Second Party System

Historians and political scientists consider the Second Party System to be a term of periodization to designate the political party system operating in the United States from about 1828 to 1854, after the First Party System ended. The system was characterized by rapidly rising levels of voter interest, beginning in 1828, as demonstrated by Election Day turnouts, rallies, partisan newspapers, and high degrees of personal loyalty to parties.[1][2]

Two major parties dominated the political landscape: the Democratic Party, led by Andrew Jackson, and the Whig Party, assembled by Henry Clay from the National Republicans and from other opponents of Jackson. Minor parties included the Anti-Masonic Party, an important innovator from 1827 to 1834; the abolitionist Liberty Party in 1840; and the anti-slavery expansion Free Soil Party in 1848 and 1852. The Second Party System reflected and shaped the political, social, economic and cultural currents of the Jacksonian Era, until succeeded by the Third Party System.[3] Frank Towers specifies an important ideological divide:

Democrats stood for the "sovereignty of the people" as expressed in popular demonstrations, constitutional conventions, and majority rule as a general principle of governing, whereas Whigs advocated the rule of law, written and unchanging constitutions, and protections for minority interests against majority tyranny.[4]
Second Party System
Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg

Second Party System
United States presidential election results between 1828 and 1852. Blue shaded states usually voted for the Democratic Party, while yellow shaded states usually voted for the National Republican/Whig Party.


Historian Richard P. McCormick is most responsible for defining the term. He concluded:[5]

  • It was a distinct party system.
  • It formed over a 15-year period that varied by state.
  • It was produced by leaders trying to win the presidency, with contenders building their own national coalitions.
  • Regional effects strongly affected developments, with the Adams forces strongest in New England, for example, and the Jacksonians in the Southwest.
  • For the first time two-party politics was extended to the South and West (which had been one-party regions).
  • In each region the two parties were about equal—the first and only party system showing this.
  • Because of the regional balance it was vulnerable to region-specific issues (like slavery).
  • The same two parties appeared in every state, and contested both the electoral vote and state offices.
  • Most critical was the abrupt emergence of a two-party South in 1832-34 (mostly as a reaction against Van Buren).
  • The Anti-Masonic party flourished in only those states with a weak second party.
  • Methods varied somewhat but everywhere the political convention replaced the caucus.
  • The parties had an interest of their own, in terms of the office-seeking goals of party activists.
  • The System brought forth a new, popular campaign style.
  • Close elections—not charismatic candidates or particular issues—brought out the voters.
  • Party leaders formed the parties to some degree in their own image.


Among the best-known figures on the Democratic side were: Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, James K. Polk, Lewis Cass, and Stephen Douglas. On the Whig side were John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William H. Seward, and Thurlow Weed.[2]


The 1824 presidential election operated without political parties and came down to a four-man race. Each candidate (Henry Clay, William Crawford, Andrew Jackson, and John Quincy Adams), all of whom were nominally Democratic Republicans, had a regional base of support involving factions in the various states. With no electoral college majority, the choice devolved on the United States House of Representatives. Clay was not among the three finalists, but as Speaker of the House he negotiated the settlement. Jackson, despite having won the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, was not elected. John Quincy Adams, son of former President John Adams, was elected, and he immediately chose Clay as Secretary of State.[6]

Jackson loudly denounced this "corrupt bargain." Campaigning vigorously he launched a crusade against the corruption he saw in Washington. Appealing both to local militia companies (as the most famous of the nation's Indian fighters, and a hero of the War of 1812) and to state political factions, Jackson assembled a coalition, the embryonic Democratic Party, that ousted Adams in 1828. Martin Van Buren, brilliant leader of New York politics, was Jackson's key aide, bringing along the large electoral votes of Virginia and Pennsylvania. His reward was appointment as Secretary of State and later nomination and election to the vice presidency as heir to the Jacksonian tradition. The Adams-Clay wing of the Democratic-Republican Party became known as the National Republicans, although Adams never considered himself a loyal member of the party.[6]

As Norton explains the Jacksonian triumph in 1828:

Jacksonians believed the people's will had finally prevailed. Through a lavishly financed coalition of state parties, political leaders, and newspaper editors, a popular movement had elected the president. The Democrats became the nation's first well-organized national party ... and tight party organization became the hallmark of nineteenth-century American politics.[7]

Behind the platforms issued by state and national parties stood a widely shared political outlook that characterized the Democrats:

The Democrats represented a wide range of views but shared a fundamental commitment to the Jeffersonian concept of an agrarian society. They viewed the central government as the enemy of individual liberty. The 1824 "corrupt bargain" had strengthened their suspicion of Washington politics. ... Jacksonians feared the concentration of economic and political power. They believed that government intervention in the economy benefited special-interest groups and created corporate monopolies that favored the rich. They sought to restore the independence of the individual--the artisan and the ordinary farmer--by ending federal support of banks and corporations and restricting the use of paper currency, which they distrusted. Their definition of the proper role of government tended to be negative, and Jackson's political power was largely expressed in negative acts. He exercised the veto more than all previous presidents combined. Jackson and his supporters also opposed reform as a movement. Reformers eager to turn their programs into legislation called for a more active government. But Democrats tended to oppose programs like educational reform and the establishment of a public education system. They believed, for instance, that public schools restricted individual liberty by interfering with parental responsibility and undermined freedom of religion by replacing church schools. Nor did Jackson share reformers' humanitarian concerns. He had no sympathy for American Indians, initiating the removal of the Cherokees along the Trail of Tears.[8][9]

