Jackson’s political opponents, unit- ed by little more than a common opposition to him, eventually co- alesced into a common party called the Whigs, a British term signify- ing opposition to Jackson’s “monar- chial rule .” Although they organized soon after the election campaign of 1832, it was more than a decade be- fore they reconciled their differences and were able to draw up a platform . Largely through the magnetism of


Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, the Whigs’ most brilliant statesmen, the party solidified its membership . But in the 1836 election, the Whigs were still too divided to unite behind a single man . New York’s Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s vice president, won the contest .

An economic depression and the larger-than-life personality of his predecessor obscured Van Buren’s merits . His public acts aroused no enthusiasm, for he lacked the com- pelling qualities of leadership and the dramatic flair that had attended Jackson’s every move . The election of 1840 found the country afflicted with hard times and low wages — and the Democrats on the defensive .

The Whig candidate for presi- dent was William Henry Harrison of Ohio, vastly popular as a hero of conflicts with Native Americans and the War of 1812 . He was promoted, like Jackson, as a representative of the democratic West . His vice presi- dential candidate was John Tyler — a Virginian whose views on states’ rights and a low tariff were popular in the South . Harrison won a sweep- ing victory .

Within a month of his inaugu- ration, however, the 68-year-old Harrison died, and Tyler became president . Tyler’s beliefs differed sharply from those of Clay and Web- ster, still the most influential men in Congress . The result was an open break between the new president and the party that had elected him . The Tyler presidency would accomplish little other than to establish defini-

tively that, if a president died, the vice president would assume the of- fice with full powers for the balance of his term .

Americans found themselves di- vided in other, more complex ways . The large number of Catholic im- migrants in the first half of the 19th century, primarily Irish and Ger- man, triggered a backlash among native-born Protestant Americans . Immigrants brought strange new customs and religious practices to American shores . They competed with the native-born for jobs in cit- ies along the Eastern seaboard . The coming of universal white male suffrage in the 1820s and 1830s in- creased their political clout . Dis- placed patrician politicians blamed the immigrants for their fall from power . The Catholic Church’s failure to support the temperance move- ment gave rise to charges that Rome was trying to subvert the United States through alcohol .

The most important of the nativ- ist organizations that sprang up in this period was a secret society, the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, founded in 1849 . When its mem- bers refused to identify themselves, they were swiftly labeled the “Know- Nothings .” In a few years, they be- came a national organization with considerable political power .

The Know-Nothings advocated an extension in the period required for naturalized citizenship from five to 21 years . They sought to exclude the foreign-born and Catholics from public office . In 1855 they won con-




trol of legislatures in New York and Massachusetts; by then, about 90 U .S . congressmen were linked to the party . That was its high point . Soon after, the gathering crisis between North and South over the extension of slavery fatally divided the party, consuming it along with the old de- bates between Whigs and Demo- crats that had dominated American politics in the second quarter of the 19th century .

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