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The United States presidential election of 1840 saw President Martin Van Buren fight for re-election against an economic depression and a Whig Party unified for the first time behind war hero William Henry Harrison. Rallying under the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too,” the Whigs easily defeated Van Buren.

This election was unique in that electors cast votes for four men who had been or would become President of the United States: current President Martin Van Buren; President-elect William Henry Harrison; Vice-President-elect John Tyler, who would succeed Harrison upon his death; and James K. Polk, who received one electoral vote for Vice President.


Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates

Candidates gallery

Image:MartinVanBuren.png|President Martin Van Buren of New Yorkmarker

Van Buren, the incumbent, was renominated in Baltimoremarker in May 1840. The party refused to renominate his sitting Vice-President, Richard Mentor Johnson. In the electoral college, the Democratic vice presidential votes were divided among Johnson, Littleton W. Tazewell, and James Knox Polk.

Whig Party nomination

Whig candidates

Candidates gallery

Image:William Henry Harrison daguerreotype edit.jpg|Former Senator William Henry Harrison of OhiomarkerImage:Clay.png|Senator Henry Clay of KentuckymarkerImage:WinfieldScott.png|Commanding General of the Army Winfield Scott of New Jerseymarker

For the first time in their history, the Whigs held a national convention to determine their presidential candidate. It opened in Harrisburg, Pennsylvaniamarker on December 4, 1839, almost a full year before the general election. The three leading candidates were William Henry Harrison, a war hero and the most successful of Van Buren's opponents in the 1836 election; Winfield Scott, another general, active in skirmishes with the British in 1837 and 1838; and Henry Clay, the Whigs' congressional leader and former Speaker of the House.

Clay led on the first ballot, but circumstances conspired to deny him the nomination. First of all, the convention came on the heels of a string of Whig electoral losses. Harrison had managed to distance himself from the losses, but Clay, as the party's philosophical leader, could not. Had the convention been held in the spring, when the economic downturn had led to a string of Whig victories, Clay would have had much greater support. Secondly, the convention rules had been drawn up so that whoever won the majority of delegates from a given state would win all the votes from that state; this worked against Clay because he had almost the whole of Southern delegations, which meant that he didn't capture many votes from his opponents in the South, while he had large minority support in Northern delegations, which meant that his opponents poached many delegates from him in the North. Finally, several Southern states which supported Clay had abstained from sending delegates to the convention. As a result, the nomination went to Harrison.

The state by state roll call was printed in the newspaper the Farmer's Cabinet on 13 December 1839:

Convention vote
Presidential vote 1 2 3 4 5 Vice Presidential Vote 1
William H. Harrison OH 94 94 91 91 148 John Tyler 231
Henry Clay KY 103 103 95 95 90 Abstaining 23
Winfield Scott NJ 57 57 68 68 16

Because Harrison was considered a Northerner, the Whigs needed to balance the ticket with a Southerner. They also sought a Clay supporter to help unite the party. After being turned down by several Southern Clay supporters, the convention finally found a Southern nominee who had faithfully supported Clay throughout the convention and who would agree to run: former Senator John Tyler of Virginiamarker.

Anti-Masonic Party nomination

During the Van Buren administration The Anti-Masonic Party had continued to disintegrate, as its leaders moved one by one to the Whig party. Party leaders met in September 1837 in Washington D.C.marker and agreed to maintain the party. The third Anti-Masonic Party National Convention was held in Philadelphia in November, 1838. The delegates voted to nominate William Henry Harrison for president and Daniel Webster for vice president.

Convention vote
Presidential vote Vice Presidential vote
William Henry Harrison 119 Daniel Webster 119

General election


A Whig poster showing economic depression allegedly caused by Van Buren

In the wake of the Panic of 1837, Van Buren was widely unpopular, and Harrison, following Andrew Jackson's strategy, ran as a war hero and man of the people while presenting Van Buren as a wealthy snob living in luxury at the public expense. Although Harrison was comfortably wealthy and well educated, his “log cabin” image caught fire, sweeping all sections of the country.

Harrison avoided campaigning on the issues, with his Whig Party a broad coalition with few common ideals.


Although his popular vote margin was only about 6 points, Harrison's electoral victory was overwhelming, carrying North, West, and South.

Source (Popular Vote):Source (Electoral Vote):

(a) The popular vote figures exclude South Carolinamarker where the Electors were chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.


Harrison, the oldest President second to Ronald Reagan, died little more than a month after his inauguration. The choice of Tyler for Vice President proved to be disastrous for the Whigs: while Tyler had been a staunch supporter of Clay at the convention, he was a former Democrat and a passionate supporter of states' rights who blocked the Whigs' political program in office.

Campaign songs/slogans


"Tippecanoe and Tyler too"

Van Buren

: Rockabye, baby, Daddy's a Whig
: When he comes home, hard cider he'll swig
: When he has swug
: He'll fall in a stu
: And down will come Tyler and Tippecanoe.

: Rockabye, baby, when you awake
: You will discover Tip is a fake.
: Far from the battle, war cry and drum
: He sits in his cabin a'drinking bad rum.

: Rockabye, baby, never you cry
: You need not fear OF Tip and his Ty.
: What they would ruin, Van Buren will fix.
: Van's a magician, they are but tricks.

Election paraphernalia

Image:TippecanoeClubRibbonWilliamHenryHarrisonPrezCampaign1840.jpg|Harrison "Tippecanoe Club" ribbonImage:WilliamHenryHarrisonCampaignRallySilkRibbon09101840.jpg|Ribbon for Harrison political rallyImage:DelegateRibbonMassachusettsNatlDemConvention1840.jpg|Delegate badge, Democratic convention

Electoral college selection

See also


** Greeley's description of the 1840 election is posted on Wikisource.

External links

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