This will be a counter-historical account of American history in the critical years between the expiration of Andrew Jackson’s second term in 1836 and the election of 1860. RL election campaigns get me thinking about past elections, which really serve as the backbone behind this AAR. Credit should go to Volksmarschall, too - his ‘The Presidents: Clay to Smith’ is a fantastic read and something of a model for this AAR, although I won’t delve into congress as much as he does, my focus will be more on the president and his cabinet. I haven’t tried a history-book style AAR yet, so any and all criticism/feedback is welcome. The point of divergence from the real timeline is early 1836, before the party nomination process began. The people are real and as true to character as possible, but the events they take part in will be quite different from American history as we know it. Without further ado, let’s commence:
Chapter One: The Passing of the Jacksonian EraSection One: The Candidates of 1836
On Election Day of 1836 there was a general buzz of excitement amongst the politicians and politically minded citizens of America, still in its infancy but stronger than ever. Eight years of the Andrew Jackson presidency had left a seemingly irreparable mark on American government and they manner in which the position of the president was perceived – never before had a president been as powerful as Jackson. A question weighed heavily on voters’ minds that day: is our government evolving before our eyes, and is that a good thing?
Two candidates were listed on the ballot for President: Louis McLane (Democratic Party), Noah Noble (Whig Party). Their running mates (Martin Van Buren and Willie Person Mangum, respectively), both happened to despise their partners on the ticket, and the nominating conventions for both parties had been brutal and harsh.
The Democratic Party, the party in power after Jackson swept his way to the White House some eight years earlier, had effectively transformed themselves into the party of Jackson, alienating many New Englanders, who disagreed with the manner in which the President was conducting himself and the lack of respect shown to the legislative and judicial branches of the government (Jackson was often portrayed as a crude backwoods brute straight out of a log cabin by his political opponents).
The remedy to the image crisis was to nominate Martin van Buren, a wealthy New Yorker of Dutch descent, Andrew Jackson’s VP for the later years of his presidency and a former Senator, Governor, and Secretary of State. He was supported by the more business-friendly wing of the party, who were particularly prominent in New York and Pennsylvania, two crucial states to electoral success.
Martin van Buren
The rural and western arm, however, wanted to nominate someone who would continue on in the spirit of Jackson – a free thinker who would not bow to the interests of merchants or shipping moguls. Louis McLane, a former Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, a resident of Delaware, was their answer. He was known for being honest and willing to come out and make his opinion clear, unlike van Buren, who detractors say would hide his true opinions behind layers of smoke and mirrors.
Democratic Presidential Nominee Louis McLane
The battle within the Democratic Party was a battle of geography and of demographics – would Martin van Buren, who many saw to be representative of Northeastern old money that had been so influential in shaping America, be nominated to run for president? The woodsman, farmers, and common people who had worked to put Jackson in the office in the first place came out strongly against van Buren and in favor of McLane, who they felt better reflected the true identity of the Democratic party that had been forged in the past decade.
In the end, McLane won the nomination. In a move aimed at appeasing the reeling Northeastern wing of the party, it was determined that Martin van Buren would be his running mate.
The Whigs, on the other hand, had no clear candidates for the office. Henry Clay, leader of the Whig movement (although not necessarily the party), refused to weigh in on who he thought should run for President, saying instead that he would wait until the candidates declared themselves and then endorse the individual he thought would best serve America.
Three candidates came forward, representing three distinct regions and characters – William Henry Harrison, of Ohio, a former Senator and a war hero, Willie Person Mangum, of North Carolina, a former Senator, and Noah Noble, of Indiana, a former Governor.
Harrison, a hard working military man who won his fame in the War of 1812 and in the conflicts with Indians, was the immediate front-runner to win nomination. He had a strong record of opposing Jackson and his Democratic cronies, as they were often thought of by Whig commentators and journalists, and was well-liked in the West, an area that had received increased political weight thanks largely to the emphasis Jackson’s campaign put on winning the West.
William Henry Harrison
Harrison was not, however, destined to represent the Whig party against McLane. While walking alongside the James River in Richmond, Virginia after a speech to voters he stumbled into the river. Despite being helped out by aides within a matter of seconds, Harrison contracted a severe case of pneumonia and would die several weeks later.
Noah Noble, a loyal follower of Henry Clay and a proponent of major infrastructural programs throughout America, gave the eulogy at Harrison’s funeral. Noble had rose to prominence first as a lawyer, then as a Senator, and within a matter of years he was considered one of the political heavyweights of the West. Clay, whose influence on the internal workings of the Whig Party should not be underestimated, took an immediate liking to him, and privately confided to him that he felt the young governor would play a major role in the Whig party in coming years.
Whig Presidential Candidate Noah Noble
Noble’s eulogy was so touching, so eloquent, that Willie Mangum, the other remaining candidate for nomination, approached his rival after the service and announced that he would not contend for the nomination, leaving the governor the sole nominee. Noble immediately offered to include Mangum on the ticket as his running mate, an offer that was initially rejected but ultimately accepted (after Clay urged the North Carolinian to accept in order to provide some regional balance).
The stage was set for the election of 1836: McLane/van Buren (D) vs. Noble/Mangum (W)