The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

By Michael F. Holt | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
"The Whigs Are in High Spirits"

GEORGIA'S WHIGS WERE "active & buoyant, full of hope and energy," exulted Robert Toombs, chairman of the Whig State Central Committee, in January 1844. "I doubt not we shall achieve a brilliant victory in November for Mr. Clay." "The enthusiasm of 1840 is returning," a Baltimore Whig added in February. "The Whigs look forward to the approaching contest," rejoicing in "the justness of their cause -- and in its righteousness read their claim to certain success." The following month a Virginian concurred: Nothing "can prevent the election of Mr. Clay, but his death." That spring northern Whigs as diverse as Indiana editor Schuyler Colfax, Ohio's antislavery zealot, Congressman Joshua R. Giddings, and Boston's patrician Robert C. Winthrop also boasted that the Whig "party will succeed by an overwhelming majority at the coming election." 1

Even though the issues and contestants changed during the 1844 campaign, most Whigs voiced continual certitude about their triumph. "Everywhere the Whigs are confident," Gustavus Henry, a Whig presidential elector in Tennessee, cheered while stumping the state in July. In October one New Yorker felt "just as sure that this state will vote right as I am of anything not yet positively proven," while another bragged that "the state is safe." Only two days before the presidential balloting a Philadelphian gushed, "The Whigs are in high spirits and fully expect to get the state of Pennsylvania, and to elect H. Clay." All these Whigs rejoiced that fate had now given them another opportunity to vindicate "the justness of their cause" and the charismatic leader who best personified the party's principles and the frustrating struggle to establish them. If superior men and superior policies were ever going to prevail, if right and justice were ever to triumph, Whigs believed, 1844 had to be the year. Defeat was, quite literally, unthinkable. 2


I

Whigs' ebullience in early 1844 now seems unwarranted, indeed incomprehensible. Although they had carried nine states in 1843 and tiny Rhode Island in April 1844, those states could not deliver the electoral vote necessary to win the

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