Election of 1848: Whig Victory

The White House in 1848. Credit: Library of Congress.

On November 7, 1848, Americans went to the polls to choose between Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, and Lewis Cass.

For the first time in American history, all voters went to the polls on the same day, ushering in an era of presidential elections that continues to modern America. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 832. This change came about following the Election of 1844, where 5,000 men casted their votes and traveled to another poll and voted again the next day. See id. at 832-33 citing David Grimsted, American Mobbing (New York, 1998), 195.

After a week of counting votes, the result was announced: Taylor had won with 163 electoral votes, as compared to Cass’ 127 electoral votes. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 833. Taylor had won the election, carrying both the North and the South, a resounding victory against two formidable opponents.

Politically, the Election of 1848 had shown how the politics of the Democrats and Whigs matched against each other. The Democrats had put forth a platform that favored “immigration and a tolerance of cultural diversity,” and their policies had spread the value of sovereignty across the states. Id. Meanwhile, the Whigs’ platform centered on expanding the economy and educational opportunities. Id.

The Whigs’ policies were moving the country forward, as the American economy would diversify and industrialize in the coming decades and centuries. The Republican Party, to be formed approximately 10 years later, would pick up many of the most effective policies of the Whigs, including this economic development agenda.

With Taylor victorious, the Whigs had solidified their position as a formidable party for the Democrats. At the dawn of Taylor’s presidency, the Whigs could have reasonably expected that their party could ultimately supplant the Democrats. While this victory would not last and the Whig Party would ultimately meet its demise, their agenda and their politics would have a meaningful impact on American politics.

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