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United States presidential election, 1844

United States presidential election, 1844

November 1 – December 4, 1844

All 275 electoral votes of the Electoral College
138 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout 78.9%[1]
Nominee James K. Polk Henry Clay
Party Democratic Whig
Home state Tennessee Kentucky
Running mate George M. Dallas Theodore Frelinghuysen
Electoral vote 170 105
States carried 15 11
Popular vote 1,339,494 1,300,004
Percentage 49.5% 48.1%

Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Polk/Dallas, Orange denotes those won by Clay/Frelinghuysen. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

President before election

John Tyler

Elected President

James K. Polk

The United States presidential election of 1844 was the 15th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, November 1, to Wednesday, December 4, 1844. Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in a close contest that turned on the controversial issue of slavery expansion through the annexation of the Republic of Texas.[2][3][4]

The general election of 1844 took place in the midst of increasingly bitter congressional disputes over anti-slavery agitation, raising questions as to whether free-soil and slave-soil interests could coexist within a democratic republic.[5] The campaign themes arose in direct response to incumbent President John Tyler's pursuit of Texas annexation as a slave state so as to undermine the unity of the Whig and Democratic parties in his bid to retain the White House.[6]

The Whig Party nominee Henry Clay adopted an anti-annexation platform on the principle of preserving North-South sectional unity and to avoid war by respecting Mexico's claims to Texas.[7][8] Clay's attempts to finesse his anti-annexation position on Texas alienated many voters in the South and West where annexation support was strongest[9] while some Northern Whigs in swing states shifted support to the anti-slavery Liberty Party.[10]

Democrat Martin Van Buren, his party's presumptive presidential contender, was ousted at the Democratic National Convention, failing to meet the demands of southern Democrat expansionists for a leader favoring the immediate acquisition of Texas.[11]

Democrat James K. Polk emerged as America's first dark horse nominee[12] running on a platform that embraced America's popular commitment to territorial expansionism, referred to as Manifest Destiny.[13] Polk successfully linked the US-British boundary dispute over the partition of Oregon Territory, with the divisive Texas annexation debate. In doing so, the Democratic Party nominee united the anti-slavery Northern expansionists, who demanded Oregon as free-soil, with pro-slavery Southern expansionists, who insisted on acquiring Texas as a slave state. In doing so, Polk narrowly outpolled the Whig Party nominee Clay by thirty-eight thousand votes.[14] [15]

Party alliances were shaken by the Texas Controversy, but partisan loyalties among Congressional Democrats were rallied sufficiently in the aftermath of Polk's victory to pass a joint House-Senate resolution on Texas annexation.[16] Texas would enter the Union as the 28th state in 1846.[17]

This was the last presidential election to be held on different days in different states. Starting with the presidential election of 1848, all states held the election on the same date in November. It is also the only presidential election in which the winner, Polk, lost both his birth state of North Carolina and his state of residence, Tennessee, which he lost by only 123 votes.


  • Background 1
    • Gag Rule and Texas annexation controversies 1.1
    • Tyler-Texas Treaty 1.2
  • Nominations 2
    • Whig Party convention and campaign 2.1
      • Henry Clay's Alabama letter 2.1.1
    • Whig Party campaign tactics 2.2
    • Democratic Party campaign 2.3
      • Van Buren's Hammet letter 2.3.1
      • Andrew Jackson 2.3.2
    • Democratic Party convention 2.4
      • James K. Polk: Dark horse 2.4.1
    • Democratic Party campaign tactics 2.5
    • Senate vote on the Tyler-Texas Treaty 2.6
    • National Democratic-Republican Party campaign and convention 2.7
      • "Tyler and Texas" 2.7.1
    • Other nominations 2.8
  • Election results 3
  • Results by state 4
  • Electoral College selection 5
  • Consequences 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
    • Cited in footnotes 9.1
  • Other sources 10
  • External links 11
  • Navigation 12


Gag Rule and Texas annexation controversies

Whigs and Democrats embarked upon their campaigns during the climax of the congressional

  • Brown, Richard H. 1966. The Missouri Crisis, Slavery, and the Politics of Jacksonianism. South Atlantic Quarterly. pp. 55–72 in Essays on Jacksonian America, Ed. Frank Otto Gatell. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. New York . 1970.
  • Crapol, Edward P. 2006. John Tyler: the accidental president. The University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill. ISBN 978-0-8078-3041-3
  • Finkelman, Paul. 2011. Millard Fillmore. New York: Times Books
  • Freeling, William W. 1991. The Road to Disunion: Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854. Oxford University Press. 1991. ISBN 978-0-19-507259-4.
  • Henderson, Timothy S. 2007. A Glorious Defeat” Mexico and its war with the United States. Hill and Wang, New York. ISBN 978-0-8090-6120-4
  • Holt, Michael F. 2005. The fate of their country: politicians, slavery extension, and the coming of the Civil War. New York: Hill and Wang.
  • May, Gary. 2008. John Tyler. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt and Co.
  • Merk, Frederick. 1978. History of the Westward Movement. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. ISBN 978-0-394-41175-0
  • Meacham, Jon. 2008. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Random House, New York.
  • Miller, William Lee. 1996. Arguing about slavery: the great battle in the United States Congress. New York : A.A. Knopf, 1996.
  • Widmer, Edward L. 2005. Martin Van Buren. New York: Times Books
  • Wilentz, Sean. 2008. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. W.W. Horton and Company. New York.

Other sources

  • Chitwood, Oliver Perry (1939). John Tyler, Champion of the Old South. 
  • Harris, J. George (1990). Wayne Cutler (ed.), ed. Polk's Campaign Biography. University of Tennessee Press. 
  • Holt, Michael F. (1999). The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. Oxford University Press.  
  • McCormac, Eugene I. (1922). James K. Polk: A Political Biography. 
  • Paul, James C. N. (1951). Rift in the Democracy. 
  • Remini, Robert V. (1991). Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. 
  • Sellers, Charles Grier, Jr. (1966). James K. Polk, Continentalist, 1843–1846. vol 2 of biography. 
  • Wilentz, Sean (2005). "Divided Democrats and the Election of 1844". The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. pp. 566–575.  
Web sites
  • "A Historical Analysis of the Electoral College". The Green Papers. Retrieved September 17, 2005. 
  • "Ohio History Central". Ohio History Central Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 8, 2006. 