Jackson: Bank War

Jackson considered himself a reformer, but he was committed to the old ideals of Republicanism, and bitterly opposed anything that smacked of special favors for special interests. While Jackson never engaged in a duel as president, he had shot political opponents before and was just as determined to destroy his enemies on the battlefields of politics. The Second Party System came about primarily because of Jackson's determination to destroy the Second Bank of the United States.[10] Headquartered in Philadelphia, with offices in major cities around the country, the federally chartered Bank operated somewhat like a central bank (like the Federal Reserve System a century later). Local bankers and politicians annoyed by the controls exerted by Nicholas Biddle grumbled loudly. Jackson did not like any banks (paper money was anathema to Jackson; he believed only gold and silver ["specie"] should circulate.) After Herculean battles with Henry Clay, his chief antagonist, Jackson finally broke Biddle's bank.[2]

Jackson continued to attack the banking system. His Specie Circular of July 1836 rejected paper money issued by banks (it could no longer be used to buy federal land), insisting on gold and silver coins. Most businessmen and bankers (but not all) went over to the Whig party, and the commercial and industrial cities became Whig strongholds. Jackson meanwhile became even more popular with the subsistence farmers and day laborers who distrusted bankers and finance.[10]

Economic historians have explored the high degree of financial and economic instability in the Jacksonian era. For the most part, they follow the conclusions of Peter Temin, who absolved Jackson's policies, and blamed international events beyond American control, such as conditions in Mexico, China and Britain. A survey of economic historians in 1995 show that the vast majority concur with Temin's conclusion that "the inflation and financial crisis of the 1830s had their origin in events largely beyond President Jackson's control and would have taken place whether or not he had acted as he did vis-a-vis the Second Bank of the U.S."[11]

Spoils System

Jackson systematically used the federal patronage system, what was called the Spoils System. Jackson not only rewarded past supporters; he promised future jobs if local and state politicians joined his team. As Syrett explains: When Jackson became President, he implemented the theory of rotation in office, declaring it "a leading principle in the republican creed."[12] He believed that rotation in office would prevent the development of a corrupt civil service. On the other hand, Jackson's supporters wanted to use the civil service to reward party loyalists to make the party stronger. In practice, this meant replacing civil servants with friends or party loyalists into those offices. The spoils system did not originate with Jackson. It originated under Thomas Jefferson when he removed Federalist office-holders after becoming president.[13] Also, Jackson did not out the entire civil service. At the end of his term, Jackson had only dismissed less than twenty percent of the original civil service.[14] While Jackson did not start the spoils system, he did encourage its growth and it became a central feature of the Second Party System, as well as the Third Party System, until it ended in the 1890s. As one historian explains:

"Although Jackson dismissed far fewer government employees than most of his contemporaries imagined and although he did not originate the spoils system, he made more sweeping changes in the Federal bureaucracy than had any of his predecessors. What is even more significant is that he defended these changes as a positive good. At present when the use of political patronage is generally considered an obstacle to good government, it is worth remembering that Jackson and his followers invariably described rotation in public office as a "reform." In this sense the spoils system was more than a way to reward Jackson's friends and punish his enemies; it was also a device for removing from public office the representatives of minority political groups that Jackson insisted had been made corrupt by their long tenure."[15]

Modernizing Whigs

Both parties having a common ancestor, the Whigs and Democrats agreed on many basic principles—they were both strongly committed to the ideals of Republicanism in the United States. In most of the United States, the Whigs were more upscale, better educated, more urban, and more entrepreneurial; the Democrats were strongest on the frontier and in subsistence farming areas. Catholic immigrants, especially Irish and German, were heavily and enthusiastically Democratic, while evangelical Protestants and English and Scots-Irish immigrants were typically Whigs. As Norton explains, there were major policy differences:

Whigs favored economic expansion through an activist government, Democrats through limited central government. Whigs supported corporate charters, a national bank, and paper currency; Democrats were opposed to all three. Whigs also favored more humanitarian reforms than did Democrats, including public schools, abolition of capital punishment, prison and asylum reform and temperance. Whigs were more optimistic than Democrats, generally speaking, and more enterprising. They did not object to helping a specific group if doing so would promote the general welfare. The chartering of corporations, they argued, expanded economic opportunity for everyone, laborers and farmers alike. Democrats, distrustful of concentrated economic power and of moral and economic coercion, held fast to the Jeffersonian principle of limited government.[16]

Meanwhile, economic modernizers, bankers, businessmen, commercial farmers, many of whom were already National Republicans, and Southern planters angry at Jackson's handling of the Nullification crisis were mobilized into a new anti-Jackson force; they called themselves Whigs. Just as the Whigs of 1776 were patriots who battled the tyranny of King George III, so too the new party saw itself battling "King Andrew".[17] In the northeast, a moralistic crusade against the highly secretive Masonic order matured into a regular political party, the Anti-Masons, which soon combined with the Whigs. Jackson fought back by aggressive use of federal patronage, by timely alliances with local leaders, and with a rhetoric that identified the Bank and its agents as the greatest threat to the republican spirit. Eventually his partisans called themselves "Democrats." The Whigs had an elaborate program for modernizing the economy. To stimulate the creation of new factories, they proposed a high tariff on imported manufactured goods.[10]

