Political Campaign Evolution in the Early Democratic Party

News & SocietyPolitics

  • Author Jack Sterling
  • Published April 15, 2010
  • Word count 607

The Democratic Party had been shaped by President Martin Van Buren but was transformed by events in the nation and by Andrew Jackson's popularity with the voters. Whereas once congressional caucuses had played a key role in choosing the political candidate, the national convention had assumed that function, and not only national but also state politicians now played an important role in political campaigns.

Under Jackson, the Democratic Party had become, in a sense, a party that had achieved success because of the president's willingness to divide Americans during the political campaign. Jackson drew a distinction between the wealthy and the poor, the laborers and the business owners, and even divided Southerners and Westerners from those in the East.

Jackson's legacy was a challenging one for Van Buren who, though a seasoned politician, had none of Jackson's political campaign charisma. Van Buren was further burdened by the legacy of Jackson's economic policies. Only weeks after Van Buren took office, New York banks began to cut back on loans in an effort to bring a halt to widespread speculation.

Soon, banks across the country followed suit and a panic resulted in the worst depression the nation had known. Banks and businesses closed down, and unemployment rose to record levels. Van Buren insisted on following Jackson's policies of accepting only hard currency (gold and silver) rather than paper money, refusing to charter a national bank, and taking few steps that could stem the crisis.

Of course, from a political campaigning point of view, this was likely not the most prudent move that he could have made. The Whig Party, which was a staunch band of opponents, seized on the opportunity that the financial crisis offered and quickly made made a campaign issue out of it.

As President James Madison's second term in office came to an end, the Republican nominating political campaign nominating committee chose James Monroe as Madison's successor. Daniel Tompkins, the former governor of New York, was chosen as his running mate for the campaign.

Some Republicans grumbled about a "Virginia dynasty"--like Madison and Jefferson, Monroe was a Virginia native--but the only serious challenger Monroe faced for Republican political campaign nomination was another Southerner, William Crawford, who had also been born in Virginia.

The Republicans had hit on a winning political campaign formula: a presidential candidate from Virginia whose running mate was a former governor of New York. Monroe easily won election over his Federalist challenger, Rufus King of New York, who made no effort to campaign and won only three states (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware) to Monroe's 16.

The ease with with Monroe had won the political campaign election and the general disarray of the Federalists seemed to suggest that America would evolve into a single-party nation--or perhaps a nation with no political parties at all. Andrew Jackson, serving as commander of the federal army in the South, suggested to Monroe that he bring an end to the party system by ignoring party affiliation when choosing his cabinet. Monroe was not yet willing to do so; however, he did choose John Quincy Adams, son of the last Federalist president to win a political campaign, to serve as his secretary of state.

Monroe began his presidency with a tour of the states; he was the first president to do so since George Washington. His tour prompted such a favorable response from the people, who relished the opportunity to see their president, that the early years of his presidency were soon described as the "Era of Good Feelings." The country continued to expand to the south and west, and four new states--Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, and Mississippi--joined the Union.

Visit Killer Campaigning to learn more about political campaigning.

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