1814-1840 Chapter I THE WHIG PARTY AND ITS MISSION
WHIGS AND DEMOCRATS TILL
THE DOMINANCE OF THE SLAVERY CONTROVERSY.
THE WHIG PARTY AND ITS MISSION
The term "whig" is of Scotch origin. During the bloody conflict of the Covenanters with Charles II. nearly all the country people of Scotland sided against the king. As these peasants drove into Edinburgh to market, they were observed to make great use of the word "whiggam" in talking to their horses. Abbreviated to "whig," it speedily became, and has in England and Scotland ever since remained, a name for the opponents of royal power.
It was so employed in America in our Revolutionary days. Sinking out of hearing after Independence, it reappeared for fresh use when schism came in the overgrown Democratic Party.
The republican predominance after 1800, so complete, bidding so fair to be permanent, drew all the more fickle Federalists speedily to that side. Since it was evident that the new party was quite as national in spirit as the ruling element of the old, the Adams Federalists, those most patriotic, least swayed in their politics by commercial motives, including Marshall, the War Federalists, and the recruits enlisted at the South during Adams's administration, also went over, in sympathy if not in name, to Republicanism. The fortunate issue of the war silenced every carper, and the ten years following have been well named the "era of good feeling."
But though for long very harmonious, yet, so soon as Federalists began swelling their ranks, the Republicans ceased to be a strictly homogeneous party. Incipient schism appeared by 1812, at once announced and widened by the creation of the protective system and the new United States Bank in 1816, and the attempted launching of an internal improvements regime in 1821, all three the plain marks of federalist survival, however men might shun that name. Republicans like Clay, Calhoun in his early years, and Quincy Adams, while somewhat more obsequious to the people, as to political theory differed from old Federalists in little but name. The same is true of Clinton, candidate against Madison for the Presidency in 1812, and of many who supported him.
But to drive home fatally the wedge between "democratic" and "national" Republicans, required Jackson's quarrel with Adams and Clay in 1825, when, the election being thrown into the House, although Jackson had ninety-nine electoral votes to Adams's eighty-four, Crawford's forty-one, and Clay's thirty-seven, Clay's supporters, by a "corrupt bargain," as Old Hickory alleged, voted for Adams and made him President.
Hickory's idea--an untenable one--was that the House was bound to elect according to the tenor of the popular and the electoral vote. After all this, however, so potent the charm of the old party, the avowal of a purpose to build up a new one did not work well, Clay polling in 1832 hardly half the electoral vote of Adams in 1828. This democratic gain was partly owing, it is true, to Jackson's popularity, to the belief that he had been wronged in 1825, and to the widening of the franchise which had long been going on in the nation. Calhoun's election as Vice-President in 1828, by a large majority, shows that party crystallization was then far from complete. From about 1834, the new political body thus gradually evolved was regularly called the Whigs, though the name had been heard ever since 1825.
The doctrines characteristic of Whiggism were chiefly five:
I. Broad Construction of the Constitution.
This has been sufficiently explained in the chapter on Federalism and Anti-Federalism, and need not be dwelt upon. The whig attitude upon it appears in all that follows.
II. The Bank.
The First United States Bank had perished by the expiration of its charter in 1811. It had been very useful, indeed almost indispensable, in managing the national finances, and its decease, with the consequent financial disorder, was a most terrible drawback in the war. Recharter was, however, by a very small majority, refused. The evils flowing from this perverse step manifesting themselves day by day, a new Bank of the United States, modelled closely after the first, was chartered on April 10, 1816, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster being its chief champions. Republican opponents, Madison among them, were brought around by the plea that war had proved a national bank a necessary and hence a constitutional helper of the Government in its appointed work.
In the management of this second bank there were disorder and dishonesty, which greatly limited its usefulness. This, notwithstanding, was considerable. The credit of the nation was restored and its treasury resumed specie payments. But confidence in the institution was shaken. We shall see how it met with President Jackson's opposition on every possible occasion. In 1832 he vetoed a bill for the renewal of its charter, to expire in 1836, and in 1833 caused all the Government's deposits in it, amounting to ten million dollars, to be removed. These blows were fatal to the bank, though it secured a charter from Pennsylvania and existed, languishing, till 1839.
