Politics and Statesmanship: Essays on the American Whig Party

By Thomas Brown | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Conclusion

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, as James Sterling Young has written, was James Monroe's presidency. John Quincy Adams wanted to remedy this state of affairs by creating an activistic federal regime, but his plans collided against a rising tide of sectionalism and particularism. 1 Instead, it was the Jacksonian Democrats who revived popular interest in affairs at the center of government. But to many Americans, they did so at too great a cost, by creating a centralized party apparatus that required the blind loyalty of its votaries and promoted factionalism in the electorate. It was this reaction against the Jacksonian system of party politics which provided the impetus for the formation of the Whig party.

The revulsion against Jacksonian party government transcended conventional political distinctions, uniting men whose affinities were as much instinctive as conscious. Only a shared disenchantment could have brought together the motley collection of Antimasons, National Republicans, and disaffected Jacksonians who comprised the Whig party. The heterogeneity of the Whig party in its early stages was no better revealed than in the 1836 presidential election, in which there were three party aspirants. One of these candidates ( Daniel Webster) was a fervent nationalist, another ( Hugh Lawson White) was an unreconstructed Jeffersonian Republican, while the third ( William Henry Harrison) occupied no distinct political position at all.

The diversity of the Whig party did not mean that its members had no principles. In the very act of repudiating the political style and methods of the Democrats, the Whigs signified their adherence to a contrary set of ideals, beliefs, and assumptions. While the Democrats saw fundamental divisions in the polity, the Whigs saw an underlying harmony. While the

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