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United States presidential election, 1840

United States presidential election, 1840

October 30 – December 2, 1840

All 294 electoral votes of the Electoral College
148 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout 80.2%[1]
Nominee William H. Harrison Martin Van Buren
Party Whig Democratic
Home state Ohio New York
Running mate John Tyler none
Electoral vote 234 60
States carried 19 7
Popular vote 1,275,390 1,128,854
Percentage 52.9% 46.8%

Presidential election results map. Orange denotes states won by Harrison/Tyler, Blue denotes those won by Van Buren & one of his three running mates. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

President before election

Martin Van Buren

Elected President

William Henry Harrison

The United States presidential election of 1840 was the 14th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, October 30, to Wednesday, December 2, 1840. It saw President Martin Van Buren fight for re-election during a time of great economic depression against a Whig Party unified for the first time behind war hero William Henry Harrison and his "log cabin campaign". Rallying under the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", the Whigs easily defeated Van Buren.

This election was unique in that electors cast votes for four men who had been or would become President of the United States: current President Martin Van Buren; President-elect William Henry Harrison; Vice-President-elect John Tyler, who would succeed Harrison upon his death; and James K. Polk, who received one electoral vote for vice-president, and who would succeed Tyler in 1845. 42.4% of the voting age population voted for Harrison, the highest number in the history of the United States.[2]

The 68-year-old Harrison, the oldest President elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980, died little more than a month after his inauguration. The choice of Tyler for Vice President proved to be disastrous for the Whigs: while Tyler had been a staunch supporter of Clay at the convention, he was a former Democrat and a passionate supporter of states' rights who blocked the Whigs' political program in office.


Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates

Van Buren, the incumbent president, was re-nominated in Baltimore in May 1840. The party refused to re-nominate his sitting vice-president, Richard Mentor Johnson. In the electoral college, the Democratic vice-presidential votes were divided among Johnson, Littleton W. Tazewell, and James K. Polk.

Whig Party nomination

Whig candidates

For the first time in their history, the Whigs held a national convention to determine their presidential candidate. It opened in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on December 4, 1839, almost a full year before the general election. The three leading candidates were William Henry Harrison, a war hero and the most successful of Van Buren's opponents in the 1836 election, who had been campaigning for the Whig nomination ever since; General Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812 who had been active in skirmishes with the British in 1837 and 1838; and Henry Clay, the Whigs' congressional leader and former Speaker of the House.

Clay led on the first ballot, but circumstances conspired to deny him the nomination. First of all, the convention came on the heels of a string of Whig electoral losses. Harrison managed to distance himself from the losses, but Clay, as the party's philosophical leader, could not. Had the convention been held in the spring, when the economic downturn led to a string of Whig victories, Clay would have had much greater support. Secondly, the convention rules had been drawn up so that whoever won the majority of delegates from a given state would win all the votes from that state. This worked against Clay, who had solid majority support in almost all of the Southern delegations (with little potential for opponents to capitalize on a proportional distribution of delegates), and a large minority support in Northern delegations (with the potential for substantial proportional distributions in his favor eliminated). In addition, several Southern states whose Whig chapters supported Clay abstained from sending delegates to the convention. As a result, the nomination went to Harrison.

The state-by-state roll call was printed in the newspaper the Farmer's Cabinet on December 13, 1839:

Convention vote
Presidential vote 1 2 3 4 5 Vice Presidential Vote 1
William H. Harrison 94 94 91 91 148 John Tyler 231
Henry Clay 103 103 95 95 90 Abstaining 23
Winfield Scott 57 57 68 68 16

Because Harrison (born in Virginia) was considered a Northerner (as a resident of Ohio), the Whigs needed to balance the ticket with a Southerner. They also sought a Clay supporter to help unite the party. After being turned down by several Southern Clay supporters, the convention finally found a Southern nominee who had faithfully supported Clay throughout the convention and who would agree to run: former Senator John Tyler of Virginia, who had previously been the running-mate of Hugh Lawson White and Willie Person Mangum during the four-way Whig campaign at the previous election.

Anti-Masonic Party nomination

During the Van Buren administration, the Anti-Masonic Party had continued to disintegrate, as its leaders moved one by one to the Whig party. Party leaders met in September 1837 in Washington, D.C., and agreed to maintain the party. The third Anti-Masonic Party National Convention was held in Philadelphia in November 1838. The delegates voted to nominate William Henry Harrison for president and Daniel Webster for vice-president.