External links

  • Presidential Election of 1844: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
  • 1844 popular vote by counties
  • Overview of Democratic National Convention 1844
  • How close was the 1844 election?, Michael Sheppard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Cited in footnotes


  1. ^ "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections". The American Presidency Project.  
  2. ^ Miller, 1998, p. 481 " southern Democrats [would] aggressively inject slavery into politics by their [1844] campaign for Texas."
  3. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 559:"Texas annexation [became] the overriding issue in the fight for the Democratic nomination."
  4. ^ Finkelman, 2011, p. 26: "James K. Polk's victory over Henry Clay in 1844 was directly tied to the Texas annexation question."
  5. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 558: “Agitation over slavery, on both sides, was [by the early 1840s] fair play [and as] never before, anti-slavery radicals had successfully mobilized the principles of majoritarian democracy and many of its techniques – campaign newspapers, conventions, the entire machinery of popular electioneering – while attacking the great compromise over slavery on which the Democrats and Whigs based their survival.”
  6. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 567: Tyler's Secretary of State, John C. Calhoun, "...managed, in a presidential election, to polarize national politics along sectional lines" by pursuing Texas annexation.
    May 2008, p. 100: "Tyler planned to outflank the Whigs by gaining support from the Democratic Party or possibly creating a new party..." p. 119-120: "On May 27, 1844, Tyler's so-called Democratic-Republican Party...held its first (and last) presidential convention in an attempt to outflank the major Whig and Democratic Parties."
    Holt, 2005, p. 10: "...desirous of foiling his acerbic Whig antagonists...Tyler hit upon the annexation of Texas as an issue on which he might win the presidency in 1844."
    Wilentz, 2008, p. 559:"Tyler, in league with Secretaries of State Upshur and Calhoun moved "aggressively to promote the annexation of Texas, a polarizing policy the president hoped might revise his own fading political hopes."
    Merry, 2009, p. 67 Tyler “by introducing the powerful Texas issue into American politics could ride the resulting political wave and win a presidential term in his own right.”
  7. ^ Holt, 2005 p. 10: Clay attacked Tyler's annexation treaty because it would "erode the sectional comity on which the Union was based..." and "would inevitably produce a war with Mexico."
  8. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 427: Clay was committed to "opposing the Calhoun-Tyler [Texas] treaty" and would only consider annexation with "no hazard of war" and "general concurrence" among Americans.
  9. ^ Finkelman, 2011m p. 26: Deviating slightly form his opposition to annexation "cost [Clay] votes in the South and West, where support for annexation was strong."
  10. ^ Finkelman, 2011, p. 22: Clay "waffled" on Texas annexation" and "Had the Liberty [Party] voters supported Clay, he would have won New York [state] and the election."
  11. ^ Freeling, 1991, p. 429: "Could the black-belt South nullify Van Buren's national majority in the party? The answer was [yes].
    Widmer,2005 p. 149: "...a great [Democratic Party] North-South alliance rose up as one against [Van Buren]" and "laid the groundwork for a palace revolt" at the convention.
  12. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 150 "...the original 'dark horse' candidate."
  13. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 572: "Polk stood for the [Texas] annexation as an opportunity to expand not slavery but freedom of American democratic instututions..."
    Brown, 1966, p. 33: "After 1844 the party of the Jeffersonian formula sustained itself in the face of the slavery issue by giving vent to its expansionist tendencies..."
    Widmer, 2005, p. 148: "Yet expansion was enormously popular among a people straining for was the catnip of the 1840s, perfectly captured by the electric phrase "Manifest Destiny".
  14. ^ Henderson, 2007, p.139: “After a bitter campaign, Polk won the presidency by a scant thirty-eight thousand votes.”
  15. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 571: "Above all, the [Democratic] party's aggressively pro-annexationist platform pressed not only for the annexation of Texas, but for a favorable settlement of outstanding disputes over the Oregon [Territory] border as well."
  16. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 576: "On February 27, 1845, the Senate voted to admit Texas...upon party lines. The next day on even stricter party lines, the House added assent..."
  17. ^ Merk, 1978, p. 308
  18. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 352: "The Gag Rule Controversy had sketched the battle lines" in the approaching crisis over slavery expansion in America and "hardened contestants for the worse crisis looming over expansion in America – and slavery – in the Southwest [i.e. Texas."
    Wilentz, 2008, p. 558: With "the repeal of the gage rule, the conflict" – i.e. whether American republicanism could tolerate American slavery – "moved closer to becoming a permanent issue in national politics."
  19. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 410: "Artificially segregating Whigs' response to gag and Texas crises...hinders awareness that the two issues came to a climax at the same time. The same Congress of 1844-45 which abolished the gag rule admitted Texas."
  20. ^ May 2008, p. 97: "...eight [northern] state legislatures sent Congress petitions warning against [Texas annexation]."
  21. ^ Miller, 1998, p. 285: "There had already been...resolutions by state legislatures that were summarily dimissed on the subject of Texas [annexation'."
  22. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 558: The Gag Rule debates caused "the heightening of sectional tensions in Congress [making] it imperative that [Whigs] find some compromise middle ground in the 1844 campaign...The same was true for Democrats..." Due to the Gag Rule controversies, "Agitation over slavery on both sides was now fair play" and the question arose: "Could American democracy coexist with American slavery?"
  23. ^ Miller, 1998, p. 285: "[I]f the annexation of Texas were to be discussed on the House floor it would certainly lead to a discussion of slavery – exactly the subject slaveholding congressmen wanted to avoid."
  24. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 15: In the early 1840s "it had become clear that an apocalyptic battle was looming between... Union and Slavery..."
  25. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 561: "Texas annexation had long been a taboo subject for Whigs and Democrats alike."
  26. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 560: Jackson was "happy to recognize the new Texas republic but refused to annex it because it could well lead to war with Mexico." An event "both Jackson and Van Buren wanted to avoid
  27. ^ Meacham, 2008 p. 324: "Stephen Austin implored Jackson to militarily support Texas independence 1836. The president commented: "[Austin] does not reflect that we have a treaty with Mexico and our national faith is pledged to support it."
  28. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 148: "There were a number of very good reasons to oppose taking Texas..."
  29. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 560: "...both Jackson and Van Buren would avoid...war with Mexico."
    Freehling, 1991, p. 367: "Jackson was a partisan of annexation...but...delayed..."
    May, 2008, p. 97: "As much as [US President] Jackson wanted Texas, he would not pay the price of a war abroad or at home."
  30. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 367-368: During his presidency, Van Buren considered Texas annexation "potentially poisonous to American Union..."
  31. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 28: "Never truly a Whig, Tyler opposed almost every policy the party stood for."
  32. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 10: Tyler was "...deeply devoted to the perpetuation of slavery..."
  33. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 410: "...Northern Whigs had warned that Texas would be the Slavepower's next outsized demand after the gag rule...Whigs Northern and Southern had loathed Tyler as a slayer of their popular mandate."
  34. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 10: In response to Tyler's vetoes "Whig congressmen and most state Whig organizations formally read Tyler out of the Whig Party."
  35. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 364: Tyler was "almost unnanimously excommunicated...from the [Whig] party."
  36. ^ Merry, 2009, p. 67 “[Tyler], refusing to embrace the Whig agenda…had essentially become a president without a party, and a president without a party couldn’t govern effectively.”
    Finkelman. 2011, p. 28: "The knowledge that he would never gain the Whig presidential nomination liberated Tyler to move forward on annexation..."
  37. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 355-356: "Tyler and his southern advisors "were composed of a few states' rights Whigs and fewer disgruntled Democrats...These alarmists controlled the presidency. They dominated nothing else."
  38. ^ Freehling, 1991, p.402: "Sam Houston's movement away from [annexation by] the United States left the American establishment [i.e. Whigs and Democrats] to avoid the problem. The Tyler administration had to [secure an annexation treaty with Texas] before debate could be compelled in America."
  39. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 10: "...Tyler hit upon the annexation of Texas as an issue on which he might win the presidency in 1844."
  40. ^ May 2008, p. 99: "Tyler desperately wanted to win election in 1844 and believed that acquiring Texas would earn him favor."
  41. ^ Finkelman, 2011, p. 30: "Some southerners argued that Britain would end slavery in Texas and this would lead to slaves fleeing [from US slave states] to the Republic of Texas. The predictions helped the lame-duck Tyler convince a lame-duck Congress to annex Texas."
  42. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 10: "England's repeated attempts to persuade authorities in the Republic of Texas to abolish slavery...influenced him [Tyler]" to seek annexation.
  43. ^ Finkelman, 2001, p. 28-29: " 1843 [Tyler] began secret negotiations with Texas."
  44. ^ May 2008, p. 112:"Tyler's furtive negotiations with the Texans..." on the annexation treaty.
  45. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 398: "On October 16 Upshur met with Texas Minister Van Zandt and urged immediate negotiations towards an annexation treaty."
  46. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 408: "On April 22, 1844, the Senate received the pre-treaty correspondence [and] the [Tyler] treaty..."
