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In the early 1830s, the term Whig and Whiggery was revived by political opponents of the Democratic President Andrew Jackson. Many of these opponents were against Jackson's policies, which sought to grow executive powers and administer the spoils system by which government officials were appointed solely on their loyalty to the party instead of their qualifications or merit. As a result, opposition to Jackson's policies helped create the first fully organized party system, which consisted of Jackson's loyalists, the Democrats, and his adversaries, the Whigs.
The Democratic Party at that time was a strong conservative party and many of them were from the South. Lead by Jackson himself, the party brought about radical changes, including a presidency that for the first time threatened to supersede the Constitutional powers delegated to Congress. Jacksonian Democrats followed the Jeffersonian political philosophy that favored an egalitarian agricultural society that expanded into the American West.
The Whig Party at the time practiced compromise as a political philosophy. Many of their members came across the political spectrum. Lead by Henry Clay, the party brought modernization and deepened the socio-economic system (such as banks, factories, and railroads) in America. The Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the executive branch and favored a program of modernization and economic protectionism, which the Democratic Party fiercely opposed. The Whigs also supported the policies of the American System. The American System was a mercantilist economic plan based on the American School ideas of Alexander Hamilton to harmonize and balance the nation's agriculture, commerce, and industry. The idea behind this system was to allow the nation to develop and flourish by providing a defense against the dumping of cheap goods by foreign suppliers. This plan consisted of three mutually reinforcing parts and they are as follows: 1. A high tariff to protect and promote the American industry 2. A national bank to encourage commerce and a national currency 3. Federal subsidies for roads, canals, and other internal improvements to develop and connect the nation.
The reason why the name Whig was used as a Party name was to echo the American Whigs of 1766, who fought for independence. In addition, it was also used because "Whig" was a widely recognized label of choice for people who saw themselves as opposing autocratic rule. The Whig Party was successful in passing modernization projects at the state level, but not at the national level. Many of the Whig Party's policies had to wait until Abraham Lincoln's presidency to be fully realized on the national level. The Whig Party promoted local, state, and national candidates for twenty years, competing with the Democrats and winning the presidential elections on two occasions. William Henry Harrison, who in 1840 became the first Whig president, and Zachary Taylor, who won the presidency in 1848, was among the most widely known Whigs, but the party also enjoyed Congressional majorities in the 1840s.
Whig Meeting Poster
In the years leading to the Civil War, the issues of state rights and the role slavery would play in the Western territories destroyed the Whig Party, as it had begun to unravel the United States. Unlike the Democratic Party, which had heavy membership in the South, the Whig Party's attempt to appeal to as many people as possible without maintaining a cohesive stance on major issues, in particular the role of slavery in new territories, eventually led to its demise, with Northern Whigs joining the newly formed Republican Party and Southern Whigs joining the Democrats.
The Whig Party was for most of its history concerned with promoting internal improvements, such as roads, canals, railroads, deepening of rivers, financial institutions, public schools, private colleges, charities, cultural institutions and anything else that would help America be internally strong. For its short years, the Whig Party had some very well known members, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Willie Person Mangum, John Quincy Adams, Winfield Scott, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and Abraham Lincoln.
Special Note: Abraham Lincoln did start as a Whig and he considered himself a Whig by heart. There was a famous statement that Lincoln professed to his friends in 1861 - "I have always been an old-line Henry Clay Whig" - Lincoln admired the policies and the leadership of Henry Clay.