The American republic was only 45 years-old when the political seams began bursting and the Founders fears of unbridled democracy had firmly gained root. The Whig’s combined somewhat opposing factions which would not last long in alliance, especially Southerners who strictly interpreted the Constitution and allied to the various isms, higher-law abstractions, and centralizing instincts of New England. From this latter poisonous cauldron Lincoln’s ill-named Republican party emerged.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
An Opportunistic Amalgamation of Factions
“To call the Whig coalition a political party is to do it a service above and beyond the call of historical accuracy. It was not a party – not in the European sense, certainly, and probably not in the modern American sense. It was, instead, a loose confederacy of warring factions bound vaguely together by a common hatred of the new popular democracy in general and of General Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in particular.
The party grew out of that hatred in 1833-1835 and it collapsed in confusion of its own internal intellectual and factional contradictions in 1853-1854. During its twenty-year history it elevated two bewildered generals to the White House, William Henry Harrison in 1840 and Zachary Taylor in 1848, and it nominated another – General Winfield Scott – in 1852. These leaders were chosen to head the Whig coalition primarily because they stood for nothing controversial, antagonized no one, and because they could be sold to the voters, as Andrew Jackson had been marketed in 1828, wrapped in an aura of military glory.
When in 1844 the Whigs did nominate a man who stood for something, Henry Clay, the Democrats beat him with James Polk, a political unknown. Party platforms and statements were scrupulously avoided by the Whigs for fear the brawling factions would disintegrate the party in a gigantic internal explosion.
The Whig party was an opportunistic amalgamation of two major factions. Foremost in its councils were the National Republicans, descendants of Hamiltonian Federalism. Led by Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Quincy Adams, they supported the nationalistic American System – tariff protection, internal improvements, national bank – and they were generally loose constructionists of the Constitution. They had no use for slavery . . . [and were] the best organized, best-led, and most influential faction. They most consistently represented the interests of the merchants, shippers, and the new industrialists of the North and Northeast.
Second in power and prestige within the Whig coalition, were the State’s rights Whigs of the South. Former Jeffersonian Democrats, they were variously disenchanted with Andrew Jackson for his spoils system, his Force Bill, and his removal of the Bank deposits . . . They remained . . . strict constructionists, free-traders, and anti-nationalists, and they looked to the continued domination of the national political process by gentlemen. Their hatred of the egalitarian Jackson and all his works was summed up in Mrs. John Floyd’s heated characterization of the General as a “bloody, bawdy, treacherous, lecherous villain.”
Finally, there were the Anti-Masons, that strange and emotional sect that came bursting out of western New York and onto the American political scene in 1831 with little more for a program than the naïve and half-crazed belief that Freemasonry and Americanism were somehow incompatible. Skilled and practical politicians like Thurlow Weed, William H. Seward, and Francis P. Granger quickly moved in on this lunatic fringe and made of it an anti-Jackson, anti-Van Buren faction on the Empire State, dedicated in its principles to the protective tariff and to internal improvements.”
(And Tyler Too. A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler, Robert Seager, II, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1963, pp. 115-117)