The Democrats said that would fatten the rich; the tariff should be low—for "revenue only" (thus not to foster manufacturing). Whigs argued that banks and paper money were needed; the Democrats countered that no honest man wants them. Public works programs to build roads, canals and railroads would give the country the infrastructure it needed for rapid economic development, said the Whigs.[10] Democrats replied they did not want that kind of complex change. Rather the Democrats called for more of the same—especially more farms to raise the families in the traditional style. More land is needed for that, Democrats said, so they pushed for expansion south and west. Jackson conquered Florida for the US. Over intense Whig opposition, his political heir, James Polk (1844–48) added Texas, the Southwest, California, and Oregon. Next on the Democratic agenda would be Cuba.[18]

In most cities the rich men were solidly Whig—85-90% of the men worth over $100,000 in Boston and New York City voted Whig.[19] In rural America, the Whigs were stronger in market towns and commercial areas, and the Democrats stronger on the frontier and in more isolated areas. Ethnic and religious communities usually went the same way, with Irish and German Catholics heavily Democratic, and pietistic Protestants more Whiggish.[20]


Gienapp (1982) points out that the American political system underwent fundamental change after 1820 under the rubric of Jacksonian Democracy. While Jackson himself did not initiate the changes, he took advantage in 1828 and symbolized many of the changes. For the first time politics assumed a central role in voters' lives. Before then deference to upper class elites, and general indifference most of the time, characterized local politics across the country. The suffrage laws were not at fault for they allowed mass participation; rather few men were interested in politics before 1828, and fewer still voted or became engaged because politics did not seem important. Changes followed the psychological shock of the panic of 1819, and the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson, with his charismatic personality and controversial policies. By 1840, Gienapp argues, the revolution was complete: "With the full establishment of the second party system, campaigns were characterized by appeals to the common man, mass meetings, parades, celebrations, and intense enthusiasm, while elections generated high voter participation. In structure and ideology, American politics had been democratized."[18][21]

Party strategies

Both parties relied heavily on their national network of newspapers. Some editors were the key political players in their states, and most of them filled their papers with useful information on rallies and speeches and candidates, as well as the text of major speeches and campaign platforms.

Party strengths

The Whigs built a strong party organization in most states; they were weak only on the frontier. They were strongest in Northeast and among business, merchants, commercial farmers, professionals. The Whigs used newspapers effectively, and soon adopted the exciting campaign techniques that lured 75 to 85% of the eligible voters to the polls. Abraham Lincoln emerged early as the leader in Illinois—where he usually was bested by an even more talented politician, Stephen Douglas. While Douglas and the Democrats were somewhat behind the Whigs in newspaper work, they made up for this weakness by emphasis on party loyalty. Anyone who attended a Democratic convention, from precinct level to national level, was honor bound to support the final candidate, whether he liked him or not. This rule produced numerous schisms, but on the whole the Democrats controlled and mobilized their rank and file more effectively than the Whigs did.[18]

Whig weaknesses

Federal-Abolition-Whig Trap
Democratic poster in 1840 warning that Whigs' Log Cabin campaign was a trap for poor people

One fundamental weakness was its inability to take a position on slavery. As a coalition of Northern National Republicans and Southern Nullifiers, Whigs in each of the two regions held opposing views on slavery. Therefore, the Whig party was only able to conduct successful campaigns as long as the slavery issue was ignored.[22]

By the mid-1850s, the question of slavery dominated the political landscape, and the Whigs, unable to agree on an approach to the issue, began to disintegrate. A few Whigs lingered, claiming that, with the alternatives being a pro-Northern Republican party and a pro-Southern Democratic party, they were the only political party that could preserve the Union. In 1856, the remaining Whigs endorsed the Know-Nothing campaign of Millard Fillmore and in 1860 they endorsed the Constitutional Union ticket of John Bell, but, with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Whig party ceased to exist.[18]

Most of the prominent men in most towns and cities were Whigs, and they controlled local offices and judgeships, in addition to many state offices. Thus the outcome of the political process was mixed. In Springfield, Illinois, a strong Whig enclave in a Democratic region, poll books that show how individuals voted indicates the rise of the Whigs took place in 1836 in opposition to the presidential candidacy of Martin Van Buren and was consolidated in 1840. Springfield Whigs tend to validate historical studies elsewhere: they were largely native-born, either in New England or Kentucky, professional men or farm owners, and devoted to partisan organization. Abraham Lincoln's career mirrors the Whigs' political rise, but by the 1840s Springfield began to fall into the hands of the Democrats, as immigrants changed the city's political makeup. By the 1860 presidential election, Lincoln was barely able to win the city.[23]

