Welcome to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history
in VOA Special English.
the election of eighteen forty drew closer, the Whig Party felt more and more
hopeful that it could put its candidate in the White House. The Whigs believed
they could defeat President Martin Van Buren in his attempt to win a second
term. Whig leaders turned away from their early choice of Senator Henry Clay of
Kentucky as their candidate. There was too much popular opposition to him.
people opposed Clay because he owned slaves; others because of his close ties
to business interests. They considered him a pro-bank man. Besides, there was a
growing feeling among the Whig leaders that they should choose a military hero
as their presidential candidate -- a general like Andrew Jackson.
This week in our
series, Jack Weitzel and Jack Moyles tell the story of the election of eighteen
Weed, one of the important Whig leaders in the state of New York, remembered
how the people had loved Jackson, the hero of the War of Eighteen-Twelve.
General William Henry Harrison, one of the candidates in eighteen thirty-six,
might be the man the Whigs needed. Harrison had led an attack on Indians in the
Indiana territory in eighteen eleven.
believed the battle -- at a place called Tippecanoe -- was a great victory for
Harrison. Weed also thought of General Winfield Scott, who had kept the border
with Canada quiet. Scott was a southerner from Virginia. He had not been
involved in politics and had no political enemies. Weed finally decided that
Scott might be a better candidate than Harrison or Clay.
other party leaders remembered that Harrison had received many votes in
eighteen thirty-six, although not enough to win. When the Whig convention
opened, all three men -- Clay, Scott, Harrison -- were possible candidates. The
convention delegates finally chose General Harrison.
vice president, they decided on another southerner, John Tyler. Tyler was a
strong believer in states' rights. He had worked hard to win the nomination for
Senator Clay. One report said he felt so strongly about it that he cried when
Clay was not chosen. Southern Whigs agreed to support Harrison only because
Tyler was the vice presidential candidate.
was not at the convention. He stayed in Washington and waited for news from the
convention. On the final day, as he waited for word, he drank glass after glass
of wine. When the news came that the Whigs had chosen Harrison, Clay said in
anger: "I am the most unfortunate man in the history of parties. Always
chosen as a candidate when sure to be defeated. And now, tricked out of the
nomination when I, or anyone, would surely be elected."
Democrats were happy that Clay was not the Whig presidential candidate. They
were glad the Whigs chose the sixty-seven year old Harrison. Democrats spoke of
Harrison as an "old lady." They called him "Granny
Harrison." One democratic newspaper said the old man did not really want
to be president. It said Harrison would be happier with a two thousand dollar a
year pension, a barrel of hard cider to drink, and a log cabin to live in.
men drank hard apple cider. And a great many farmers still lived in houses, or
cabins, made of rough logs. The Whigs put the democratic statement to their own
use. They saw a way to represent their party of bankers and businessmen as the
party of the working man and the small farmer. "The statement is
right!" they cried. "The Whig Party is the party of hard cider and
made Harrison -- a Virginia aristocrat -- a simple man of the people. His big
home in Ohio became a log cabin. He exchanged his silk hat for the kind worn by
farmers. Whig leaders would not let their candidate make many speeches. They
would not let him write anything. All his letters were written by his political
advisers. When Harrison did speak in public, it usually was about nothing
important. No one really knew what the old man thought about any of the
Democrats opened their nominating convention in Baltimore in May eighteen
forty. Van Buren was chosen to be the party's candidate again. The president
received the votes of all the party representatives at the convention. But the
representatives were not able to agree on a vice presidential candidate. They
finally decided to let the states nominate candidates for the job.
election campaign was one of the wildest in the nation's history. Both parties
did everything possible to show that they were the friend of the common man.
The Whigs put up log cabins everywhere and offered free hard cider to everyone.
They organized huge outdoor meetings for thousands, with food and drink for
all. They held parades and marched with flags, bands, and pictures of William
Henry Harrison. Many campaign songs were written. These songs told of
Harrison's bravery against the Indians. They told how Harrison loved the hard
and simple life of the common man.
At the same time, the Whig campaign songs said Van Buren
lived like a king in the White House. A Whig congressman from Pennsylvania made
a wild speech against the president. Copies of it were spread throughout the
country. The congressman charged that the White House had become a palace. He
said Van Buren slept in the same kind of bed as the one used by the French
King, Louis the Fifteenth. He said the president ate French food from gold and
silver dishes. The carpets in the White House, he said, were so thick that a
man could bury his feet in them. The congressman charged that President Van
Buren wore silk clothing, and even put French perfume on his body to make him
smell sweet as a flower.
Buren and other Democrats called the charges foolish. But no one seemed to
hear. The Democrats made charges just as foolish. They claimed that Harrison
could not read or write. They said he would not pay people the money he owed
them. And they charged that Harrison even sold white men into slavery. Henry
Clay said the campaign was a struggle between log cabins and palaces, between
hard cider and champagne.
state of Maine held elections in September of eighteen forty. Voters in Maine
elected Whig Edward Kent as governor. They gave the state's electoral votes to
Harrison, the hero of Tippecanoe. The election results produced a new song for
the Whigs. "And have you heard the news from Maine, and what old Maine can
do. She went hell-bent for Governor Kent, and Tippecanoe and Tyler, too. And
Tippecanoe and Tyler, too. "
by one, the other states voted. It was clear early in the election that General
Harrison would win. The election was close in total votes. But Harrison
received two hundred thirty-four electoral votes, and Van Buren only sixty. And
so, Harrison became the ninth president of the United States.
leaders had made most of Harrison's campaign decisions. Some of them --
especially Henry Clay and Daniel Webster -- believed they could continue to
control him, even after Harrison moved into the White House. But Harrison saw
what was happening. He made a trip to Kentucky, Clay's home state, late in eighteen
forty. Harrison made it clear that he did not want to meet with Clay. He was
afraid such a meeting would seem to show that Clay was the real power in the
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Jack
Weitzel and Jack Moyles. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are
online, along with historical images, at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA
This is program #68
MAKING OF A NATION