III. The Tariff.
Until the War of 1812 the main purpose of our tariff policy had been revenue, with protection only as an incident. During the war manufacturing became largely developed, partly through our own embargo, partly through the armed hostilities. Manufacture had grown to be an extensive interest, comparing in importance with agriculture and commerce. Therefore, in the new tariff of 1816, the old relation was reversed, protection being made the main aim and revenue the incident.
It is curious to note that this first protective tariff was championed and passed by the Republicans and bitterly opposed by the Federalists and incipient Whigs. Webster argued and inveighed vehemently against it, appealing to the curse of commercial restriction and of governmental interference with trade, and to the low character of manufacturing populations.
But very soon the tables were turned: the Whigs became the high-tariff party, the Democrats more and more opposing this policy in favor of a low or a revenue tariff. It should be marked that even now the idea of protection in its modern form was not the only one which went to make a high tariff popular. There were, besides, the wish to be prepared for war by the home production of war material, and also the spirit of commercial retortion, paying back in her own coin England's burdensome tax upon our exports to her shores.
What may not improperly be styled the whig land policy sprung from the whig sentiment for large customs duties. Cheap public lands, offering each poor man a home for the taking, constantly tended to neutralize the effect of duties, by raising wages in the manufacturing sections, people needing a goodly bribe to enter mills in the East when an abundant living was theirs without money and without price on removing west. As a rule, therefore, though this question did not divide the two parties so crisply as the others, the Whigs opposed the free sale of government land, while the Democrats favored that policy. In spite of this, however, eastern people who moved westward--and they constituted the West's main population--quite commonly retained their whig politics even upon the tariff question itself.
V. Internal Improvements.
It has always been admitted that Congress may lay taxes to build and improve light-houses, public docks, and all such properties whereof the United States is to hold the title.
The general improvement of harbors, on the other hand, the Constitution meant to leave to the States, allowing each to cover the expense by levying tonnage duties. The practice for years corresponded with this. The inland commonwealths, however, as they were admitted, justly regarded this unfair unless offset by Government's aid to them in the construction of roads, canals, and river ways.
Webster's Home at Marshfield. Mass.
The War of 1812 revealed the need of better means for direct communication with the remote sections of the Union. Transportation to Detroit had cost fifty cents per pound of ammunition, sixty dollars per barrel of flour. All admitted that improved internal routes were necessary. The question was whether the general Government had a right to construct them without amendment to the Constitution.
The Whigs, like the old Federalists, affirmed such right, appealing to Congress's power to establish post-roads, wage war, supervise inter-state trade, and conserve the common defence and general welfare. As a rule, the Democrats, being strict constructionists, denied such right. Some of them justified outlay upon national rivers and commercial harbors under the congressional power of raising revenue and regulating commerce. Others conceded the rightfulness of subsidies to States even for bettering inland routes. Treasury surplus at times, and the many appropriations which, by common consent, had been made under Monroe and later for the old National Road, encouraged the whig contention; but the whig policy had never met general approval down to the time when the whole question was taken out of politics by the rise of the railroad system after 1832. The National Road, meantime, extending across Ohio and Indiana on its way to St. Louis, was made over in 1830 to the States through which it passed.
From a picture by Healy at the State Department, Washington.
The Whig Party deserves great praise as the especial repository, through several decades, of the spirit of nationality in our country. It cherished this, and with the utmost boldness proclaimed doctrines springing from it, at a time when the Democracy, for no other reason than that it had begun as a state rights party, foolishly combated these. Yet Whiggism was mightier in theories than in deeds, in political cunning than in statesmanship. It was far too fearful, on the whole, lest the country should not be sufficiently governed. To secure power it allied itself now with the Anti-Masons, strong after 1826 in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania; and again with the Nullifiers of South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, led by Calhoun, Troup, and White. It did the latter by making Tyler, an out-and-out Nullifier, its Vice-President in 1840.
A leading Whig during nearly all his political career was John Quincy Adams, one of the ablest, most patriotic, and most successful presidents this country has ever had. He possessed a thorough education, mainly acquired abroad, where, sojourning with his distinguished father, he had enjoyed while still a youth better opportunities for diplomatic training than many of our diplomatists have known in a lifetime.