Democrats dominant in 1852

By the 1850s most Democratic party leaders had accepted many Whiggish ideas, and no one could deny the economic modernization of factories and railroads was moving ahead rapidly. The old economic issues died about the same time old leaders like Calhoun, Webster, Clay, Jackson and Polk passed from the scene. New issues, especially the questions of slavery, nativism and religion came to the fore. 1852 was the last hurrah for the Whigs; everyone realized they could win only if the Democrats split in two. With the healing of the Free Soil revolt after 1852, Democratic dominance seemed assured. The Whigs went through the motions, but both rank and file and leaders quietly dropped out. The Third Party System was ready to emerge.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Brown (1999)
  2. ^ a b c Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2006)
  3. ^ Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln (1992)
  4. ^ Frank Towers, "Mobtown's Impact on the Study of Urban Politics in the Early Republic.". Maryland Historical Magazine 107 (Winter 2012) pp: 469-75, p 472, citing Robert E, Shalhope, The Baltimore Bank Riot: Political Upheaval in Antebellum Maryland (2009) p. 147
  5. ^ McCormick 1966 pp 14–16)
  6. ^ a b Lynn H. Parsons, 'The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 (2009)
  7. ^ Mary Beth Norton et al., A People and a Nation, Volume I: to 1877 (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) p 287
  8. ^ Mary Beth Norton et al., A People and a Nation, Volume I: to 1877 (2007) pp 287-88
  9. ^ Robert Allen Rutland, The Democrats: From Jefferson to Clinton (U. of Missouri Press, 1995) ch 1–4
  10. ^ a b c d Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2009)
  11. ^ Robert Whaples, "Were Andrew Jackson's Policies 'Good for the Economy'?" Independent Review (2014) 18#4 online
  12. ^ "Andrew Jackson's First Annual Message to Congress". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2006-11-21.
  13. ^ The Spoils System versus the Merit System. Retrieved on 2006-11-21.
  14. ^ Jacksonian Democracy: The Presidency of Andrew Jackson Archived 2006-09-06 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2006-11-21.
  15. ^ Syrett, 28.
  16. ^ Mary Beth Norton et al., A People and a Nation, Volume I: to 1877 (2007) pp 293-94
  17. ^ Mary Beth Norton et al., "The Whig Challenge and the Second Party System,", in A People and a Nation (8th ed. 2008), ch 12
  18. ^ a b c d e Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005)
  19. ^ Watson (1990) p, 236
  20. ^ Watson (1990) p, 236-7
  21. ^ Gienapp ed (1982) p 15
  22. ^ Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (1990
  23. ^ Winkle (1998)


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  • Carwardine Richard. Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (Yale University Press, 1993).
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  • Holt, Michael F. (1992). Political Parties and American Political Development: From the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln.
  • Holt, Michael F. (1999). The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505544-6. online; the standard history
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  • Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States) (2009); Pulitzer Prize
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  • Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. ed. History of U.S. Political Parties 1789-1972 (1992) Vol. 1, Covers all the major and minor political parties, along with primary sources
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  • Shade, William G. (1983). "The Second Party System". In Paul Kleppner, et al. (contributors) (ed.). Evolution of American Electoral Systems.
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  • Van Deusen, Glyndon (1973). "The Whig Party". In Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (ed.) (ed.). History of U.S. Political Parties. Chelsea House Publications. pp. 1:331–63. ISBN 0-7910-5731-3.CS1 maint: Extra text: editors list (link)
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  • Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (1990) (ISBN 0-374-52196-4)
  • Wilentz, Sean (2005). The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln.
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  • Wilson, Major L. Space, Time, and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible Conflict, 1815-1861 (1974) online intellectual history of Whigs and Democrats


  • Brands, H. W. (2005) Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
  • Cole, Donald B. (1984). Martin Van Buren And The American Political System
  • Foner, Eric. "Lincoln, the Law, and the Second Party System," in The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010) ch 2
  • Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas (1997)
  • Remini, Robert V. (1998). The Life of Andrew Jackson, abridged version of his 3-volume biography
  • Remini, Robert V. (1959). Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party.
  • Remini, Robert V. (1991). Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31088-4.
  • Remini, Robert V. (1997). Daniel Webster.
  • Syrett, Harold C. Andrew Jackson: His Contribution to the American Tradition (1953) online
  • Van Deusen, Glyndon G. Thurlow Weed, Wizard of the Lobby (1947)

Regional, state, local studies

  • Cole, Arthur Charles (1913). The Whig Party in the South. online
  • Formisano, Ronald P. (1971). The Birth of Mass Political Parties: Michigan, 1827-1861
  • Formisano, Ronald P. (1983). The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s–1840s.
  • Mueller, Henry R. The Whig Party in Pennsylvania (1922) online
  • Ratcliffe, Donald J. The Politics of Long Division: The Birth of the Second Party System in Ohio, 1818-1828. (2000). 455 pp.
  • Winkle, Kenneth J. "The Second Party System in Lincoln's Springfield." Civil War History (1998) 44(4): 267-284. ISSN 0009-8078

Primary sources

  • Blau, Joseph L. ed. Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy: Representative Writings of the Period 1825-1850 (1947), 386 pages of excerpts
  • Hammond, J. D. History of Political Parties in the State of New York (2 vols., Albany, 1842).
  • Howe, Daniel Walker (1973). The American Whigs: An Anthology. online

External links

1826 United States elections

The 1826 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic-Republican President John Quincy Adams's term. Members of the 20th United States Congress were chosen in this election. The election took place during a transitional period between the First Party System and the Second Party System. With the Federalist Party no longer active as a major political party, the major split in Congress was between supporters of Adams and supporters of Andrew Jackson, who Adams had defeated in the 1824 Presidential election.

