The enormous transformation of the United States after the War of 1812 and the religious revival movement known as the Second Great Awakening sparked a fervor for reform beginning in the 1830s. The “second political system,” made up of the Whig Party and the Jacksonian Democrats, emerged during the era and was characterized by strong party organizations, intense party loyalty, and religious and ethnic voting patterns.
II. Jacksonianism and Party Politics
A. Expanding Political Participation
By 1840, only 7 of 26 states retained property restrictions for voters.
By 1824, 18 out of 25 states chose presidential electors by popular vote.
B. Election of 1824
Popular participation in politics led to the demise of nominating the president by congressional caucus.
A supposed “corrupt bargain” led to the election of John Quincy Adams.
C. Election of 1828
Jackson, the first president from the West, gained his popularity from a lifetime of bold achievements.
The Democratic Party became the first well-organized national political party as a result of Jackson’s leadership in this election.
The Democrats enjoyed widespread support and fostered a Jeffersonian agrarian viewpoint. Fearing the concentration of economic and political power, the Democrats wanted to restore the independence of the individual by ending federal support of banks and corporations.
Jacksonians considered themselves reformers when they sought to limit the influence of government and promote individualism.
E. King Andrew
As president, Jackson strengthened the executive branch of government and made the veto an effective weapon against Congress.
III. Federalism at Issue: The Nullification and Bank Controversies
The South opposed the Tariff of 1828 and referred to it as the Tariff of Abominations. To defend their interests against the power of the federal government, South Carolina’s political leaders used the doctrine of nullification.
In 1830, Daniel Webster of New Hampshire debated Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina in the Senate on the issue of nullification.
B. The Force Bill
When South Carolina nullified the Tariff of 1832, Jackson responded by issuing the Nullification Proclamation and by having Congress issue the Force Act. He also recommended tariff reduction, which temporarily ended the crisis.
C. Second Bank of the United States
The rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States became the central issue in the 1832 election.
D. Political Violence
Political violence was common in this era. Elections often involved fraud, coercion, and intimidation. Riots left party members injured and even dead on occasion.
Opponents attacked the Masonic order as antidemocratic and antirepublican. Evangelicals labeled the order sacrilegious.
As Anti-masons gained wider support, they organized politically, introducing the nominating convention.
F. Election of 1832
Jackson denounced the Second Bank of the United States as undemocratic, and in 1832 he vetoed a bill to recharter the bank.
G. Jackson’s Second Term
Jackson tried to ensure that the national bank would never be rechartered, and he deposited federal funds in “pet” state banks. Land speculation, however, soon threatened the economy.
H. Specie Circular
Jackson’s “hard-money” policy that required payment in specie to buy federal lands failed to stop speculation.
IV. The Second Party System
A. Democrats and Whigs
The Whigs sought to re-charter the national bank, create an active federal government, and promote humanitarian and moral reform. Whig policies embodied the beliefs of many reform organizations, and the Whig Party became the vehicle of revivalist Protestantism.
In an effort to avoid answering abolitionist petitions, the House of Representatives passed the “gag rule,” which automatically tabled such petitions from 1836 to 1844.
B. Political Coalitions
The parties’ platforms attracted odd coalitions of voters. Democrats attracted yeoman farmers, wage earners, frontier slave owners, and immigrants. The Whigs attracted groups as diverse as black New Englanders and well-settled slave owners. These broad coalitions allowed for a wide spectrum of beliefs in each party, especially as it related to slavery.
C. Election of 1836
In 1836, Democrat Martin Van Buren, enjoying broad-based support, won the presidency. Van Buren managed to head off the as-yet unorganized Whig opposition, but Congress had to decide the vice-presidential race.
D. Van Buren and Hard Times
Just after the election of 1836, the American credit system collapsed. Van Buren’s hard money policies sent the economy spiraling downward.
E. William Henry Harrison and the Election of 1840
The Whig William Henry Harrison conducted a people’s crusade and presented himself as an ordinary farmer in his successful campaign for the presidency in 1840. He died within a month of taking office, however, and John Tyler became president.
V. Women’s Rights
A. Legal Rights
Women made some gains in property and spousal rights beginning in the 1830s.
B. Political Rights
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Mary Ann McClintock, Martha Wright, and Jane Hunt organized the Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in July 1848. They protested women’s legal disabilities and their social restrictions and issued the Declaration of Sentiments.
VI. The Politics of Territorial Expansion
A. President Tyler
Tyler opposed his own party’s congressional agenda. With the exception of Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Tyler’s entire cabinet resigned after the President’s second veto of a bill aimed a reviving the Bank of the United States.
B. Texas and Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny was the label given to the belief that American expansion westward and southward was inevitable, just, and divinely ordained. The desire for territorial expansion was furthered by the continuing American hunger for land, national pride, racism, and the desire to secure the nation from external threats.
C. Fifty-Four Forty Or Fight
Expansionists demanded the entire Oregon Country for the United States, up to the northernmost border of 54°40'.
D. Polk and the Election of 1844
Democrat James K. Polk won election over Henry Clay on a platform call for the occupation of the entire Oregon territory and the annexation of Texas.
E. Annexation of Texas
Texas was annexed by joint resolution of Congress in 1845.
VII. The War with Mexico and Its Consequences
The Oregon Treaty of 1846 established the northernmost boundary of the Oregon County at the 49th parallel.
B. “Mr. Polk’s War”
After failing in his attempt to buy land to the Pacific from Mexico, Polk waited for war. After Mexican cavalry struck against an American cavalry unit on the north side of the Rio Grande, Polk drafted a war message to Congress. Congress voted in favor of a declaration of war on May 13, 1846.