Convention vote
Presidential vote Vice Presidential vote
William Henry Harrison 119 Daniel Webster 119

General election


Caricature on the aftermath of the panic of 1837.

In the wake of the Panic of 1837, Van Buren was widely unpopular, and Harrison, following Andrew Jackson's strategy, ran as a war hero and man of the people while presenting Van Buren as a wealthy snob living in luxury at the public expense. Although Harrison was comfortably wealthy and well educated, his "log cabin" image caught fire, sweeping all sections of the country.

Harrison avoided campaigning on the issues, with his Whig Party attracting a broad coalition with few common ideals. The Whig strategy overall was to win the election by avoiding discussion of difficult national issues such as slavery or the national bank and concentrate instead on exploiting dissatisfaction over the failed policies of the Van Buren administration with colorful campaigning techniques.

Log cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison

Harrison was the first president to campaign actively for office. He did so with the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too". Tippecanoe referred to Harrison's military victory over a group of Shawnee Indians at a river in Indiana called Tippecanoe in 1811. For their part, Democrats laughed at Harrison for being too old for the presidency, and referred to him as "Granny", hinting that he was senile. Said one Democratic newspaper: "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."

Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage of the winning candidate in each county. Shades of yellow are for Harrison (Whig) and shades of blue are for Van Buren (Democrat).

Whigs took advantage of this quip and declared that Harrison was "the log cabin and hard cider candidate", a man of the common people from the rough-and-tumble West. They depicted Harrison's opponent, President Martin Van Buren, as a wealthy snob who was out of touch with the people. In fact, it was Harrison who came from a family of wealthy planters, while Van Buren's father was a tavernkeeper. Harrison however moved to the frontier and for years lived in a log cabin, while Van Buren had been a well-paid government official.

Nonetheless, the election was held during the worst economic depression in the nation's history, and voters blamed Van Buren, seeing him as unsympathetic to struggling citizens. Harrison campaigned vigorously and won.


Harrison won the support of western settlers and eastern bankers alike. The extent of Van Buren's unpopularity was evident in Harrison's victories in New York (the president's home state) and in Tennessee, where Andrew Jackson himself came out of retirement to stump for his former vice-president.

Few Americans were surprised when Van Buren lost by an electoral vote of 234 to 60. But many were amazed by the close popular vote. Of 2,400,000 votes cast, Van Buren lost by only 146,000. Given the circumstances, it is surprising that the Democrats did as well as they did.[3]

Of the 1,179 counties/independent cities making returns, Harrison won in 699 (59.29%) while Van Buren carried 477 (40.46%). Three counties (0.25%) in the South split evenly between Harrison and Van Buren.

Harrison's victory won him precious little time as chief executive of the United States. After giving the longest inauguration speech in U.S. history (about 1 hour, 45 minutes, in freezing cold weather), Harrison served only one month as president before dying of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a) Electoral
Running mate
Count Pct Vice-presidential candidate Home state Elect. vote
William Henry Harrison Whig Ohio 1,275,390 52.9% 234 John Tyler Virginia 234
Martin Van Buren Democratic New York 1,128,854 46.8% 60 Richard Mentor Johnson Kentucky 48
Littleton W. Tazewell Virginia 11
James Knox Polk Tennessee 1
James G. Birney Liberty New York 6,797 0.3% 0 Thomas Earle Pennsylvania 0
Other 767 0.0% Other
Total 2,411,808 100% 294 294
Needed to win 148 148

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1840 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 27, 2005). Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (July 31, 2005).

(a) The popular vote figures exclude South Carolina where the Electors were chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.