The House in which Henry Clay was Born.
He went to the United States Senate in 1803 as a Federalist. Disgusted with that party, he turned Republican, losing his place. From 1806 to 1809 he was professor in Harvard College. In the latter year Madison sent him Minister to St. Petersburg. He was commissioner at Ghent, then Minister to England, then Monroe's Secretary of State, then President.
But Mr. Adams's best work was done in the House of Representatives after he was elected to that body in 1830. He sat in the House until his death, in 1848--its acknowledged leader in ability, in activity, and in debate. Friend and foe hailed him as the "Old Man Eloquent," nor were any there anxious to be pitted against him. He spoke upon almost every great national question, each time displaying general knowledge; legal lore, and keenness of analysis surpassed by no American of his or any age.
Webster was, however, the great orator of the party. Reared upon a farm and educated at Dartmouth College, he went to Congress from New Hampshire as a Federalist in 1813. Removing to Boston, he soon entered Congress from Massachusetts, first as representative, then as senator, and from 1827 was in the Senate almost continuously till 1850. He was Secretary of State under Harrison and Tyler, and again in the Taylor-Fillmore cabinet from 1850.
The School-house of the Slashes.
As an orator Webster had no peer in his time, nor have the years since evoked his peer. He was an influential party leader, and repeatedly thought of for President, though too prominent ever to be nominated. On two momentous questions, the tariff and slavery, he vacillated, his dubious action concerning the latter costing him his popularity in New England.
From a photograph by Rockwood of an old daguerreotype.
Yet in many respects the most interesting figure in the party was Henry Clay. He was born amid the swamps of Hanover County, Va., and had grown up in most adverse surroundings. His father, a Baptist clergyman, died while he was an infant, leaving him destitute. In "The Slashes," as the neighborhood where Clay passed his childhood was called, he might often have been seen astride a sorry horse with a rope bridle and no saddle, carrying his bag of grain to the mill. He had attended only district schools. After obtaining the rudiments of a legal education in Richmond by service as a lawyer's clerk, he removed to Kentucky. He was soon famous as a criminal lawyer, and a little later as a politician. The rest of his life was spent in Congress or cabinet.
Clay's speeches read ill, but were powerful in their delivery. He spoke directly to the heart. As he proceeded, his tall and awkward form swayed with passion.
His voice was sweet and winsome. Once Tom Marshall was to face him in joint debate over a salary grab for which Clay had voted. Clay had the first word, and as he warmed to his work Marshall slunk away through the crowd in despair. "Come back," said Clay's haters to him; "you can answer every point." "Of course," replied Marshall, "but I can't get up there and do it now." The common people shouted for Clay as they shouted for neither Webster nor Adams. He had infinite fund of anecdote, remembered everyone he had ever seen, and was kindly to all. John Tyler is said to have wept when Clay failed of the Presidential nomination in the Whig Convention of 1839.
Clay's vices and inconsistencies were readily forgiven. He had denounced duelling as barbarous, yet when sharp-tongued John Randolph referred to him and Adams as having, in 1825, formed "the coalition of Blifil and Black George, the combination of the Puritan and the blackleg"--for Clay gambled--Clay challenged him.
From a picture by Jarvis in 1811, at the New York Historical Society.
They met, the diminutive Randolph being in his dressing-gown. Neither was hurt, as Randolph fired in air and Clay was no shot. Being asked why he did not kill Randolph, Clay said: "I aimed at the part of his gown where I thought he was, but when the bullet got there he had moved." In 1842, when Lord Ashburton was in Washington, there was a famous whist game, my lord, with Mr. Crittenden, playing against Clay and the Russian Minister, Count Bodisco, while Webster looked on. "What shall the stake be?" asked his lordship. "Out of deference to Her Majesty," said Clay, "we will make it a sovereign."
Emphatically patriotic, super-eminent in debate, ambitious, adventurous in political diplomacy, a hard worker, incessant in activity for his party, temperate upon the slavery question, whole-souled in every measure or policy calculated to advance nationality, this versatile man may be put down as foremost among the leaders of the Whig Party from its origin till his death.