Election of 1848: The Candidates

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The Whig Ticket for President, Zachary Taylor, and Vice President, Millard Fillmore.

The Election of 1848 was bound to be unique, as President James Polk had made clear that he would serve only one term as president. With that, the Whigs and the Democrats had to put forth candidates that could meet the parties’ respective goals of reversing President Polk’s policies (the Whigs) and expanding on President Polk’s policies (the Democrats).

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America in 1848

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John Calhoun.

In 1848, when word spread to America that a revolution was breaking out in France, President James Polk wrote: “The great principles of popular sovereignty which were proclaimed in 1776 by the immortal author of our Declaration of Independence, seem now to be in the course of rapid development throughout the world.” James Knox Polk to Richard Rush, April 18, 1848, quoted in Michael Morrison, “American Reactions to European Revolutions, 1848-1852,” Civil War History 49 (June 2003): 117.

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The Wilmot Proviso

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David Wilmot.

President James Polk, expecting a fast resolution to the Mexican-American War, “requested from Congress in August 1846 a $2 million appropriation for ‘defraying any extraordinary expenses which may be incurred in the intercourse between the United States and foreign nations.'” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 766 quoting James Polk, Diary, II, 76-77 (Aug. 10, 1846). Shortly after Congress followed this instruction and drafted a bill, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania introduced an amendment to specify that slavery would not be lawful in any territory acquired. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 767.

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