The Legacy of the Whig Party

The New York Tribune, a Whig Newspaper, Endorsing its Candidates.

Following the Election of 1840, members of the Whig Party must have been optimistic about their future. They likely imagined that the dominance of the Jacksonian Democrats could be replicated within the ranks of the Whigs and supplant the Democrats. It was not to be, however.

With William Henry Harrison, a Whig, as president, and John Tyler as his vice president following the Election of 1840, along with a sizable influence in Congress, Whigs had good reason to be optimistic. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 611.

These circumstances came after Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren had minted a brand of politics that not only was highly effective in advancing the Democratic Party agenda, it had come to dominate American politics. For this reason, many historians call this era “the age of Jackson.” Id. at 611-12.

The Whigs certainly hoped to define their own age, and while that did not come to fruition, they had a significant part in helping America move forward from a primarily agricultural nation into a more industrious, urban nation. Id. at 612.

Modern Americans, with the benefit of retrospectively viewing the Whig Party, will realize that from a historical perspective, the Whigs were putting forward superior policies. The Democrats, while effective, had refused to adapt to the changing nature of America. They had come to embrace slavery, states’ rights, and other antiquated policies that put them one step behind the Whigs.

While the Democrats lived on as a party long after the Election of 1840, to the present day, the Whigs’ policies influenced America to become a better, more refined country, continually improving. Modern political parties in America should remember the success and failure of the Whig Party, realizing that the success came about as the Whigs were able to more accurately read the country’s needs, adapt to those, and effectuate policies accordingly.

Leave a Reply