C. Foreign War and the Popular Imagination
There were public celebrations that accompanied the declaration of war. It was seen as a fulfillment of Anglo-Saxon-Christian destiny.
Due to steady progress on the part of American forces, and after a daring invasion at Vera Cruz that led to the capture of Mexico City, the United States was victorious.
E. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
A treaty with Mexico gave the United States possession of California and the New Mexico Territory and recognized the Rio Grande as the Texas border. The United States agreed to pay the claims of American citizens against Mexico and to give Mexico another $15 million.
There was sharp regional division concerning the war, with Southwesterners largely supporting the war and New Englanders opposing it. Whigs charged that it was an “unnecessary war” and that Polk had “usurped the power of Congress.” Abolitionists and some antislavery Whigs saw the war as a plot to extend slavery.
F. “Slave Power Conspiracy”
Many northerners opposed the Mexican War, insisting that its causes could be found in a slaveholding oligarchy who intended to ensure the institution of slavery.
G. Wilmot Proviso
Congressman David Wilmot proposed a bill that outlawed slavery in territories gained from Mexico, but his proposal failed in the Senate.
Southerners used the Fifth Amendment to justify their right to take their slaves into the territories.
The Proviso subsequently became a rallying cry for abolitionists.
Although most white northerners were not abolitionists, they wanted the West free of slavery and of blacks. Most white northerners believed that slavery in the western territories would destroy the ideal of free labor.
H. The Election of 1848 and Popular Sovereignty
Slavery in the territories emerged as the primary issue in the 1848 election. The Democrat Lewis Cass supported popular sovereignty, allowing Whig slaveholder Zachary Taylor to win the presidency with the southern vote.
VIII. 1850: Compromise or Armistice?
A. Debate Over Slavery in the Territories
California’s request to enter the Union as a free state sparked the first major political conflict following the Mexican War. When Henry Clay’s omnibus bill did not pass, Stephen Douglas introduced each measure separately. Douglas was able to gain a majority for each separate bill that made up the compromise, and the Compromise of 1850 became law.
B. Compromise of 1850
By the Compromise of 1850, California entered the Union as a free state; Texas gave up its boundary claims; the New Mexico and Utah territories were organized on the basis of popular sovereignty; the fugitive slave law was strengthened; and the slave trade was abolished in Washington, D.C.
The two basic flaws in the Compromise of 1850 were: (1) popular sovereignty in all its vagueness had been written into the act, and (2) the Fugitive Slave Act.
C. Fugitive Slave Act
An important facet of the compromise strengthened southerners’ ability to capture escaped slaves. Abolitionists sharply protested this law. Protests and violent resistance to slave catchers occurred in many northern towns from 1850 to 1854.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book enthralled northerners by painting a portrait of the suffering of slaves, a portrayal that appalled white southerners.
D. The Underground Railroad
Southerners were especially disturbed by the Underground Railroad.
E. Election of 1852 and the Collapse of Compromise
Franklin Pierce’s victory gave southerners hope because he believed that each section’s rights should be defended and because he supported the Fugitive Slave Act. Those same stands appalled many northerners. Pierce’s foreign policy decisions caused a further rift between southerners and northerners.
IX. Slavery Expansion and Collapse of the Party System
A. The Kansas-Nebraska Act
This bill, proposed by Stephen A. Douglas, exposed the complexity of popular sovereignty. By throwing open to slavery Louisiana Purchase territory north of 36˚ 30’, the bill in effect repealed the Missouri Compromise. Discord over the bill helped split the Whigs, and the party fell apart.
B. Birth of the Republican Party
The Kansas-Nebraska Bill encouraged antislavery Whigs and Democrats, Free-Soilers, and other reformers to form the Republican Party, which grew rapidly in the North. In the 1854 Congressional elections, Republicans captured a majority of northern House seats.
The American Party, called Know-Nothings, started as an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic party that exploited fears of foreigners.
D. Party Realignment and the Republicans’ Appeal
The Republicans, Democrats, and Know-Nothings all sought to attract former Whigs. The Republicans appealed to those voters interested in internal improvements, federal land grants, higher tariffs, and the economic development of the West.
E. Republican Ideology
To broaden their ideology beyond antislavery, the Republicans trumpeted “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men.”
F. Southern Democrats
Southern Democrats attracted slaveholders from among the former Whigs. The party used racial fears to keep the political alliance between yeomen and planters intact.
G. Bleeding Kansas
When the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed, thousands of proslavery and antislavery people poured into Kansas, leading to massive bloodshed in the territory.
Passions led to violence in the Senate in the form of the Sumner-Brooks affair (the caning of Senator Sumner).
H. Election of 1856
With southern support, James Buchanan was elected president in 1856.
X. Slavery and the Nation’s Future
A. Dred Scott Case
In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott was not a citizen of the United States or of Missouri; that residence in free territory did not make Scott free; and that Congress had no power to bar slavery in the territories.
The decision seemed to confirm northern fear of an aggressive Slave Power.
B. Abraham Lincoln on the Slave Power
Lincoln stressed that slavery in the territories affected all citizens of the United States because, if left unchecked, slavery would soon grow into a nationwide institution.
C. The Lecompton Constitution and Disharmony Among Democrats
Douglas’s stand against the Lecompton Constitution infuriated southern Democrats.
D. John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry
Hoping to bring about a slave rebellion, Brown led a band of men in an attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. This act struck fear into the South.