stood.
- Taylor’s “Second Allison Letter” – showed Taylor still reaching out to Whig regulars. Taylor said he was following “good Whig doctrine” by saying “I would not be a partisan President and hence should not be a party candidate.”
- The Democratic Party’s divisions between those who were pro and anti-slavery expansion, allowed the Whigs to capture the Northeast electoral votes and win the election.
Popular Campaign Slogans:
- Whig Party, Zachary Taylor, “For President of the People”; “Old Rough and Ready”; “Old Zach”
- Free Soil Party “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men”
- Zachary Taylor “For President of the People”
- “GENERAL TAYLOR NEVER SURRENDERS”
- “WE ARE FOR THE UNION AS IT IS, AND FOR THE UNION AS THE WILL OF ALL THE STATES, LEGITIMATELY EPXRESSED, MAY HEREAFTER MAKE IT.”
- “ZACHARY TAYLOR AS AN UNDOUBTED WHIG”
- Whigs: “Then go it boys, strong and steady, And raise the shout for Rough and Ready.” “Rumadum Dum”
- Democrats: “Heed not disunion’s croaking voice, Expose each dark and damning plan; Elect the leader of your choice – The gallant Cass of Michi-gan.”
- Free Soilers: “He who’d vote for Zacky Tailor, Needs a keeper or a jailer/And he who still for Cass can be, He is a Cass without the C.”
Influential Campaign Appeals or Ads:
- Democratic: “Taylor’s Two Faces”
- Anti-Taylor: “Ask a Taylor man if he is in favor of a U.S. Bank. The reply is Buena Vista.” Ask if he expects “to get the votes of the old tired Whigs, who have for years contended for principles.” The reply is “Old Whitey.” Detroit Free Press
- Lewis Cass said: “If we are not struck with judicial blindness, we shall cling to this Constitution as the mariner clings to the last plank, when night and the tempest close around him.”
Defining Quotation (Winning Candidate):
- “….vilest slanders of the most unprincipled demagogues this or any other nation was every cursed with, who have pursued me like bloodhounds.” Zachary Taylor
- “The people say to General Taylor, ‘If you are elected, shall we have a national bank?’ He answers, ‘Your will, gentlemen, not mine.’ ‘What about the tariff?’ ‘Say yourselves.’ ‘Shall our rivers and harbors be improved?’ ‘Just as you please. If you desire a bank, an alteration of the tariff, internal improvements, any or all, I will not hinder you. If you do not desire them, I will not attempt to force them on you. . .’ ” Abraham Lincoln, House of Representatives, July 27, 1848
Defining Quotation (Losing Candidate):
- “My doctrine is simply the doctrine of our revolutionary fathers.” Lewis Cass
- “The Whig party cannot hold together. It contains the seeds of dissolution….For myself, my day is gone by. I think I have sense enough to know that.” Lewis Cass
- Joel H. Silbey, Party over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Campaign of 1848 (2009)
Lasting Legacy of Campaign:
- 1848 was an open race. Having achieved his goals in one term, Polk kept his promise not to seek re-election. His health declined while in office and he died four months after leaving the Presidency.
- The Free Soil party demonstrated the preeminence of the sectional divisions over slavery; the party took away enough votes from Democrats in the North especially New York, that it cost Cass the election.
- January 23, 1845: Congress passes Act, all thirty states in the Union vote on the same first Tuesday after the second Monday in November (always to stay within 34 days of the Electoral College convening, as mandated by Congress since 1792).
- February 28, 1845: Congress passes a joint resolution to annex Texas.
- March 1 (2), 1845: Annexation of Texas “President John Tyler signs legislation to authorize the United States to annex the Republic of Texas” Treaty is necessary because Texas is still considered a foreign territory, because Mexico did not acknowledge its independence. Texas becomes a state immediately.
- March 3, 1845: Florida is admitted as the 27th state of the Union and as a slave state.
- March 28, 1845: Mexico breaks off diplomatic relations with the United States.
- June 25, 1845? May 28, 1845: President Polk orders General Zachary Taylor to have his troops ready in case of military aggression by Mexico.
- June 1845: Mexico begins military preparations.
- June 23, 1845: Texas votes and approves United States proposal for annexation.
- December 2, 1845: Polk gives his message to Congress introduces “Polk Doctrine”
- December 29, 1845: Texas is admitted as the 28th state of the Union, and the 15th slave state
- April 25, 1846 – February 2, 1848: Mexican-American War
- May 13, 1846: Congress declares war on Mexico.
- June 14, 1846: Bear Flag Revolt, (“thirty American settlers take over a Mexican garrison in Sonoma, California, and declare California a free and independent republic.”)
- June 15, 1846: The Oregon Treaty comes into law, and delineates that the 49th parallel divides the Oregon Territory’s between the American and British.
