The Election of 1852

Woman making American Flag

Election day took place on Tuesday, November 2, 1852. The Democrat Franklin Pierce won the presidency, beating the Whig candidate Winfield Scott and Free Soil candidate John Hale. There were 4,539,713 people registered to vote, accounting for only 18.2% of the total population. Women could not vote, thus excluding almost half of the population. Male slaves and the majority of free black men were also excluded as were most all Native Americans. Many states also required a man to own property in order to register to vote. Of the men eligible to vote, about 69.6% actually did so.

Winfield Scott received 1,386,942 votes, 43.9% of those cast. However, he carried only Kentucky, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Vermont.

Franklin Pierce received 1,607,510 votes, 50.8% of those cast. He carried the 27 other states but by narrow margins in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and Ohio. In Ohio he won by only 47.8% of the votes because the Free Soil Party with its anti-slavery platform won 9.0% of the vote, thereby costing Scott the state and its 23 votes in the Electoral College.

John Hale received 155,799 votes. The Free Soil Party did well in Massachusetts (22.2% of the vote), Vermont (19.6%), Wisconsin (13.6%) and New Hampshire (13.0%) with a respectable showing in Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island (all Northern states).

Several smaller third parties won a combined total of 11,480 votes.

1852-presidential-election-poster-whig

The Democrats called Winfield Scott “Fuss ‘n Feathers,” a prima donna with a penchant for fancy uniforms resulting in a “Reign of Epaulets” and described him as “weak, conceited, foolish, a blustering disciple of gunpowder” and hostile to immigrants.

The Whigs labeled Franklin Pierce “the Fainting General” [like Scott he had commanded troops in war against Mexico, 1846 to 48]. They posed the question “Who is Franklin Pierce?” to suggest he was an unknown with not proven track record of political service. They attacked the Democratic Party as “the do-nothing school of politicians” who were not interested in American free workers, concerned first and foremost with the propertied interests of the South.

Real issues concerned the Compromise of 1850 and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. These matters in particular helped to make this the last election in which the Whig Party participated as it floundered and dissolved with Southern Whigs joining the pro-slavery Democratic Party and Northern Whigs either joining a third party movement or, like Attorney Abraham Lincoln in Illinois, joining the new Republican Party.

1852democraticposter

The publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 2 volume book form in March of the year added fuel to the fiery debate about slavery. Also the year saw the death of two major political figures– Henry Clay of Kentucky on June 29th and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts on October 24th, nine days before the election.

Based on the states carried, Pierce received 254 votes in the Electoral College while Scott received only 42. Additionally, the Democrats won 3 additional seats in the Senate and an additional 19 in the House of Representatives.

The fate of the Whig Party in 1852 and the four following years causes me to wonder if this year and the next four will see a similar dissolution of the Republican Party. Could it be that the current Republican candidate has headed the party of Lincoln into a train wreck?

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