  47. ^ Finkelman, 2011, p. 29: "A treaty required a two-thirds majority [in the Senate] for ratification."
  48. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 407: "The new Secretary of State [Calhoun] reached Washington March 29, 1844."
  49. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 415: "...Calhoun could only begin to provoke a 'sense of crisis' with southern Democrats", and "The Packenham Letter could rally southern Democrats against the partys northern establishment..."
    May, 2008, p. 113: "The Packenham Letter proved the claims of anit-annexationists and abolitionists that the Texas question was only about slavery - its expansion and preservation - despite Tyler's protestations to the contrary."
  50. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 408: The Packenham Letter "declared the national [Texas] treaty a sectional weapon, designed to protect slavery's blessings from England's documented interference" and "aimed at driving southerners to see England's soft threat in a hard-headed way."
  51. ^ May 2008, p. 112-113: "Calhoun...insisted that the'peculiar institution' was, in fact, 'a political institution necessary to peace, safety and prosperity."
  52. ^ Freehling, 2008, p. 409-410: "Nothing would have made Northern Whigs tolerate the [Packenham] document, and Northern Democrats would have to be forced to swallow their distaste for the accord. Calhoun's scenario of rallying enough slaveholders to push enough Northern Democrats to stop evading the issue was exactly the way the election of 1844 and annexation aftermath transpired."
  53. ^ Miller, 1998, p. 284
  54. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 26: "James K. Polk's victory over Henry Clay in 1844 was directly tied to the Texas annexation question."
  55. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 424: Texas "was politically and economically sublime for slavery; and annexationists demanded the soil..."
  56. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 148: "Texas...forced all candidates to declare whether they were for or against annexation"
  57. ^ Wilentz, 2008: "Instantly, the letter became a public litmus test" for both national parties: "support Texas and it pro-slavery rationale and alienate the North, or oppose it and forever lose the South."
  58. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 10: "Clay had engineered the formation of the Whig Party in 1834..."
  59. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 569: The Whig convention "unanimously approved Clay's nomination"..."a thoroughly joyous and exciting affair."
  60. ^ Wilentz, 2008 ,p. 569: The Whig convention [of 1844] in Baltimore, which assembled on May 1..."
  61. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 18: "In Congress, the Whigs had blocked Texas annexation, with southern Whigs joining their northern colleagues...who opposed Texas annexation because of slavery."
  62. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 569: The Whig platform "did not even mention Texas..."
  63. ^ Finkelmn, 2011, p. 21: Whigs regarded the election as a "cakewalk", believing Clay would swamp Polk.
  64. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 360:"...Southern Whigs used the same electioneering hoopla in 1844..." as in 1840.
  65. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 18: "In the South, Whigs argued that annexation would harm slavery because a large migration to Texas would raise the price of slaves and lower price of land in the rest of the South."
  66. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 18: "Northern Whigs, joined by some northern Democrats, saw Texas as a great "Empire for Slavery".
  67. ^ Freeling, 1991, p. 427: The "so-called Raleigh letter of April 17, 1844."
  68. ^ Holt, 2005, p 10: Clay declared Texas annexation "fraught with danger to the nation" and would "erode national comity" and "produce a war with Mexico."
  69. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 427: "While Clay concurred with Van Buren on opposing the Calhoun-Tyler [Texas] treaty, the two opponents differed on post-treaty annexation policy."
    Finkelman, 2011, p. 26: "When the 1844 campaign began, Henry Clay was unalterably opposed to annexation."
  70. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 427: "Clay...would halt annexation unless Mexico assented. He would also deny Texas entrance in the Union, no matter whether Mexico agreed, should 'a considerable and respectable portion' of the American people "express 'decided opposition'"
  71. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 426-427: "Southern Whigs thus had to weigh the possibility that Texas might be abolitionized [by Great Britain] against the certainty that campaigning for [Texas] annexation would split their party."
  72. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 568-569: "The Texas issue struck [Clay] as a giant distraction from the real issues...internal improvements, the tariff and the rest of the American System..." and "ratified a four-part unity platform" based on the "American System."
  73. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 353, p. 355, p. 436
  74. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 22: "The Whigs wanted to talk about the tariff and currency, which were no longer exciting issues."
  75. ^ Finkelman, 2008, p. 21: " an avid colonizationist [Freylinghuysen's] conservative views on slavery made him acceptable to southerners, and at the convention, almost all southern delegates voted for him." And p. 19-20: "...he was clearly an opponest of the abolitionists."
  76. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 17, p. 21: Freylinghuysen "the perfect northerner to balance the somewhat sordid reputation of the slaveowning, dueling, hard-drinking Clay."
  77. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 569: Freylinghuysen served to "offset Clay's reputation for moral laxity..."
  78. ^ Finkelman. 2011, p. 22: The "less than snappy slogan..."
  79. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 435: "Even anti-slavery American should consent to annexation counseled Clay" because diffusion of slavery south into the tropics would "doom slavery in Texas."
  80. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 435: "Clay admitted he would be glad to see [Texas annexation], without dishonor, without war [and] with the common consent of the American people." And p. 436: "In September...he re-emphasised opposition to annexation..."
  81. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 435: "Northern Whigs, enraged by Clays' newly announced personal preference for Texas, accused Clay of waffling..."
  82. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 437: "In 1844, Whigs stood damned as soft on Texas, therefore soft on slavery."
  83. ^ Holt, 2008, p. 12-13: Fearing to be cast as "soft on slavery" (see Freehling, 1991, p. 437), "southern Whigs could be portrayed as even more ardent champions of slavery in the South than the southern Democrats. As would happen in the future, slavery extension became a political weapon [which] rival parties used to exploit for political reasons..."
  84. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 573
  85. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 7: "...Martin Van Buren took the lead in constructing the Democratic Party..."
  86. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 58: "[Van Buren's] vision was indispensable to the rise of the phenomenon we call Jacksonian Democracy."
  87. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 369: Van Buren "seemingly had the Democratic Party's nomination secured" and p. 411: "...cruising towards the nomination..."
  88. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 558: "By early 1844, Martin Van Buren and the Radical Democrats controlled the party's nominating machinery."
  89. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 558-559: "Calhoun's departure from the presidential race in January 1844 appeared to seal Van Buren's nomination" and "The key question" was whether "banking and internal improvement" would suffice as issues to heal party divisions.
  90. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 411 "...a southern roadblock..." to Van Buren's nomination.
  91. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 413: A test to determine "whether southern extremists could pressure moderate Southern Democrats to [in turn] pressure Northern Democrats" into voting for Texas annexation legislation.
    Merry, 2009, p. 787: Van Buren “faced considerable opposition within his own party” to any rejection of Texas annexation, “particularly from southern slaveholders and western entrepreneurs…Now the rupture of the party was unavoidable.”
  92. ^ Miller, 1998, p. 484: Italics in original
  93. ^ Crapol, 2006, p. 215: "The capacity crowd in the auditorium listened attentively as the eighty-three-year-old Gallatin spoke passionately against Texas annexation."
  94. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 412: Van Buren "filled his Hammet letter with conditions" obstructing the road to annexation "because Northern Whigs anti-annexationist fury made unconditional annexation too politically risky." p. 429 "Northern Whigs had, by [placating the] South, turned the southern minority into a national majority. Van Buren now urged that the northern majority must rule" the Democratic national party.
  95. ^ Widmer, 2005, p.149: Van Buren stated "in no uncertain terms he was opposed to Texas annexation...He did not foreclose on the future possibility...under the right circumstances..."
  96. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 413: "Van Buren...offered Southerners a delay [on annexation] that would be tolerable to the North."
  97. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 149: "Van Buren wrote out a reply on April 20 that reshaped the campaign..."
  98. ^ Freehling, 1991, p.412: Van Buren's letter "came fused with a pledge to administer annexation...assuming the American majority wanted to risk war", but "repudiated" altogether Tyler's Texas treaty.
  99. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 568: "...the letters thrust was strongly annexation" but he included "a vague concession to the South", whereby mass support for annexation – North and South – might open the door to Texas statehood.
  100. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 149: Van Buren "did not foreclose on the future possibility of accepting Texas under the right circumstances" including military means.
  101. ^ May 2008, p. 113: Van Buren agreed to "accept Texas annexation if it did not mean a war with Mexico, did not exacerbate sectional tensions, and had the clear support of the whole nation."
  102. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 427: "Clay, in contrast [to Van Buren] would halt annexation unless Mexico assented."
