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 19
"Scott & Scott Alone Is the Man for the Emergency"

"THE SESSION WILL BE SPENT more in President making than anything," Ohio's freshman Senator Ben Wade wrote home in January 1852. "Soon everything will give way to this one idea." Newspapers also reported "positively no transaction of Congressional business" because of the obsession with "who shall be President in 1853." As in 1840, 1844, and 1848, the gravitational forces of the political universe in 1852 pulled every public event, every policy controversy, and every personality dispute into the orbit of the impending presidential election. 1

If 1852 inevitably resembled other presidential years, Truman Smith concluded that Whigs confronted "exactly the same situation" as they had in 1848. Once again, Whigs required a military hero to win. "We are a minority party and can not succeed unless we have a candidate who can command more votes than the party can give him," he counseled a North Carolinian on May 1, 1852. "Every consideration which justified us in going for Taylor in /48 requires that we should go for Scott now." 2

Although a Whig now occupied the White House, Whigs' "situation" was strikingly akin to that four years earlier. Once again the convening of a new Congress crystallized the scramble for their nomination. Just as prosperity engendered by wartime financing and grain exports had temporarily neutralized traditional Whig economic appeals in early 1848, so a boom spawned by California gold strikes, surging foreign investment, and frenetic railroad construction appeared to eliminate economic issues in 1852. Just as sectional divisions over possible enactment of the Wilmot Proviso influenced northern and southern Whigs' respective preferences for the nominee and dictated their subsequent Janus-faced campaign in 1848, so poisonous sectional strife over the Compromise threatened to contaminate the 1852 nomination contest and to cripple Whig efforts during the following campaign. And just as defeats in the state and congressional elections of late 1847 combined with loss of the antiwar issue in March 1848 had convinced many Whigs that they needed gunpowder to capture the fortress of Loco Focoism, so northern Whigs' losses in the off-year elections of 1850 and 1851 persuaded many that they needed a famous general to maximize their vote in 1852.

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