Whigs and Democrats

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After the debacle of the one-party presidential campaign of 1824, a new two-party system began to emerge. Strong public reaction to perceived corruption in the vote in the House of Representatives, as well as the popularity of Andrew Jackson, allowed Martin Van Buren to organize a Democratic Party that resurrected a Jeffersonian philosophy of minimalism in the federal government. This new party opposed the tendencies of National Republicans such as John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay to invest more power in the federal government. Van Buren built a political machine to support Jackson in the 1828 election. Van Buren’s skills helped give the Democrats a head start on modern-style campaigning and a clear advantage in organization. The Democrats defeated the National Republicans in 1828 and 1832. The Democrats maintained their hold on the presidency when they bested the Whigs—a union of former National Republicans, Antimasons, and some states’ rights advocates—in 1836. But a major economic depression in 1837 finally gave the Whigs their best chance to occupy the White House. They faced Andrew Jackson’s political organizer, vice-president, and handpicked successor, President Martin Van Buren, who was vying for a second term. By the time forces were readying themselves for the election of 1840, both Democrats and Whigs understood how to conduct effective campaigns. In an election that would turn out an astounding 80 percent of a greatly expanded electorate, the parties were learning to appeal to a wide range of voters in a variety of voting blocks, a vast change from the regionally based election of 1824.

The Democrat and Whig parties were practically the epitome of being opposites. The second political party system of America was not all that different from their predecessors, the Federalists and Republicans. That is not to say they did not have their similarities but the two are as different as night and day. Democrats were more farming oriented while the Whigs...
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