THE WHIG INTERPRETATION OF HISTORY
John Pendleton Kennedy
The original political faction that gathered around Henry Clay's American System and Nicholas Biddle's Bank called themselves the National Republicans. But in 1834, as their ranks increased with accessions from disaffected former Jacksonians, Clay's followers began to use the term "Whigs." This was a word replete with historical significance in the Anglo-American political tradition. This selection explains why the opponents of Andrew Jackson adopted this name, and what it reveals about their self-image.
John Pendleton Kennedy ( 1795-1870) was a Maryland lawyer who gave up his practice for careers in literature and politics. His chief accomplishment as a writer is the novel The Swallow Barn ( 1832), a classic, somewhat idealized, depiction of southern plantation life. As a Whig congressman he fought successfully for the appropriation enabling Samuel F.B. Morse to develop the telegraph. As secretary of the Navy he sent Commodore Perry to open trade with Japan. The following selection is taken from a campaign pamphlet he produced to help the Whig cause in 1844. It is interesting that Kennedy hearkens back nostalgically to the "era of good feelings" before the rise of the second party system. Many Whigs long nursed such misgivings about a partisan political system, even while working hard for success within it.
We may discern in the progress of all representative government professing to be established on the basis of popular freedom, two parties fundamentally distinguished from each other by their views as to the nature of delegated power. These parties are more or less developed at different epochs, as the events of the day have furnished them excitement.
In English history they have sometimes been denominated the
SOURCE. [ John Pendleton Kennedy,] Defence of the Whigs, by a Member of the Twenty-Seventh Congress ( New York, 1844), pp. 12-24.