The Election of 1836...

So what would it look like when a major political party nominates a political outsider and neophyte, with no experience? An individual who made his fortune from land holding, with a racially discriminatory bent, who had made their fame in recent years attacking Mexicans? A man whose crude temperament was not well suited to the office? One whom considered himself an outsider who resented party politics, calling out the “trading politicians… on both sides”? A man whom was ineffective at repairing a party rift, which caused the party to split into two camps, one along free market business ideals, centered on the north, and one on nativist lines, located in the south. Nativist lines stoked by a distrust of immigrants.

You have Zachary Talyor, the last man to be elected as President from the Whig party.

In 1848 the Whig party had been fractious. Though they had lost in 1836, they won the Presidency in both 1840. Granted their chosen candidate died in office exactly one month after taking office. Farewell William Henry Harrison, we hardly knew you. His Vice President, whom wound up serving the remainder, and by remainder I mean the whole hog, was expelled from the party in September, 6 months after taking office*. So in 1844 the party put forward Henry Clay. It was a tightly contested election, with a mere 38,179 votes separating Clay from the eventual winner, James Polk. The key issue? The annexation of Texas, and admittance as a slave state.

Anyhow, so in 1848 we have an election coming where the Whigs had controlled Congress for years, while the White House was controlled by the Democratic party President James K. Polk (a party which had its own infighting, leading to a situation very relevant to the coming election).

So in 1848, sensing an opening, the Whig party needed to find their man. Their party was having a hard time holding their business wing together with their nativist wing, and needed a way to unite the party. So they found a common cause, one hearkening back to their constant refrain, and founding creed. One that called for a rollback of executive power, and a nearly passive president who deferred to congressional leaders. A president not interested in the details of governance, so to speak.

They did this by picking an unlikely candidate. Zachary Taylor.

As mentioned Taylor was a wealthy man, one of the wealthiest of his day. He was a southern slave owner who had inherited properties across the south. He was also a war hero, having fought in the Mexican American war and won great renown in doing so. His victories, pushing deeper into Mexico, had garnered him quite a bit of popularity. In turn this served to increase his land holdings.

He was also largely apolitical, never having held any public office of note. He had to be coaxed into the role of candidate, which was not all that uncommon then. But he checked the most important box on their ticket, he promised to offer halfhearted compromises on the slave state question. Despite his own personal slave ownership Taylor was not committed to the expansion of slavery, and in fact he consistently put forward ideas intended to render the issue moot. Given that the party was on the verge of splitting on this question this was an important feature. Ameliorate southern Whigs who wanted to make new slave states, and northerners opposed to such expansion. Nominating a slave owner who was not in favor of admitting new slave states seemed to serve this purpose.

However the nomination of Taylor was not universally popular. Long time Whig leader and failed Presidential candidate, Mitt Rom… I mean Henry Clay: “The Whig party has been overthrown by a mere personal party, Can I say that in [Taylor’s] hands Whig measures will be safe and secure, when he refused to pledge himself to their support?" Taylor attempted to relieve the pressure through a series of ‘leaked’ letters championing his Whig bonafides.

Then we get to the actual election.

*The story of Tyler is fascinating in its own right. One I don’t know enough about to do justice. However what brought it about was a fight over a President who did not go along with a congress controlled by his party and vetoed banking and spending bills, was kicked out of the party, had partisan news sources calling for his assassination, and an obstructionist congress who denied any funding requests of the sitting president out of pure spite, allowing federal infrastructure to degrade.