  103. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 428: "Van Buren thinking that delay [in annexation] was tolerable" to Southern Democrats..." "The more threatening foe might be President Tyler, who promoted [immediate annexation]." "[He] also miscalculated thinking that Southern Democrats most dangerous opponent was necessarily Clay, who admittedly offered less on annexation. The more threatening foe might be President Tyler, who offered far more [than Van Buren]"
  104. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 426: "Southern Democrats had long since discovered, particularly in gag rule politics, that enough Northern Democrats would probably cave in, however begrudgingly and resentfully, to southern demands."
  105. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 428: Van Buren's response to Calhoun's Packenham letter "produced a special fury when Southern Democrats scorned his clever stall .
  106. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 149: "Immediately after the publication of the Hammett Letter, southerners let loose a howl of 'fever and fury' and claimed that it proved he had never been one of them."
  107. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 428: Van Buren "was finished as a candidate in their section."
  108. ^ Brown, 1966, p. 33: "Ritchie and Van Buren, after nearly a quarter century of fruitful political teamwork, would part company..."
  109. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 415: Jackson's support for immediate Texas annexation "lent enormous credibility to Calhoun" after the issuance of the Packenham Letter.
  110. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 404: "Jackson would assure Texas President [Sam Houston] that...annexation could now become a reality." and p. 418: "that a treaty would be ratified."
  111. ^ Freehling,1991, p. 416, p. 417: "Jackson joined Calhoun and Tyler in seeing Texas's vulnerability as England's opportunity" and "if America rejected annexation" Great Britain would preside over the emancipation of Texas slavery and "soon English soldiers" would be occupying the western frontier.
  112. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 415: "Now the old general [Jackson] urged...his supporters to nominate someone other than Van Buren"because he had "failed to see the Texas situation as an immediate crisis."
  113. ^ Merry, 2009, p. 78: “Van Buren’s position within the Democratic Party was unraveling.”
  114. ^ Holt, 2008, p. 11: Van Buren's supporters "raged that Texas annexation had been used to derail Van Buren's nomination."
  115. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429: "Van Burenites would possess a simple majority for their man on the first presidential ballot" and demanded a 50% plus one vote system. And "The Democratic Convention of 1840 had been run on that principle"
  116. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 150: "Although they knew they were wounded [by the Hammett Letter] Van Buren's supporters still expected to prevail over a field of weaker candidates."
  117. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 151
  118. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429
  119. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429: "...Van Buren's original 146 delegates had dropped to 99, sufficient to prevent any other candidates' two-third majority."
  120. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 569-570: "The Hunker-backed presidential hopefuls had stayed the course – Lewis Cass, James Buchanan, and Levi Woodbury..." as part of the efforts to enforce the two-thirds rule.
  121. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 568: The Hammet Letter "was the most courageous act of his political career."
  122. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 429-430: "The party, in peril of dissolution...needed a new candidate acceptable to all factions."
  123. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 569: When the 2/3 rule was adopted "Van Buren's chances sharply dwindled."
  124. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 571-572: [Democrats] seem to have succumbed to Calhoun's plotting and, by rejecting Van Buren, capitulated to the pro-slavery South...the outcome was actually more complicated...To Democrats it was an effort to surmount sectionalism with democratic nationalist expansionism and to achieve equilibrium after what looked like the Calhounites' coup."
  125. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 430: "Young Hickory, as Polk was called...stood positioned as the southern annexationist best suited to heal party wounds by becoming Van Buren's vice-presidential nominee." "Van Burenites grumpily agreed that so acceptable" a running mate "could move up the ticket"and "Polk's...version of annexation was less obnoxious to the North."
  126. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 570: "On the eighth ballot...announced for a candidate new to field who had personal endorsement of Andrew Jackson."
  127. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 571: "Less well known to the electorate that either Van Buren or Clay - prompting Whigs to chant derisively,'Who is James K. Polk?' - he was well known in Washington as one of the most capable of the younger border-state Jacksonians..."
  128. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 563: "The name ascribed to and embraced" by advocates of Manifest Destiny "had been borrowed from the insurgent liberals...of Italy" and "there were, in time, many others in the international movement..."
  129. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 430: Polk "never linked bondage and slavery" and "was the first Southerner important in the Texas story to fit the Manifest Destiny label...He would propel democracy and enterprise forward by annexing both Texas and Oregon." and p. 437: Polk's "mentality"...enabled Democrats to claim, rightly, that their candidate was no Slavepower expansionist."
  130. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 430: Polk promised he "would propel democracy and enterprise forward by annexing both Texas and Oregon."
  131. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 430: Polk "the national imperialist who might diffuse the North's resentment of the Slavepower."
  132. ^ Freehling, 1991, p.431: "...Van Buren had promised to follow public orders on annexation." p. 439: "Martin Van Buren had promised to follow the election returns in formulating annexation policy."
  133. ^ Widmer, 2005, p. 157: Van Buren "worked hard to swing New York for Polk..."
  134. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 11: "Van Buren's disappointed followers loyally supported Polk's candidacy..."
  135. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 570: Wright declined: "To do otherwise...would have been a renumciation of both his personal loyalties and his highest principles (The convention settled on the conservative...George M. Dallas)."
  136. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 573
  137. ^ May 2008, p. 115: The US Senate "voted thirty-five to sixteen to defeat the treaty."
  138. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 431
  139. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 431: "...the Senate rejected the treaty by over two-thirds, 35-16, on June 8, 1844. Whigs voted 27-1 against ratification, Demorcrats 15-8 for approval. Northern Democrats barely managed a majority against the Slaverpower, 7-5, with one abstaining; Northern Whigs opposed annexation, 13-0. Southern Democrats affirmed the treaty, 10-1: Southern Whigs said no to Tyler, 14-1
  140. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 431: "...three days after the treaty was defeated...Tyler urged Congress to admit Texas by simple majorites" in each house.
  141. ^ Finkelman, 2011, p. 29: "...Tyler abandoned his strict constructionist constitutional scruples, which dictated that annexation was possible only by [a Senate approved] treaty."
  142. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 432: "The resulting bitter senatorial confrontation on Tyler's proposed evasion of the two-thirds roadblock was the first public congressional explossion over Texas, the treaty having [initially] been considered in secret session."
  143. ^ Crapol, p. 218; Seager, pp. 228–229.
  144. ^ May 2008, p. 113: "Tyler, all hope of success nearly gone, had only one option left – to launch his own party and attempt to act as spoiler in the November presidential contest."
  145. ^ May, 2008, p. 113: " Democratic-Republican Party; the name a tribute to [Tyler's] beloved Jefferson..."
  146. ^ May 2008, p. 114: Tyler "did not select a running mate."
  147. ^ May 2008, p. 119: "The more Tyler could challenge Polk's chances the more certain he was that Polk would deliver on annexation..."
  148. ^ May 2008, p. 119-120: "All that Polk needed was a mechanism that would allow Tyler to gracefully drop out of the race without reviving suspicions of a corrupt bargain."
  149. ^ May 2008, p. 120: "Tyler supporters easily switched their allegiance to Polk..."
  150. ^  .
  151. ^ Carthage Jail
  152. ^ Freehling, 1991, p.437- 438: "...Polk partisans called acquisition of Texas and Oregon not a southern but a western concern..." and "A presidential campaign for national imperialism divorced from a southern crusade for slavery..."
  153. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 438: "Throughout...Midwestern states, Democrats total popular vote rose 20% between 1840 and 1844, while Whigs rose only 4%"
  154. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 438: "In this northwest [region], Democratic campaigners truly were the Manifest Destiny spokesmen, unfortunately painted as everywhere, omnipresent in latter-day history textbooks." And p. 439: However, "...northern voters had nothing like demanded Manifest Destiny."
  155. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 438: "Clay lost every state in the Deep South...but manage to hang on to the five state Harrison had captured in the Border and Middle South."
  156. ^ Finkelman, 2011, p. 19: "The northern Democrats could on the explicitly anti-slavery Liberty Party to...possibly siphon off anti-slavery Whig votes."
  157. ^ Wilentz, 2008, p. 574: "Had only a modest proportion of the Liberty Party's New York vote...gone instead to the Whigs, Henry Clay would have been elected president."
  158. ^ Freehling, 1991, p. 438: "The shift of [either] of these states' 41 electoral votes would have transformed a 170-105 Polk Electoral victory into a 146-129 Clay triumph."
  159. ^ Holt, 2005, p. 11-12
  160. ^ Frelinghuysen's home state was apparently New York in 1844. See The Journal of the Senate for February 12, 1845. Also note that Frelinghuysen was President of New York University in 1844. There is some contradictory evidence in favor of a New Jersey residency: the National Archives gives his home state as New Jersey and the Journal of the Senate notes that Vermont's electors believed Frelinghuysen to be a New Jersey resident. Frelinghuysen was a New Jersey native and his political career had largely been conducted in New Jersey.


