Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Lace ‘Em Up’s Presidential Election series today we will be going over the Election of 1848; it’s also a three-way battle for Presidency as Military General Zachary Taylor takes on Michigan Senator Lewis Cass and former Democratic President, Martin Van Buren.
President Polk and the Mexican-American War
After winning the highest office in the land back in the 1844 election, President James K. Polk established an Independent Treasury in order to manage government funds while also reducing the prices of tariffs while also increasing the amount of revenue and trade within the United States.
Polk was also responsible for creating what would be ‘The Smithsonian Institute’ and negotiated a treaty with Britain in order to get the Oregon territories which would become free states or states that didn’t allow slavery.
Yet despite all of this, Polk’s biggest accomplishment would have been acquiring the areas of Texas and California from Mexico due in no small part to some falsified claims made that the Mexicans near the Rio Grande attacked American soldiers, that they shed the blood of American soldiers on American soil. Many dispute this as that part of the land wasn’t owned by the United States with one of the biggest opponents to this claim being none other than a young Abraham Lincoln.
Fabricated charges or not, this would result in the ‘Mexican-American War’ with the U.S. not only claiming victory over the Mexican Army but acquiring via treaties the areas of Texas, California and other bits of land that would eventually become New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.
Believing he had achieved everything he wanted in just four years in office, Polk decided to honor his promise from 1844 and did not seek another term; Tragically, James Knox Polk contracted Cholera after leaving the White Office and died from the disease at just the age of 53.
Zachary Taylor: Old Rough and Ready
Despite the fact that most within the Whig Party were against the Mexican-American War some in the party believed that the war would fan the flames of sectionalism and the expansion of slavery in the United States.
By the time the conflict reached its conclusion, however, the Whigs changed their opinions about the war in the hopes of avoiding the same fate the Federalist Party had after voicing their displeasure with the War of 1812.
Following their loss in 1844, the Whigs believed they had another shot at regaining the Oval Office and there were a few names that were considered or ran for the nomination. There was one person who was considered to be the party’s candidate in the 1848 election and that was Kentucky’s own Zachary Taylor whose claim to fame saw him lead the U.S. to victory in the ‘Mexican-American War’.
Taylor was such a popular figure at this time that both the Whigs and Democrats tried to persuade him to be their party’s nominee as the man nicknamed ‘Old Rough and Ready’ was vague on his political beliefs and had never even voted in an election.
Ultimately, Taylor decided he would run for President as part of the Whig Party and he soon became their nominee after defeating names like Winfield Scott, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster with the latter being given the opportunity to become Taylor’s running mate in the election but he declined, so instead the Whigs chose Millard Fillmore, who the State Comptroller of New York as Taylor’s running mate.
As Polk stepped down after one term and his VP, George Dallas decided not to run for President, a number of Democrats were considered but the one person many expected to win the nomination was the former President and co-founder of the party, Martin Van Buren. Or at least he was expected to win until it became clear that Van Buren wouldn’t be able to get enough delegate votes from the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic Party with many of them never really trusting Van Buren in the first place.
While other names like Levi Woodbury and James Buchanan also ran, the party’s nominee in 1848 would ultimately be Lewis Cass who was not only the Senator of Michigan but had previously held positions like Minister to France and Secretary of War in the Jackson and Van Buren administrations. Democrats nominated William Orlando Butler as Cass’ running mate as Butler was from Kentucky which was a southern state and he was also a war hero in the ‘Mexican-American War’ who had moderate views on slavery.
Despite the fact that Lewis Cass was a Northerner at a time when Northern states were starting to get louder with their dislike of slavery expanding outside of the South, Cass believed in the idea of “Popular Sovereignty” which was the idea of allowing the states to decide their verdict on the issue of slavery rather than allowing the government to figure it out.
The Birth of Free Soil Party
While Cass believed he could easily beat the Whigs in the 1848 election, Martin Van Buren had other ideas. Van Buren decided to create another political party along with some other influential politicians like Salmon P. Chase, Henry Wilson, Charles Sumner, John P. Hale and Hannibal Hamlin.
This new political party was called ‘The Free Soil Party’ and their platform in the 1848 election was supporting the passage of the Wilmont Proviso, which called for the abolishment of the Missouri Compromise which allowed slavery in states below the northern parallel west of the Mississippi River.
Van Buren decided to run for President with yet another party he created and brought along with him Charles Francis Adams, who was a former State Senator from Massachusetts and the son of former President, John Quincy Adams and grandson to Founding Father and President, John Adams.
Although the Free Soil Party were only on the ballot in a few states and therefore unlikely to win the election, Van Buren decided to run anyway mostly because he didn’t want Lewis Cass to become the next President. He decided to play the role of ‘spoiler’ in this election by getting as much support from Northern states who were against slavery expanding out West.
Much like what they’ve done in 1840, the Whigs are going to ignore the issue of Slavery in this election and instead try to focus more on Taylor’s success as a General much like what they did with William Henry Harrison. This combined with Taylor’s vagueness and lack of political experience made him look like an appealing candidate to many including those in the North.
The Democrats are also trying to avoid any talks about slavery as an issue in this campaign with Lewis Cass trying to appeal to the Southern wing of the Democratic Party with his support of ‘Popular Sovereignty’ while also hoping that the Northern Wing will still fall in line and support him.
The Free Soiler as mentioned aren’t on the ballot in every state, so their influence in this election is smaller than they’d hope for but, Martin Van Buren is running on the idea of firing up the abolitionists and anti-slavery supporters in the North. The hope was that it would deny Cass the chance to become President with the idea of “Popular Sovereignty” being seen as a temporary solution to a much larger problem.
So who’s strategy was more successful in this election? Well for that answer will have to look at the results…
Election of 1848: The Results
With four new states (Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and Iowa) being added to the Union, the electoral votes needed to win in this race was 146 or more. In the end, Zachary Taylor won the election to become the 12th President of the United States. ‘Old Rough and Ready’ received 163 electoral votes and 47.3% of the popular vote while Lewis Cass finished pretty strong in second place, getting 127 electoral votes and 42.5% of the popular vote.
Martin Van Buren in his fourth and final bid for the Presidency didn’t receive any electoral votes but did pull an impressive 10.1% of the popular vote, the best performance by a third-party candidate in terms of the popular vote up to that point.
While he failed to win back the Presidency, Van Buren’s plan to play spoil in this election did work as he and the Liberty Party (who also ran in this election again) gathered enough support in the North to prevent places like New York from voting for Lewis Cass.
Be sure to come back for the next Presidential Election, as will be talking about the Election of 1852, but If you are interested in learning more about U.S. political history on this site, be sure to follow Lace ‘Em Up on Twitter @laceemupoffice you can follow me also on Twitter @hakeemfullerton and I’ll see you in the next article.