In the House, Jackson supporters picked up several seats, taking the majority from the faction supporting Adams. Andrew Stevenson, a supporter of Jackson who would later join the Democratic Party, won election as Speaker of the House.

In the Senate, supporters of Jackson picked up one seat, retaining their majority.

1828 United States elections

The 1828 United States elections elected the members of the 21st United States Congress. It marked the beginning of the Second Party System, and the definitive split of the Democratic-Republican Party into the Democratic Party (organized around Andrew Jackson) and the National Republican Party (organized around John Quincy Adams and opponents of Jackson). While the Democrats cultivated strong local organizations, the National Republicans relied on a clear national platform of high tariffs and internal improvements. Political scientists such as V.O. Key, Jr. consider this election to be a realigning election, while political scientists such as James Reichley instead see the election as a continuation of the Democratic-Republican tradition. Additionally, this election saw the Anti-Masonic Party win a small number of seats in the House, becoming the first third party to gain representation in Congress.

In a re-match of the 1824 Presidential election, Democratic General Andrew Jackson won a large victory over incumbent National Republican President John Quincy Adams. Adams again won New England, but Jackson took most of the rest of the country. Jackson was the first successful presidential candidate who had not served as secretary of state or vice president in the preceding administration (aside from George Washington). Adams was the first President to lose re-election since his father, John Adams, lost re-election in 1800. John C. Calhoun was re-elected vice president, making him the second and last vice president to serve under two different presidents. Jackson's election as president marked the start of Jacksonian democracy, and an ongoing expansion in right to vote saw a dramatic increase in the size of the electorate.In the House, Democrats won several seats, increasing their majority. The Anti-Masonic Party won a small number of seats, gaining representation in Congress for the first time.In the Senate, opponents of Jackson won minor gains, but Democrats retained control of the chamber.

1830 United States elections

The 1830 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President Andrew Jackson's first term, during the Second Party System. Members of the 22nd United States Congress were chosen in this election. The election saw Jackson's Democrats retain control of both chambers of Congress over the National Republicans and other members of the anti-Jackson faction, while the Nullifier Party won seats in Congress for the first time.

In the House, both major parties lost seats to the Anti-Masonic Party, but Democrats retained a commanding majority.In the Senate, both parties lost one seat to the Nullifiers, leaving the Democrats with half of the seats in the Senate. No party had a clear majority because Vice President John C. Calhoun aligned with the Nullifiers, and eventually resigned before the end of the 22nd Congress. However, Democrats retained control of the chamber, electing three different President pro tempores: Samuel Smith, Littleton W. Tazewell, and Hugh Lawson White.

1832 United States elections

The 1832 United States elections elected the members of the 23rd United States Congress. Taking place during the Second Party System and a political conflict over the re-authorization of the Second Bank of the United States, the elections were contested between Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party and opponents of Jackson, including the National Republicans. Though the Democrats retained the presidency and the House, they lost their Senate majority. The Anti-Masonic Party also fielded the first notable presidential candidacy from a third party.In the Presidential election, Democratic President Andrew Jackson easily defeated National Republican Senator Henry Clay from Kentucky. Anti-Masonic candidate William Wirt received 7% of the popular vote, the strongest popular vote showing by a third party up to that point, while Nullifier John Floyd was the first third party candidate to win electoral votes. Jackson was the last president to win a second term until Abraham Lincoln won a second term in 1864. The first presidential nominating conventions took place during this election. Also, for the first time, every state but South Carolina chose its presidential electors via statewide popular vote.

Following the 1830 census, the House increased in size, adding 27 seats. Opponents of Jackson maintained the same number of seats, but the Democrats won several seats, increasing their majority.In the Senate, the anti-Jackson faction won moderate gains, taking the majority in the Senate.

1834 United States elections

The 1834 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President Andrew Jackson's second term. Members of the 24th United States Congress were chosen in this election. Taking place during the Second Party System, elections were contested between Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party and opponents of Jackson, including the remnants of the National Republican Party. During this election, the anti-Jackson faction began to transition into the Whig Party. Arkansas and Michigan joined the union during the 24th Congress. Democrats retained the majority in the House, and won control of the Senate.

In the House, the anti-Jackson faction picked up some seats from the Anti-Masonic Party, but the Democrats retained a commanding majority.In the Senate, the Democrats picked up a moderate number of seats and gained control of the majority with the aid of Democratic Vice President Martin Van Buren, who cast the tie-breaking vote.

1836 United States elections

The 1836 United States elections elected the members of the 25th United States Congress. The election saw the emergence of the Whig Party, which succeeded the National Republican Party in the Second Party System as the primary opposition to the Democratic Party. The Whigs chose their name in symbolic defiance to the leader of the Democratic Party, "King" Andrew Jackson, and supported a national bank and the American System. Despite the emergence of the Whigs as a durable political party, Democrats retained the Presidency and a majority in both houses of Congress.