See also

Polk's election confirmed the American public's desire for westward expansion. The annexation of Texas was formalized on March 1, 1845, before Polk even took office. As feared, Mexico refused to accept the annexation and the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846. With Polk's main issue of Texas settled, instead of demanding all of Oregon, he compromised and the United States and United Kingdom negotiated the Buchanan-Pakenham Treaty, which divided up the Oregon Territory between the two countries.

Broadside announcing torchlight victory parade in Lancaster, Pennsylvania


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

Electoral College selection

James K. Polk
Henry Clay
James G. Birney
State Total
State electoral
# % electoral
# % electoral
# % electoral
Alabama 9 0001361837,401 58.99 9 0004866926,002 41.01 - no ballots 63,403 AL
Arkansas 3 9,546 63.01 3 5,604 36.99 - no ballots 15,150 AR
Connecticut 6 29,841 46.18 - 32,832 50.81 6 1,943 3.01 - 64,616 CT
Delaware 3 5,970 48.75 - 6,271 51.20 3 no ballots 12,247 DE
Georgia 10 44,147 51.19 10 42,100 48.81 - no ballots 86,247 GA
Illinois 9 58,795 53.91 9 45,854 42.05 - 3,469 3.18 - 109,057 IL
Indiana 12 70,181 50.07 12 67,867 48.42 - 2,106 1.50 - 140,154 IN
Kentucky 12 51,988 45.91 - 61,249 54.09 12 no ballots 116,865 KY
Louisiana 6 13,782 51.30 6 13,083 48.70 - no ballots 26,865 LA
Maine 9 45,719 53.83 9 34,378 40.48 - 4,836 5.69% - 84,933 ME
Maryland 8 32,706 47.61 - 35,984 52.39 8 no ballots 68,690 MD
Massachusetts 12 53,039 40.17 - 67,062 50.79 12 10,830 8.20 - 132,037 MA
Michigan 5 27,737 49.75 5 24,375 43.72 - 3,639 6.53 - 55,751 MI
Mississippi 6 25,846 57.43 6 19,158 42.57 - no ballots 45,004 MS
Missouri 7 41,322 56.98 7 31,200 43.02 - no ballots 72,522 MO
New Hampshire 6 27,160 55.22 6 17,866 36.32 - 4,161 8.46 - 49,187 NH
New Jersey 7 37,495 49.37 - 38,318 50.46 7 131 0.17 - 75,944 NJ
New York 36 237,588 48.90 36 232,482 47.85 - 15,812 3.25 - 485,882 NY
North Carolina 11 39,287 47.61 - 43,232 52.39 11 no ballots 82,521 NC
Ohio 23 149,061 47.74 - 155,113 49.68 23 8,050 2.58 - 312,224 OH
Pennsylvania 26 167,447 50.50 26 161,125 48.59 - 3,000 0.90 - 331,572 PA
Rhode Island 4 4,867 39.58 - 7,322 59.55 4 107 0.87 - 12,296 RI
South Carolina 9 no popular vote 9 no popular vote no popular vote - SC
Tennessee 13 59,917 49.95 - 60,040 50.05 13 no ballots 119,957 TN
Vermont 6 18,049 36.96 - 26,780 54.84 6 3,970 8.13 - 48,829 VT
Virginia 17 50,679 53.05 17 44,860 46.95 - no ballots 95,539 VA
TOTALS: 275 1,339,570 49.54 170 1,300,157 48.09 105 62,054 2.30 - 2,703,864 US
TO WIN: 138

Results by state

Electoral vote
Popular vote

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

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1844 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).