Popular vote
Van Buren
Electoral vote
Van Buren

Geography of results

Cartographic gallery

Results by state

William Henry Harrison
Martin Van Buren
James G. Birney
State Total
State electoral
# % electoral
# % electoral
# % electoral
Alabama 7 0001361828,515 45.62 - 0004866933,996 54.38 7 no ballots 62,511 AL
Arkansas 3 5,160 43.58 - 6,679 56.42 3 no ballots 11,839 AR
Connecticut 8 31,598 55.55 8 25,281 44.45 - no ballots 56,879 CT
Delaware 3 5,967 54.99 3 4,872 44.89 - no ballots 10,852 DE
Georgia 11 40,339 55.78 11 31,983 44.22 - no ballots 72,322 GA
Illinois 5 45,574 48.91 - 47,441 50.92 5 160 0.17 - 93,175 IL
Indiana 9 65,302 55.86 12 51,604 44.14 - no ballots 116,906 IN
Kentucky 15 58,488 64.20 15 32,616 35.80 - no ballots 116,865 KY
Louisiana 5 11,296 59.73 5 7,616 40.27 - no ballots 18,912 LA
Maine 10 46,612 50.23 10 46,190 49.77 - no ballots 92,802 ME
Maryland 10 33,528 53.83 10 28,752 46.17 - no ballots 62,280 MD
Massachusetts 14 72,852 57.44 14 52,355 41.28 - 1,618 1.28 - 126,825 MA
Michigan 3 22,933 51.71 3 21,096 47.57 - 321 0.72 - 44,350 MI
Mississippi 4 19,515 53.43 4 17,010 46.57 - no ballots 36,525 MS
Missouri 4 22,954 43.37 - 29,969 56.63 4 no ballots 52,923 MO
New Hampshire 7 26,310 43.88 - 32,774 54.66 7 872 1.45 - 59,956 NH
New Jersey 8 33,351 51.74 8 31,034 48.15 - 69 0.11 - 64,454 NJ
New York 42 226,001 51.18 42 212,733 48.18 - 2,809 0.64 - 441,543 NY
North Carolina 15 46,567 57.68 15 34,168 42.32 - no ballots 80,735 NC
Ohio 21 148,157 54.10 21 124,782 45.57 - 903 0.33 - 273,842 OH
Pennsylvania 30 144,010 50.00 30 143,676 49.88 - 340 0.12 - 288,026 PA
Rhode Island 4 5,278 61.22 4 3,301 38.29 - 42 0.49 - 8,621 RI
South Carolina 11 no popular vote no popular vote 11 no popular vote - SC
Tennessee 15 60,194 55.66 15 47,951 44.34 - no ballots 108,145 TN
Vermont 7 32,445 63.90 7 18,009 35.47 - 319 0.63 - 50,773 VT
Virginia 23 42,637 49.35 - 43,757 50.65 23 no ballots 86,394 VA
TOTALS: 294 1,275,583 52.87 234 1,129,645 46.82 60 7,453 0.31 - 2,412,694 US
TO WIN: 148

Campaign songs/slogans


"Tippecanoe and Tyler too"

First verse and chorus.

Problems playing this file? See .
All twelve verses.

Problems playing this file? See .

Van Buren

Rockabye, baby, Daddy's a Whig
When he comes home, hard cider he'll swig
When he has swug
He'll fall in a stu
And down will come Tyler and Tippecanoe.
Rockabye, baby, when you awake
You will discover Tip is a fake.
Far from the battle, war cry and drum
He sits in his cabin a'drinking bad rum.
Rockabye, baby, never you cry
You need not fear of Tip and his Ty.
What they would ruin, Van Buren will fix.
Van's a magician, they are but tricks.

Election paraphernalia

Electoral college selection

Method of choosing Electors State(s)
Each Elector appointed by state legislature South Carolina
Each Elector chosen by voters statewide (all other States)

In popular culture

In the film Amistad, Van Buren (played by Nigel Hawthorne) is seen campaigning for reelection. These scenes have been criticized for their historical inaccuracy.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Between 1828-1928: "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828 - 2008". The American Presidency Project.  
  2. ^ Between 1828-1928: "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828 - 2008". The American Presidency Project.  
  3. ^ Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (2006) 226
  4. ^ Boston Harrison Club. Harrison melodies: Original and selected. Boston: Weeks, Jordan and company, 1840. Google books
  5. ^ FONER, Eric. The Amistad Case in Fact and Film

Further reading

External links

  • Presidential Election of 1840: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
  • "The Campaign of 1840: William Henry Harrison and Tyler, Too" high school level lesson plans and documents
  • "Overview of Whig National Convention of 1839". Our Retrieved 2006. 
  • How close was the 1840 election? — Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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