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Whig Party

November 20, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

The Whig Party was a political party formed in 1834 by opponents of President Andrew Jackson and his Jacksonian Democrats. Led by Henry Clay, the name “Whigs” was derived from the English antimonarchist party and and was an attempt to portray Jackson as “King Andrew.” The Whigs were one of the two major political parties in the United States from the late 1830s through the early 1850s. While Jacksonian Democrats painted Whigs as the party of the aristocracy, they managed to win support from diverse economic groups and elect two presidents: William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. The other two Whig presidents, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore, gained office as Vice Presidents next in the line of succession.

What Did The Whig Party Stand For?

The Whigs were an opposition party formed to challenge Jacksonian Democrats, thereby launching the ‘second party system’ in America, but they were far from a single-issue party. Their ranks included members of the Anti-Masonic Party and democrats who were disenchanted with the leadership of seventh President Andrew Jackson. Their base combined unusual bedfellows: Evangelical Protestants interested in moral reform, abolitionists and those against the harsh treatment of Native Americans under Andrew Jackson in his rush to expand the country’s borders. In 1830, Jackson had signed the Indian Removal Act, but then ignored it’s tenants when he forced thousands of Choctaw to journey to Indian Territory on foot in what became known as “The Trail of Tears.”

Some Whig leaders used anti-party rhetoric, though they were very much a political party on par with the democrats they opposed. Their diverse base meant the Whigs had to be many things to many voters—a delicate balancing act.

Whigs were united in their support of the Second Bank of the United States (an institution Andrew Jackson deplored) and vocal opponents of Jackson’s propensity for ignoring Supreme Court decisions and challenging the Constitution. Whigs generally supported higher tariffs, distributing land revenues to states and passing relief legislation in response to the financial panics of 1837 and 1839. They were not formally an anti-slavery party, but abolitionists had more in common with the Whigs than the pro-slavery Jacksonian Democrats (Jackson was a vocal proponent of slavery and personally owned as many as 161 slaves). As the country hurtled toward Westward expansion, it was the …read more


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