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a) Electoral
Running mate
Count Pct Vice-presidential candidate Home state Elect. vote
James K. Polk Democratic Tennessee 1,339,494 49.5% 170 George M. Dallas Pennsylvania 170
Henry Clay Whig Kentucky 1,300,004 48.1% 105 Theodore Frelinghuysen New York[160] 105
James G. Birney Liberty Michigan 62,103 2.3% 0 Thomas Morris Ohio 0
Other 2,058 0.1% Other
Total 2,703,659 100% 275 275
Needed to win 138 138

Clay's "waffling" on Texas may have cost him the 41 electoral votes in both New York and Michigan. Here, the former slaveholder, now abolitionist, James G. Birney of the Liberty Party, received 15, 812 and 3,632, respectively, on the basis of his unwavering stand against Texas annexation. Polk won by a mere 5,106 out of 470,062 cast in New York, and only 3,422 out of 52,096 votes in Michigan.[156] Had either of these voting blocks cast their ballots for the anti-annexationist Clay, he would have defeated Polk.[157][158] Despite this, Clay's opposition to annexation and western slavery expansion served him well among Northern Whigs and nearly secured him the election.[159]

In the Deep South, Clay lost every state to Polk, a huge reversal from the 1840 race – but carried most of the Middle and Border South.[155]

The Democrats won Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, and nearly took Ohio, where Manifest Destiny was strongest.[154]

Polk's adoption of Manifest Destiny paid dividends at the polls. No longer identified with the Tyler-Calhoun "southern crusade for slavery", the western Democrats could embrace Texas annexation.[152] The Democrats enjoyed a huge upsurge in voter turnout – up to 20% - over the figures from 1840, especially in the Northwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. The Whigs showed only a 4% increase.[153]

Election results

Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage of the winning candidate in each county. Shades of blue are for Polk (Democratic), and shades of yellow are for Clay (Whig).

Joseph Smith, Jr., mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, and founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, ran as an independent. He proposed the redemption of slaves by selling public lands and decreasing the size and salary of the United States Congress; the closure of prisons; the annexation of Texas, Oregon, and parts of Canada; the securing of international rights on high seas; free trade; and the re-establishment of a national bank.[150] The campaign ended when he was attacked and killed while in the Carthage, IL jail on June 27, 1844.[151]

James Birney ran as the anti-slavery Liberty Party candidate, garnering 2.3% of the popular vote, and over 8% of the vote in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The votes he won were more than the difference in votes between Henry Clay and James K. Polk; some scholars have argued that Birney's support among anti-slavery Whigs in New York swung that decisive state in favor of Polk (see below).

Other nominations

Polk was receptive as long as Tyler could withdraw without raising suspicion of a secret bargain.[148] To solidify Tyler's cooperation, Polk enlisted Andrew Jackson to reassure Tyler that Texas annexation would be consummated under a Polk administration. On August 20, 1844, Tyler dropped out of the presidential race; Tylerites moved quickly to support the Democratic Party nominee.[149]

Democratic Party nominee James K. Polk was faced with the possibility that a Tyler ticket might shift votes away from the Democrats and provide Whig Henry Clay with the margin of victory in a close race. Tyler made clear in his convention acceptance speech that his overriding concern was the ratification of his Texas annexation treaty. Moreover, he hinted that he would drop out of the race when that end was assured, informing Polk, through Senator Robert J. Walker, that his campaign efforts were simply a vehicle to mobilize support for Texas annexation.[147] Tyler concentrated his resources in the states of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, all highly contested states in the election. Securing enough Democratic support, his withdrawal might prove indispensable to Polk.

When the Senate closed session debates on the Tyler-Texas treaty were leaked to the public on April 27, 1844, Tyler's only hope of success in influencing passage of the his treaty was to intervene directly as candidate in the 1844 election as Kingmaker.[144] His "Democratic-Republican Party" – a recycling of Thomas Jefferson's party name[145] – held its convention on May 27, 1844 in Baltimore, Maryland, a short distance from the unfolding Democratic Party convention that would select James K. Polk as nominee. Tyler was nominated the same day without challenge, accepting the honor on May 30, 1844. He designated no vice-president as running mate.[146]

Incumbent President John Tyler, Democratic-Republican Party presidential nominee

"Tyler and Texas"

National Democratic-Republican Party campaign and convention

Tyler and Calhoun, formerly staunch supporters of minority safeguards based on the supermajority requirements for national legislation, now altered their position to facilitate passage of the Tyler treaty.[141] Tyler's attempt to evade the Senate vote launched a spirited Congressional debate.[142]

Three days later, Tyler and his supporters in Congress began exploring means to bypass the supermajority requirement for Senate treaty approval. Substituting the constitutional protocols for admitting regions of the United States into the Union as states, Tyler proposed that alternative, yet constitutional, means be used to bring the Republic of Texas – a foreign country – into the Union.[140]

The Tyler-Texas annexation treaty, submitted to the Senate in April 1844, was defeated in the Whig controlled Senate, largely along partisan lines, 16 to 35 – a two-thirds majority against passage – on June 8, 1844.[137] Whigs voted 27-1 against the treaty: all northern Whig Senators voted nay, and fourteen of fifteen southern Whig Senators had joined them.[138] Democrats voted for the treaty 15-8, with a slight majority of Northern Democrats opposing. Southern Democrats affirmed the treaty 10-1, with only one slave state Senator, Thomas Hart Benton, voting against.[139]

Senate vote on the Tyler-Texas Treaty

Convention Vice Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2 3
Silas Wright 258 0 0
John Fairfield 0 107 30
Levi Woodbury 8 44 6
Lewis Cass 0 39 0
Richard M. Johnson 0 26 0
Charles Stewart 0 23 0
George M. Dallas 0 13 230
William L. Marcy 0 5 0
Abstaining 0 11 0
Convention Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Before shifts
After shifts
Martin Van Buren 146 127 121 111 103 101 99 104 0 0
Lewis Cass 83 94 92 105 107 116 123 114 29 0
Richard M. Johnson 24 33 38 32 29 23 21 0 0 0
John C. Calhoun 6 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
James Buchanan 4 9 11 17 26 25 22 0 0 0
Levi Woodbury 2 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Charles Stewart 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
James K. Polk 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 44 231 266
Abstaining 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 4 6 0
In the South, Democrats played racist politics and smeared Clay as a dark skin lover -loving abolitionist, while in the North, they defamed him as a debauched, dueling, gambling, womanizing, irreligious hypocrite whose reversal on the bank issue proved he had no principles. They also pitched their nominees to particular local followings, having Polk hint preposterously, in a letter to a Philadelphian, that he favored "reasonable" tariff protection for domestic manufactures, while they attacked the pious humanitarian Frelinghuysen as an anti-Catholic bigot and crypto-nativist enemy of the separation of church and state. To ensure the success of their southern strategy, the Democrats also muffled John Tyler.[136]

Historian Sean Wilentz describes some the Democrat campaign tactics:

Democratic Party campaign tactics

Grand National Democratic banner

[135] The anti-annexationist

James K. Polk, a slaveholder, never enunciated a slavery expansionist position with respect to Texas annexation, as had John C. Calhoun and the southern extremists.[129] As a national imperialist, he exhibited an unwavering support for Manifest Destiny, perceived as a non-sectional devotion to expansionism, whether slave-soil Texas or free-soil Oregon Territory.[130] Polk's political reputation was expected to diffuse northern Democratic resentment towards the Slavepower, while delivering Texas to the Deep South. On May 29, 1844, Polk was confirmed unanimously on the ninth ballot as the Democratic Party presidential nominee.[131] Van Buren complied with his party's decision to unite under a pro-annexation candidate, and worked to win New York state for Polk.[132][133][134]

