What Was the Whig Party?
Maybe you’ve heard the Whig Party discussed before, but you never saw it written out. If that were the case, we’re going to dispel any notion you may have had that they were a political party that just wore big poofy wigs. Everyone wore those. So if they weren’t throwing costume parties with fluffy head-wear, what was the Whig Party?
The Whig Party was an American political party formed in 1834. It would formally fall apart by 1860. In that time, the Whigs were able to secure 4 presidencies. They technically did win the popular vote more than 4 times, but those votes were split between candidates, and as such they were not always able to secure the electoral vote. At face value, that statement may make it seem like the Whigs had some identity issues. They kind of did. We’ll get into that.
By the end of their run, the Whigs would largely transform into the Republican Party or the Constitutional Union Party.
Whig Party Origins
If you’re keen on US presidencies, you might be aware of who was around when the Whigs showed up. Those who guessed Andrew Jackson, give yourselves a pat on the back. Considering his run as president, Jackson made a lot of enemies. It didn’t help that he also did a lot of really bad things, including but not limited to high-key genocide and being responsible for the Trail of Tears. So it’s not a stretch to say that, while he had is supporters, there were definitely people who didn’t like Jackson very much.
That’s where the Whigs come in. They basically showed up more as an “anti-Jackson” party than anything else. Basically, their platform was whatever Jackson’s wasn’t. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that the Whigs were unable to unify themselves behind a presidential candidate in 1836, and as such lost the electoral vote. This comes despite the fact that the sum of all votes from the American people in favor of the Whigs outnumbered the Jacksonian Democrats.
The Whig Platform
The Whigs themselves found a primary baseline among America’s conservative middle-class. They were real big on the economy, putting their chips in business, banking, industry, education, and modernization. Delving into the modernization, the Whigs were largely evangelical Christians. So they thought moral advancement would push the country forwards, leading to more material progressions. As for supporting education, the Whigs thought colleges would provide upward class mobility. They were big on constructing a capitalistic meritocracy.
Because of the values we just talked about, the Whigs were big with those in professional business. Think doctors, merchants, or lawyers.
Because they viewed Jackson as a more-or-less tyrant, the Whigs wanted Congress to wield more power than the president. That’s where their name comes in. The Whigs are named after an anti-monarchist party in Britain, so they used that namesake to antagonize Jackson as a tyrannical king.
By the time America started realizing that slavery was a bad thing in the 1850s, the Whigs’ core issues became exacerbated. Since their primary platform was “anything but Jackson,” they quickly realized that they didn’t really agree on all that much once Jacksonian politics began to phase out.
As such, they became divided into the Conscience Whigs and the Cotton Whigs. Respectively, these two were anti and pro slavery.
Since the Whigs were really big on the economy, the Cotton Whigs saw slavery as a means to keep the American economy going. In contrast, the Conscience Whigs saw slavery and the free market as two incompatible philosophies. This ideological clash came to a head with the Compromise of 1850.
The Whigs would remain split for decisions like the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Southern Cotton Whigs in support of it, while the Northern Conscience Whigs were not.
With little unification and a propensity for infighting, the Whigs would fracture, where the Conscience Whigs would help create the Republican Party (after splitting from the Whigs to make the Free Soil Party).
Think you’re attuned to the poofy Whig Party? Name their presidents here.