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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Live: Trump, Biden debate in final face-off of 2020 presidential election and Political Campaign Debate in the Nineteenth Century

 Watch live on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. ET: President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden face off in a debate moderated by NBC News' Kristen Welker.


Political Campaign Debate in the Nineteenth Century

  • Author Jack Sterling

By the middle of the nineteenth century, slavery was emerging as an issue of increasing political campaign focus. The question about whether or not it should be permitted was nothing new to political debate, but, by the mid-1800s more and more focus was placed on how to respond to the issue.

For the political campaign of 1840, in which Martin Van Buren was defeated in his bid for reelection, a group of abolitionists formed their own political party--the Liberty Party--and nominated their own candidate for president.

Although their bid for the presidency was unsuccessful, it was a sign that this was becoming an issue that presidential candidates would have to address. That issue would be particularly disastrous for the Democratic Party.

From 1841 to 1845, the Whigs occupied the White House. William Henry Harrison served as president only a month before dying of pneumonia. He was the first president to die in office. John Tyler, the vice president, became president. The former Democrat struggled to work with the Whig Congress members; their disgust with his policies became so strong that the Whigs ultimately decided to expel Tyler from their political party. An impeachment resolution was introduced into the House of Representatives, but it failed to pass.

When the Democratic political campaign convention was again held in Baltimore, President Tyler sent representatives to suggest that he should be nominated by the Democrats. Martin Van Buren also sought the nomination, but his outspoken position on whether or not Texas would be annexed (forcibly added) by the United States (he was opposed, fearing it would spark a war with Mexico) caused him to lose support of most delegates.

Following a financial crisis during the presidency of Martin Van Buren, the Whig Party (his fierce opponents) were quick to seize on the opportunity for the upcoming political campaign. They labeled the president "Martin Van Ruin" and selected William Henry Harrison as their candidate in the 1840 presidential campaign.

The Whigs skillfully presented Harrison as a candidate similar to Andrew Jackson--a military hero who had defeated the British at the Battle of the Thames. Harrison was given the nickname "Old Tippecanoe" and was presented as another self-made candidate of humble beginnings, with images of a log cabin often appearing on posters that advertised his candidacy.

There was little truth in this political campaign image making. Harrison was the son of an aristocratic Virginia family and had lived on an impressive estate in the Ohio countryside. In fact, Van Buren's childhood had been far more humble than Harrison's. Nonetheless, Van Buren was depicted by the Whigs as a polished, elegantly dressed politician and contrasted with their candidate who, they claimed, liked nothing more than a swig of hard cider from a jug.

Political campaign speakers suggested to voters that the choice was "between the log cabin and the palace, between hard cider and champagne." Harrison's running mate was John Tyler of Virginia, who had been a Democrat but left the party after disagreeing with many of Jackson's policies.

The Democratic political campaign convention was held in Baltimore in May of 1840. It was at this convention that the party's name was officially changed from the Democratic-Republican Party to the Democratic Party. The party nominated Van Buren but did not name a vice-presidential candidate.

The Whigs proved their mastery of the political campaign, using the symbols of the log cabin and cider jugs to promote their candidate and transform the election into entertainment. Nearly 80 percent of all those eligible to vote did so in the election. Van Buren lost. The era of Jacksonian democracy had come to an end.


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