Despite Whig efforts to cast Polk as an unknown – "Who is James K. Polk" they asked rhetorically – he was respected as an effective political operator.[127] His sobriquet "The Young Hickory" contained a dual reference, one to his mentor Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson, and one to the term Young America, a reference to an international movements struggling to establish republican forms of government and the overthrow of monarchies and ascribed to Manifest Destiny Democrats.[128]

Southern Democrats benefited from the Tyler-Calhoun machinations in eliminating Martin Van Buren as a presidential candidate, and clearing the way for the pro-annexation nationalist Polk.[124] On the eighth ballot, Polk was offered to the convention as an acceptable alternative for all Democratic factions at odds over the Texas annexation crisis. Despite Polk's fervent advocacy for annexation, he had remained loyal to Van Buren throughout the Texas controversy, and anti-annexationist Van Burenites were willing to accept Polk, with reservations, having already recognized him as a suitable vice-presidential choice to have complimented a Van Buren ticket.[125][126]

George M. Dallas, Democratic Party vice-presidential nominee
James K. Polk, Democratic Party "dark horse" nominee

James K. Polk: Dark horse

Support for Van Buren dwindled in subsequent ballots from 146 to 99, at which point Van Burenites were reduced to blocking nominations of numerous candidates, among them James Buchanan, Lewis Cass of Michigan, John C. Calhoun and Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire.[119][120] Southern intransigence had succeeded in eliminating Van Buren and his principled stand on Texas annexation.[121] If the Democratic Party was to avoid dissolution at a national level, an acceptable nominee, fully committed to immediate annexation would be required, yet capable of unifying the party in the general election.[122][123]

In 1840, the Democratic Party Convention had adopted a simple majority principle for nominee selection. Northern Democrat Van Burenites arrived at the convention on May 27, 1844 with the expectation that, possessing a majority of the delegates, they would quickly secure the candidacy for their man.[115][116] Early in proceedings, Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, in cooperation with Senator James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, called for the reinstatement of the traditional 1832 and 1834 convention rule requiring a two-thirds majority for nomination (the rule would remain in place until it was revoked by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936).[117] Following a historical pattern in which a minority faction of Northern Democrats delivered votes to produce southern wing victories for pro-slavery legislation, the Van Burenite delegates split over the pivotal vote. Fully one-third of the pro-Van Buren delegates (52 of 154) voted to reinstate the two-thirds rule, along with 90 of 104 anti-Van Buren delegates, producing a final vote of 148 to 116.[118] Van Buren supporters persisted in spite of this setback, garnering 146 votes for their candidate on the first ballot, a 55% simple majority, but short of the now required 177 votes. Middle and Deep South pro-annexationists opposed Van Buren 75 to 3, depriving northern anti-annexationists the 31 votes needed for victory.

Democratic candidates

Democratic Party convention

Texas was fracturing Van Buren's support among Democrats and would "derail" his bid for President of the United States[113][114]

The former military hero went further, urging all Jacksonian Democrats to block Martin Van Buren from the party ticket and seek a Democratic presidential candidate fully committed to the immediate annexation of Texas.[112] In doing so, Jackson abandoned the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian formula that had characterized his party since the 1820s which had required its Northern and Southern wings to compromise on constitutional slavery disputes.

Secretary of State John C. Calhoun, a political outsider like John Tyler, gained significant credibility when his former nemesis, ex-President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) publicly announced his support for immediate Texas annexation in May 1844.[109] "Old Hickory" had facilitated Tyler's Texas negotiations in February 1844 by reassuring President of the Texas Republic Sam Houston that the US Senate ratification of the Tyler treaty was likely.[110] As the Senate debated the Tyler treaty, Jackson declared that the popular support among Texans for annexation should be respected, and any delay would result in a British balkanized Texas Republic, promoting slave emancipation and posing a foreign military threat to the southwest United States.[111]

Andrew Jackson

The extent to which Southern Democrat support for Martin Van Buren had eroded over Texas annexation crisis became evident when Van Buren's southern counterpart in the rise of the Democratic Party, Thomas Ritchie of the Richmond Enquirer, terminated their 20-year political alliance in favor of immediate annexation.[107][108]

The Hammett Letter utterly failed to reassure Middle and Deep South extremists who had responded favorably to Calhoun's Pakenham Letter.[105][106] A minority phlanx of the southern Democrat leadership remained obdurate that Northern Democratic legislators would, when exposed to sufficient southern pressure, ignore their constituents opposition to slavery expansion and unite in support of Texas annexation.

With the publication of Clay's Raleigh Letter and Van Buren's Hammett Letter, Van Burenite Democrats hoped that their candidate's posture on Texas would leave southern pro-annexationists with exactly one choice for US president: Martin Van Buren. In this, they misapprehended the political situation.[103] Tyler and the southern pro-annexationists posed a potentially far greater threat then Clay, in that the Tyler-Calhoun treaty would put immense pressure on the northern Democrats to comply with southern Democrats demands for Texas.[104]

Van Buren realized that accommodating slavery expansionists in the South would open the Northern Democrats to withering charges of appeasement to the Slavepower from the strongly anti-annexation Northern Whigs and some Democrats.[94] He crafted an emphatically anti-Texas position that temporized with expansionist southern Democrats, laying out a highly conditional scenario that delayed Texas annexation indefinitely.[95][96] In the Hammett Letter, published April 27, 1844 (penned April 20),[97] he counseled his party to reject Texas under a Tyler administration. Furthermore, annexation of Texas as a territory would proceed, tentatively, under a Van Buren administration, only when the American public had been consulted on the matter and Mexico's cooperation had been pursued to avoid an unnecessary war.[98][99] A military option might be advanced if a groundswell of popular support arose for Texas, certified with a Congressional mandate.[100][101] In these respects, Martin Van Buren differed from Henry Clay, who would never tolerate annexation without Mexico's assent.[102]

Martin Van Buren summons spirits to divine the Democratic or Loco Foco prospects for election in 1844.
Martin Van Buren, Democratic Party Candidate
Anti-annexation poster, New York City, April 1844. Albert Gallatin (signature on poster), Thomas Jefferson's Sec. of Treasury (1801-1813) presided over the event.[93]

Van Buren's Hammet letter

Martin Van Buren, US President (1837-1841) and chief architect of the Jacksonian democracy[85][86] was presumptive Democratic presidential contender in the spring of 1844.[87][88] With Calhoun withdrawing his bid for the presidency in January 1844, the campaign was expected to focus on domestic issues. All this changed with the Tyler treaty.[89] Van Buren regarded the Tyler annexation measure as an attempt to sabotage his bid for the White House by exacerbating the already strained Democratic North-South alliance regarding slavery expansion.[90] Calhoun's Packenham Letter would serve to spur Democrats of the South to the task of forcing the Northern wing of the party to submit to Texas annexation,[91] despite the high risk of "aggressively injecting slavery into their political campaign over Texas."[92]