In the Presidential election, the Whigs ran multiple candidates designed to deny the Democratic candidate a majority of the electoral vote, and carried a scattering of states in the South, West, and Northeast. However, Democratic Vice President Martin Van Buren still took a majority of the popular and electoral vote, defeating Whig candidates William Henry Harrison of Ohio, Hugh Lawson White of Tennessee, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and Willie Person Mangum of North Carolina. Virginia's electors refused to vote for Richard Mentor Johnson, Van Buren's running mate, leaving Johnson short of a majority of electoral votes for vice president. The Senate elected Johnson in a contingent election, the only time the Senate has ever chosen the vice president. Van Buren was the last sitting vice president to win election as president until George H.W. Bush's election in 1988.

In the House, Whigs won moderate gains, but Democrats retained a solid majority in the chamber.In the Senate, Democrats picked up a large number of seats, boosting their majority.

1838 United States elections

The 1838 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President Martin Van Buren's term, during the Second Party System. Members of the 26th United States Congress were chosen in this election.

Whigs picked up a moderate number of seats in both the House and Senate, but the Democratic Party retained a majority in both chambers. However, due to a split in the Democratic party, Whig Congressman Robert M. T. Hunter was elected Speaker of the House.

1840 United States elections

The 1840 United States elections elected the members of the 27th United States Congress, taking place during the Second Party System. In the aftermath of the Panic of 1837, the Whigs become the fourth party in history to win control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress; the Whigs would never again accomplish this feat. The election also marked the first time since the 1834 elections that the Democratic Party did not control the Presidency and both chambers of Congress.

In the Presidential election, Whig General William Henry Harrison defeated Democratic President Martin Van Buren. Harrison won by a margin of 5% in the popular vote, but dominated the electoral college. Harrison was nominated at the 1839 Whig National Convention, the first convention in Whig history. Harrison's victory made him the first President unaffiliated with the Democratic-Republican Party or the Democratic Party to win election since John Adams in 1796. Martin Van Buren's defeat made him the third President to fail to win re-election, following John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

In the House, Whigs won major gains, taking the majority.In the Senate, Whigs picked up several seats, taking the majority.

1842 United States elections

The 1842 United States elections occurred in the middle of President John Tyler's term, during the Second Party System. Tyler had become president on April 4, 1841 upon the death of his predecessor, William Henry Harrison. Elected as vice president on the Whig ticket with Harrison in 1840, Tyler was expelled from the party in September 1841. Members of the 28th United States Congress were chosen in this election. Florida joined the union during the 28th Congress. Whigs kept control of the Senate, but lost control of the House.

Following the 1840 census, the size of the House was reduced by 19 seats. Democrats won massive gains, turning a commanding Whig majority into a dominant Democratic majority.In the Senate, Democrats picked up one seat, but Whigs retained the majority.

1844 United States elections

The 1844 United States elections elected the members of the 29th United States Congress, and took place during the Second Party System in the midst of the debate over whether to annex Texas. Texas and Iowa joined the union during the 29th Congress. Democrats retained control of the House and took back control of the Presidency and the Senate, re-establishing the dominant position the party had lost in the 1840 election.

In the Presidential election, Democratic former Speaker of the House James K. Polk defeated Whig former Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. Though Polk won the popular vote by a little over one percent, he won by a comfortable margin in the electoral college. James G. Birney of the nascent Liberty Party took two percent of the popular vote, and may have swung the election by taking votes from Clay in New York. The little-known Polk defeated several rivals to win his party's nomination, emerging as the first dark horse nominee in U.S. presidential history. Incumbent President John Tyler, who had been expelled from the Whig party early in his presidency, was briefly the candidate of the newly formed Democratic-Republican Party, but dropped out of the race after Polk announced his support for ratification of Tyler's Texas annexation treaty.

In the House, Whigs picked up a small number of seats, but Democrats retained a commanding majority.In the Senate, Democrats picked up several seats, re-taking the majority.

1846 United States elections

The 1846 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President James Polk's term, during the Second Party System. The election took place during the Mexican–American War. Members of the 30th United States Congress were chosen in this election. Wisconsin joined the union during the 30th Congress. Democrats kept control of the Senate, but lost control of the House.

In the House, the Whigs won major gains, turning a dominant Democratic majority into a narrow Whig majority.In the Senate, Democrats picked up a moderate number of seats, building on their majority.

1848 United States elections

The 1848 United States elections elected the members of the 31st United States Congress. The election took place during the Second Party System, nine months after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican–American War. With the issue of slavery (and its extension into western territories) dividing the nation, the Free Soil Party established itself as the third most powerful party in Congress. California joined the union before the next election, and elected its first Congressional delegation to the 31st Congress. Whigs won the Presidency, but Democrats won a plurality in the House and retained control of the Senate.

In the Presidential election, Whig General Zachary Taylor defeated Democratic former Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan and the Free Soil candidate, former President Martin Van Buren. Taylor won most of the Northeast and several Southern states, giving him a fairly comfortable majority in both the electoral and popular vote. One-term incumbent Democratic President James K. Polk chose to retire rather than seek re-election (becoming the first elected president to do so), and Cass defeated Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury and Secretary of State James Buchanan on the fourth ballot at the 1848 Democratic National Convention. Van Buren, the former Democratic President, ran against Cass for political reasons (Cass was a prominent supporter of slavery) and possibly for personal reasons (Cass helped defeat Van Buren's 1844 bid for the Democratic nomination). Taylor was recruited by the Whigs to replicate the success of the Whig's only previous successful candidate, General William Henry Harrison, and he easily triumphed over other Whig candidates. Taylor's win made him the last President to win election as neither a Democrat nor a Republican.