- July 29, 1846: Congress passes the Tariff of 1846 or “Walker Tariff.”
- November 1846: Whigs gain control of the House due to the backlash against the unpopular Mexican-American War.
- February 22-23, 1847: “General Zachary Taylor defeats the Mexicans under General Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista.”
- February 1847: Wilmot Proviso would have banned slavery in the territories acquired in the Mexican-American War. Fights over the Wilmot Proviso attempting to stop slavery from expanding into the new territories acquired in the Mexican-American War.
- September 14, 1847: General Winfield Scott takes Mexico City to pressure the Mexican government to agree to President Polk’s terms for a peace treaty.
- December 24, 1847: Lewis Cass addresses to Alfred Osborne Pope Nicholson his “Nicholson Letter”, the contents become the basis of his campaign platforl Cass endorses popular sovereignty, trusting the people in each territory to decide on slavery.
- February 2, 1848: Nicholas Trist negotiates with the Mexican government which results in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican-American War, and Mexican Cession of new territories of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.
- February 23, 1848: President Polk sends the treaty to Senate.
- March 10, 1848: Senate ratifies Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by a vote of 38-14.
- Taylor’s popularity as Old “Rough and Ready,” the war hero of Buena Visita, frustrates Henry Clay who exclaims: “I wish I could slay a Mexican.”
- May 25, 1848: Congress ratifies Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
- May 22-26, 1848: Slavery becomes the campaigns biggest issue; two delegations from New York want to be placed at the Democratic Party convention; “Barnburners”, who are antislavery, anti-Polk, and pro-Wilmot Proviso, and Hunkers, party regulars, pledge to vote the party’s candidate. Neither delegation is seated at the convention.
- May 22-25, 1848: Democratic Party National convenes at Universalist Church; Baltimore, Maryland. Andrew Stevenson (Virginia) serves as chairman. The convention nominates on the 4th ballot, Lewis Cass (Michigan) for President, and William O. Butler (Kentucky) for Vice President. Martin Van Buren’s New York supporters, “Barn burners,” oppose Cass’s nomination at the convention; as anti-slavery Democrats, they fear Cass would extend slavery into the new western territories. They walk out of the convention and form the Free Soil Party.
- May 29, 1848: Wisconsin is admitted as the thirtieth state.
- June 1848: Whig Party National Convention convenes at the Chinese Museum Building, Philadelphia, nominates Zachary Taylor for President, and Millard Fillmore for Vice President.
- June 22, 1848: New York Barnburners convene in Utica New York and nominate Martin Van Buren as their candidate for the Presidency.
- After his nomination, weeks pass and Zachary Taylor does not officially accept the Whig nomination. Taylor’s refusal to pay for non-prepaid letters results in 48 envelopes, including the official notification, sitting in the dead-letter office for weeks.
- July 12-20, 1848: Women’s Rights Convention headed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott at Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York calls for women’s suffrage.
- July 27, 1848: Abraham Lincoln member House of Representatives states on the House floor; “The people say to General Taylor, ‘If you are elected, shall we have a national bank?’ He answers, ‘Your will, gentlemen, not mine.’ ‘What about the tariff?’ ‘Say yourselves.’ ‘Shall our rivers and harbors be improved?’ ‘Just as you please. If you desire a bank, an alteration of the tariff, internal improvements, any or all, I will not hinder you. If you do not desire them, I will not attempt to force them on you. . .’ “
- August 2, 1848: Last American military forces vacate Mexico.
- August 9, 1848: Free Soil Party forms in Buffalo, headed by Salmon P. Chase and John Parker Hale. The new party is composed of antislavery Democrats and Liberty Party members and “Conscience Whigs”. The free soil convention consists of delegates from 17 states, and the slave states of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The new party endorses and nominates Martin Van Buren for President, and Charles Francis Adams, as Vice President. Antislavery platform, support for the Wilmot Proviso and allocation of free land for settlers. “free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men.”
- September 4, 1848: Zachary Taylor’s “Allison Letter” saying he was “a Whig but not an ultra Whig” reassured some partisans unsure where this apolitical war hero stood. They show Taylor still reaching out to Whig regulars. Taylor says he was following “good Whig doctrine” by saying “I would not be a partisan President and hence should not be a party candidate.”
- November 7, 1848: Election Day; the Democratic Party’s divisions between those who were pro and anti-slavery expansion, allowed the Whigs to capture the Northeast electoral votes and win the election. Zachary Taylor is elected President, and Millard Fillmore is elected Vice President.
- November 1848: Democrats gain a majority in the House.
- December 6, 1848: Presidential Elector cast their votes in their state capitals.
- February 14, 1849: Joint session of Congress assembles to count the electoral votes.