Democratic Party campaign

Convention vote
Presidential vote 1 Vice Presidential vote 1 2 3
Henry Clay 275 Theodore Frelinghuysen 101 118 154
John Davis 83 75 79
Millard Fillmore 53 51 40
John Sergeant 38 33 0
Abstaining 0 0 2
"The Whigs countered Democratic attacks by revving up the Log Cabin electioneering machinery and redeploying it on behalf of the man they now celebrated as 'Ol'Coon' Clay. They also attacked former House Speaker Polk as nobody who deep down was a dangerous Loco Foco radical...With greater success, the Whigs linked up with resurgent nativist anti-Catholic movement strongest in New York and Pennsylvannia, and planted stories that a president, Clay would tighten up immigration and naturalization laws. (Too late, Clay tried to distance himself from the nativists.)" "The Liberty Party added to the confusion...Clay became the object of nasty abolitionist attacks. One notorious handbill, widely reprinted, by an abolitionist minister Abel Brown, denounced Clay as a "Man Stealer, Slaveholder, and Murdurer," and accused him of "Selling Jesus Christ!" because he dealt in slaves. With the campaign to be decided at the electoral margins, Whig managers grew so concerned that, late in the campaign, they concocted a fraudulent letter that supposedly proved that James Birney was secretly working in league with the Democrats, and circulated it in New York and Ohio."[84]

Historian Sean Wilentz describes some the Whig campaign tactics:

Whig Party campaign tactics

Theodore Frelinghuysen, Whig vice-presidential nominee
Senator Henry Clay, Whig Party presidential nominee

Clay's central position, however, had not altered: no annexation without northern acquiescence. Clay's commitment brought Southern Whigs under extreme pressure in their home states and congressional districts, threatening to tarnish their "loyalty to slavery" credentials.[82][83]

On July 27, 1844, Henry Clay, in the midst of his campaign against James K. Polk, released a position statement, the so-called Alabama Letter. In it, he counseled his Whig constituency to regard Texas annexation and statehood as merely a short phase in the decline of slavery in the United States, rather than a long term advance for the Slavepower.[79] Clay qualified his stance on Texas annexation, declaring "no personal objection to the annexation" of the republic. He would move back to his original orientation in September 1844.[80] Northern Whigs expressed outrage at any détente with the Slavepower. Failing to evince single-mindedness, they accused him of eqivocating on Texas annexation.[81]

Henry Clay's Alabama letter

Whigs picked Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey – "the Christian Statesman" – as Clay's running mate. An advocate of colonization of emancipated slaves, he was acceptable to southern Whigs as an opponent of the abolitionists.[75] His pious reputation balanced Clay's image as a slave-holding, hard-drinking duelist.[76][77] Their party slogan was the bland "Hurray, Hurray, the Country's Risin' – Vote for Clay and Frelinghuysen!"[78]

The Whig party leadership was acutely aware that any proslavery legislation advanced by its southern wing would alienate its anti-slavery northern wing and cripple the party in the general election.[71] In order to preserve their party, Whigs would need to stand squarely against acquiring a new slave state. As such, Whigs were content to restrict their 1844 campaign platform to less divisive issues such as internal improvements and national finance.[72][73][74]

Two weeks before the Whig convention in Baltimore, in reaction to Calhoun's Packenham Letter, Clay issued a document known as the Raleigh Letter (issued April 17, 1844)[67] presenting his views on Texas to his fellow southern Whigs.[68] In it, he flatly denounced the Tyler annexation bill and predicted that its passage would provoke a war with Mexico, whose government had never recognized Texas independence.[69] Clay underlined his position, warning that even with Mexico's consent, he would block annexation in the event that substantial sectional opposition existed anywhere in the United States.[70]

Southern Whigs feared that, with the acquisition of Texas' fertile lands would produce a huge market for slave labor, inflating the price of slaves and deflating land values in their home states.[65] Northern Whigs feared that Texas statehood would initiate the opening of a vast "Empire for Slavery".[66]

Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, effectively the leader of the Whig Party since its inception in 1834[58] was selected as the Whig presidential nominee at the party's convention in Baltimore, Maryland on May 1, 1844.[59][60] Clay, a slaveholder, presided over a party in which its Southern wing was sufficiently committed to the national platform to put partisan loyalties above slavery expansionist proposals that might undermine its North-South alliance.[61][62] Whigs felt confident that Clay could duplicate Harrison's landslide victory of 1840 against any opposition candidate.[63][64]

Grand National Whig banner
Political cartoon predicting Polk's defeat by Clay

Whig candidates

Whig Party convention and campaign


The 1844 presidential campaigns evolved within the context of this struggle over Texas annexation, explicitly tied to the question of slavery expansion and national security.[54][55] All candidates in 1844 presidential election had to declare a position on this explosive issue.[56][57]

Tyler submitted his Texas-US treaty for annexation to the US Senate, delivered April 22, 1844, where a two-thirds majority was required for ratification.[46][47] The newly appointed Secretary of State John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (assuming his post March 29, 1844)[48] included a document known as the Packenham Letter with the Tyler bill that was calculated to inject a sense of crisis in Southern Democrats of the Deep South.[49] In it, he characterized slavery as a social blessing and the acquisition of Texas as an emergency measure necessary to safeguard the "peculiar institution" in the United States.[50][51] In doing so, Tyler and Calhoun sought to unite the South in a crusade that would present the North with an ultimatum: support Texas annexation or lose the South.[52] Anti-slavery Whigs considered Texas annexation particularly egregious since Mexico had outlawed slavery in Coahuila y Tejas in 1829, before Texas independence had been declared. Historian William Lee Miller points out that "the significance of acquiring Texas – 'annexing' it now – became quite different after the Mexican government abolished slavery in 1829", after which "the expansionist impulse [included an] overt reference to slavery."[53]

Tyler became convinced that Great Britain had encouraged a Texas-Mexico rapprochement that might lead to slave emancipation in the Texas republic.[41][42] Accordingly, he directed Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur of Virginia to initiate, then relentlessly pursued, secret annexation talks[43][44] with Texas minister to the United States Isaac Van Zandt, beginning on October 16, 1843.[45]

The incumbent US President John Tyler of Virginia, formerly Vice-President, had ascended to the White House upon the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841. Tyler, a Whig in name only,[31] emerged as a states' rights advocate committed to slavery expansion in defiance to his party's principles.[32][33] Vetoing the Whig domestic legislative agenda, he was expelled from his own party on September 13, 1841.[34][35] Politically isolated but unencumbered by party restraints,[36] Tyler aligned himself with a small faction of Texas annexationists[37] in a bid for reelection in 1844.[38][39][40]

Tyler-Texas Treaty

In 1836, a portion of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas, declared its independence to form the Republic of Texas. Texans, mostly white immigrants from the Deep South, many of whom owned slaves, sought to bring their republic into the Union as a state. During the eight years since the Texas republic had declared its independence from Mexico, the subject of annexing Texas to the United States was shunned by both major American political parties.[25] Though recognizing Texas sovereignty, Presidents Andrew Jackson (1829 – 1837) and Martin Van Buren (1837 – 1841) would decline to pursue annexation.[26][27] The prospect of bringing another slave state into the Union was fraught with problems.[28] Both major parties – the Democrats and Whigs – viewed Texas statehood as "not worth a foreign war [with Mexico] or the "sectional combat" that annexation would provoke in the United States.[29][30]

[24][23] The question as to whether the institution of slavery and its aristocratic principles of social authority were compatible with democratic republicanism was becoming "a permanent issue in national politics".[22]

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