In the House, Democrats picked up a small number of seats, taking the plurality. The Whigs lost a small number of seats but remained the second largest party, while the Free Soil Party picked up a handful of seats. The House elected Democrat Howell Cobb as Speaker after sixty-three ballots.In the Senate, the Whigs won minor gains, cutting into the Democratic majority.

1850 United States elections

The 1850 United States elections occurred part way through Whig President Millard Fillmore's term, during the Second Party System. Fillmore had become president on July 9, 1850 upon the death of his predecessor, Zachary Taylor. Members of the 32nd United States Congress were chosen in this election. Democrats kept control of both houses of Congress.

In the House, Democrats won several seats from the Whigs, building on their control of the chamber. Several supporters of the Georgia Platform also won election as Unionists.In the Senate, Whigs lost a small number of seats to Democrats and the Free Soil Party. Democrats retained a strong majority.

1852 United States elections

The 1852 United States elections elected the members of the 33rd United States Congress. The election marked the end of the Second Party System, as the Whig Party ceased to function as a national party following this election. Democrats won the presidency and retained control of both houses of Congress.

In the presidential election, Democratic former senator Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire defeated Whig General Winfield Scott. Pierce won the popular vote by a margin of seven percent, and dominated the electoral college. John P. Hale of the Free Soil Party also took about five percent of the popular vote. Pierce won on the 49th ballot of the 1852 Democratic National Convention, defeating 1848 nominee Lewis Cass, former Secretary of State James Buchanan, former Secretary of War William L. Marcy, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas frp, Illinois. Incumbent Whig president Millard Fillmore ran for a full term, but the 1852 Whig National Convention chose Scott, another popular general similar to former Whig presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. Fillmore became the first incumbent president to lose his party's presidential nomination. Scott was the last Whig presidential candidate, as the party collapsed during the 1850s. However, this election was also the last time a Democratic candidate would win a majority of the popular and electoral vote until Franklin D. Roosevelt did so in 1932.

In the House, Democrats won several seats, boosting their majority.In the Senate, Democrats won minor gains, maintaining their commanding majority.

1854 United States elections

The 1854 United States elections was the midterm election choosing members of the 32nd United States Congress during the middle of Democratic President Franklin Pierce's term. It was part of the transition from the Second Party System to the Third Party System, as the Whigs collapsed as a national party and were replaced by a coalition running on the Opposition Party ticket and the nascent Republican Party).

In the House, Democrats suffered a massive defeat, losing seats to the Opposition Party, and to the American Party; the latter (also known as the Know Nothings) won more seats in the House than any other third party in the history of the chamber. Nathaniel Banks, a member of the American Party and the Free Soil Party, won election as Speaker of the House after a protracted battle, defeating Democrat William Aiken. In the Senate, Democrats retained a strong majority, while the Opposition replaced the Whigs as the second largest party in the chamber.

Anti-Masonic Party

The Anti-Masonic Party, also known as the Anti-Masonic Movement, was the first third party in the United States. It strongly opposed Freemasonry as a single-issue party and later aspired to become a major party by expanding its platform to take positions on other issues. After emerging as a political force in the late 1820s, most of the Anti-Masonic Party's members joined the Whig Party in the 1830s and the party disappeared after 1838.

The party was founded in the aftermath of the disappearance of William Morgan, a former Mason who had ultimately become a prominent critic of the Masonic organization. Many believed that the Masons had murdered Morgan for speaking out against Masonry and subsequently many churches and other groups condemned Masonry. As many Masons were prominent businessmen and politicians, the backlash against the Masons was also a form of anti-elitism. Mass opposition to Masonry eventually coalesced into a political party. Before and during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, there was a period of political realignment. The Anti-Masons emerged as an important third party alternative to Andrew Jackson's Democrats and Adams's National Republicans. In New York, the Anti-Masons supplanted the National Republicans as the primary opposition to the Democrats.

After experiencing unexpected success in the 1828 elections, the Anti-Masons began to adopt positions on other issues, most notably support for internal improvements and a protective tariff. Several Anti-Masons, including William A. Palmer and Joseph Ritner, won election to prominent positions. In states such as Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, the party controlled the balance of power in the state legislature and provided crucial support to candidates for the Senate. In 1831, the party held the first presidential nominating convention, a practice that was subsequently adopted by all major parties. The convention chose former Attorney General William Wirt as the party's standard bearer in the 1832 presidential election and Wirt won 7.8% of the popular vote and carried Vermont.

As the 1830s progressed, many of the Anti-Masonic Party's supporters joined the Whig Party, which sought to unite those opposed to the policies of President Jackson. The Anti-Masonic Party held a national convention in 1835, nominating William Henry Harrison, but a second convention announced that the party would not officially support a candidate. Harrison campaigned as a Whig in the 1836 presidential election and his relative success in the election encouraged further migration of Anti-Masons to the Whig Party. By 1840, the party had ceased to function as a national organization. In subsequent decades, former Anti-Masonic candidates and supporters such as Millard Fillmore, William H. Seward, Thurlow Weed and Thaddeus Stevens would become well-known members of the Whig Party.

