The Pursuit of the White House: A Handbook of Presidential Election Statistics and History

By G. Scott Thomas | Go to book overview

2.
The Coming of Democracy: 1820-1852

The Founding Fathers believed in letting the people rule, within reason. The Electoral College was a perfect case in point. Voters, usually white men who owned property, chose their state legislatures, which in turn picked the electors, who then designated a President. Virginia's George Mason spoke for the elite who felt a more democratic system would be dangerous, "It would be unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people as it would to refer a trial of colours to a blind man." 1

Mason's views became less popular as America expanded westward. Men helping to build a new country wanted more say in how it was run. Property qualifications for voting were dropped. Some states began allowing direct balloting for electors. The practice became sufficiently common that meaningful popular-vote totals were first tabulated in 1824.

The rise of the common man prompted a change in political tactics. Parades, barbecues, songs, and slogans became typical electioneering tools in the period of 1820-1852. The leading popular hero of the age, Andrew Jackson, swept to victory with their use in 1828. The Whigs improved his techniques with their celebrated win in 1840. The Founders would have watched the ubiquitous torchlight parades with dismay, but one observer, Michael Chevalier, found them "the episodes of a wondrous epic which will bequeath a lasting memory to posterity, that of the coming of democracy." 2

Political parties also changed with the times. The Democratic-Republican party split into the Democratic and National Republican parties. The latter eventually dissolved into a new coalition, the Whigs. The Democrats won four of the period's nine elections, the Democratic-Republicans three, the Whigs two. Caucuses vanished in the realignment. All parties came to use conventions to choose their Presidential nominees.

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