Jacksonian democracy

Jacksonian democracy was a 19th-century political philosophy in the United States that expanded suffrage to most white men over the age of 21, and restructured a number of federal institutions. Originating with the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, and his supporters, it became the nation's dominant political worldview for a generation. The term itself was in active use by the 1830s.This era, called the Jacksonian Era (or Second Party System) by historians and political scientists, lasted roughly from Jackson's 1828 election as president until slavery became the dominant issue in 1854 and the political repercussions of the American Civil War dramatically reshaped American politics. It emerged when the long-dominant Democratic-Republican Party became factionalized around the 1824 election. Jackson's supporters began to form the modern Democratic Party and his rivals John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay created the National Republican Party, which would afterward combine with other anti-Jackson political groups to form the Whig Party.

Broadly speaking, the era was characterized by a democratic spirit and built upon Jackson's equal political policy (subsequent to ending what he termed a "monopoly" of government by elites). Even before the Jacksonian era began, suffrage had been extended to a majority of white male adult citizens, a result the Jacksonians celebrated. Jacksonian democracy also promoted the strength of the presidency and executive branch at the expense of Congress, while also seeking to broaden the public's participation in government. The Jacksonians demanded elected (not appointed) judges and rewrote many state constitutions to reflect the new values. In national terms, they favored geographical expansion, justifying it in terms of manifest destiny. There was usually a consensus among both Jacksonians and Whigs that battles over slavery should be avoided.

Jackson's expansion of democracy was largely limited to Americans of European descent and voting rights were extended to adult white males only. There was little or no progress (and in some cases, a regression) for the rights of African Americans and Native Americans during the extensive period of Jacksonian Democracy, spanning from 1829 - 1860. Jackson's biographer Robert V. Remini argues:

[Jacksonian Democracy] stretches the concept of democracy about as far as it can go and still remain workable. ... As such it has inspired much of the dynamic and dramatic events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in American history—Populism, Progressivism, the New and Fair Deals, and the programs of the New Frontier and Great Society.

Political parties in the United States

Political parties in the United States are mostly dominated by a two-party system consisting of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The United States Constitution has always been silent on the issue of political parties, since at the time it was signed in 1787 there were no parties in the nation.

Whig Party (United States)

The Whig Party was a political party active in the middle of the 19th century in the United States. It was based among middle class conservatives. It favored business, banks, industry, education and social modernization, and opposed a powerful presidency and territorial expansion. Four presidents belonged to the party while in office. It emerged in the 1830s as the leading opponent of Jacksonian democracy, pulling together former members of the National Republican (one of the successors of the Democratic-Republican Party) and the Anti-Masonic Party. It had some links to the upscale traditions of the long-defunct Federalist Party. Along with the rival Democratic Party, it was central to the Second Party System from the early 1840s to the mid-1860s. It originally formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson (in office 1829–1837) and his Democratic Party. It became a formal party within his second term, and slowly receded influence after 1854.

In particular terms, the Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the presidency and favored a program of modernization, banking and economic protectionism to stimulate manufacturing. It appealed to entrepreneurs, planters, reformers and the emerging urban middle class, but had little appeal to farmers or unskilled workers. It included many active Protestants and voiced a moralistic opposition to the Jacksonian Indian removal. Party founders chose the "Whig" name to echo the American Whigs (aka the Patriots) of the 18th century who fought for independence. The political philosophy of the American Whig Party was not related to the British Whig party. Historian Frank Towers has specified a deep ideological divide:

The Whig Party nominated several presidential candidates in 1836. General William Henry Harrison of Ohio was nominated in 1840, former Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky in 1844, General Zachary Taylor of Louisiana in 1848, General Winfield Scott of New Jersey in 1852 and the last nominee, former President Millard Fillmore from New York in 1856. In its two decades of existence, the Whig Party had two of its candidates, Harrison and Taylor, elected president and both died in office. John Tyler succeeded to the presidency after Harrison's death in 1841, but was expelled from the party later that year. Millard Fillmore, who became President after Taylor's death in 1850, was the last Whig President.

The party fell apart because of internal tension over the expansion of slavery to the territories. With deep fissures in the party on this question, the anti-slavery faction prevented the nomination for a full term of its own incumbent President Fillmore in the 1852 presidential election—instead, the party nominated General Scott. Most Whig Party leaders eventually quit politics (as Abraham Lincoln did temporarily) or changed parties. The Northern voter base mostly gravitated to the new Republican Party. In the South, most joined the Know Nothing Party, which unsuccessfully ran Fillmore in the 1856 presidential election, by which time the Whig Party had become virtually defunct having merely endorsed Millard Fillmore's candidacy. Some former Whigs became Democrats. The Constitutional Union Party experienced significant success from conservative former Whigs in the Upper South during the 1860 presidential election. Whig ideology as a policy orientation persisted for decades, and played a major role in shaping the modernizing policies of the state governments during Reconstruction.

Political eras of the United States
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