The 1844 Presidential Election

As we approach the 2012 presidential election, I thought it was time to see how readers of this blog would have voted in previous presidential elections from 1844 to 1876.  In doing this, I’m asking you as you to cast your ballot … none of this “it would depend on where I lived at the time” chatter or other squabbling with the rules of a very simple exercise (you folks know who you are).  You’re defined as eligible to vote, period, regardless of age, race, gender, or residence.

Cast your ballot and tell us why.

41 thoughts on “The 1844 Presidential Election

  1. Talmadge Walker October 19, 2012 / 11:15 am

    James Birney lived in Huntsville, AL for a while. That’s my home town so he’s got my vote.

  2. John Foskett October 19, 2012 / 11:44 am

    I cast mine for Clay – mostly because of the others’ negatives, unfortunately. In simplistic terms Polk was a tool of the Slavocracy’s expansion agenda and Birney was a one-issue candidate who, moreover, could not win.

    • Noma October 19, 2012 / 5:18 pm

      I agree, Clay is the best choice. Birney could not win. At least Clay was moving in the direction of Emancipation, even if ever so gradually. Polk was a war monger, and just as apprehended at the time, he brought quite a lot of bad karma down on his country:


      Ostensibly we were intended to prevent filibustering into Texas, but really as a menace to Mexico in case she appeared to contemplate war. Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory….

      The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.

      — Ulysses S. Grant – Memoirs – Chapter III

  3. wgdavis October 19, 2012 / 11:56 am

    Henry Clay because he was politically powerful, pro-emancipation, yet a political realist. He was, for the time, a moderate.

    Polk was a southern democrat. ‘nuf said.

    Birney is a fascinating man, but an example of the differences between abolitionists [Birney was] and an emancipationist [which Clay certainly was at heart]. Abolitionists were the stronger voice but were less popular than emancipationists. Had the Southern elites worked with the emancipationists, Slavery could have been eradicated by 1860 without the economic devastation the South feared and eventually suffered more severely after four years of war and the Reconstruction era that followed. Abolitionists, while on higher moral ground, gave no room to the political and economic realities of American Slavery.

  4. michael confoy October 19, 2012 / 11:56 am

    Reformed slave holder versus unreformed slave holder. No war with Mexico. Won’t go into predicting unintended future consequences.

    • Mike Musick October 19, 2012 / 12:29 pm

      Hey! Why can’t I vote for the Prophet, Joseph Smith? Just kidding, but did he not run also?

      • Brooks D. Simpson October 19, 2012 / 12:58 pm

        Next you’ll be asking to vote for Victoria Woodhull when we reach 1872.

      • John Foskett October 19, 2012 / 2:59 pm

        I think that Joe announced but then, IIRC, he appears to have abandoned the presidential aspirations, which would have been something of an uphill climb anyway for lots of obvious reasons. It became a moot point in June.

  5. neukomment October 19, 2012 / 12:53 pm

    Clay… The road not taken… What national hubris drives us to war with Mexico?…

  6. M.D. Blough October 19, 2012 / 1:03 pm

    My reasons are the same as John Foskett’s and wgdavis’s for voting for Clay.

  7. Francis Gallo October 19, 2012 / 1:38 pm

    I voted for Clay because M.D. did and it’s raining outside.

  8. Brad October 19, 2012 / 2:24 pm

    Birney, because he was abolitionist. Clay was a compromiser and also a slaveholder, not to mention a believer in colonization. I marched against the Vietnam War so you know where I’m coming from. Polk, forget it.

  9. Allen Gathman October 19, 2012 / 2:47 pm

    I vote Clay, although I was tempted to vote for Birney as the anti-slavery candidate. Since Birney was clearly not going to win, and his supporters would otherwise have been Clay’s, a vote for Birney was really a vote for Polk. And I wouldn’t have wanted to have Texas annexed as another slave state.

  10. rcocean October 19, 2012 / 5:00 pm

    I voted for Clay since he might have avoided an unnecessary war. And given that the Texans weren’t even grateful, it seems a waste. But the slave holding Texans shot themselves in the foot. Had they kept their precious independence, they would have kept their slaves; assuming they had the sense to stay out of the civil war.

    • Francis Gallo October 19, 2012 / 7:24 pm

      Guess again.

    • rcocean October 20, 2012 / 5:47 pm

      Clay, I believe would have eventually annexed Texas under the right conditions – its not like he was against expansion.

  11. rcocean October 19, 2012 / 5:01 pm

    BTW, voting for Birney accomplished nothing except electing Polk.

  12. Al Mackey October 19, 2012 / 5:36 pm

    Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser. After Clay as President, electing Lincoln might not have been such a huge issue for southerners.

  13. Hunter Wallace October 19, 2012 / 6:04 pm

    James K. Polk because he was one of the most successful presidents in American history. This one is a no-brainer. He secured Texas and won the West from Britain and Mexico. He also tried to annex Cuba and the Yucatan peninsula.

    In spite of Yankee opposition, Southern presidents like Jefferson, Jackson, and Polk made America a great nation. What was Abraham Lincoln’s legacy? He destroyed the country. He undermined the Constitution. He presided over the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans. He crippled the Southern economy for a century. He paved the road to the Gilded Age.

    If Southerners had continued to dominate the Union, America’s Golden Age would have been extended. When Polk was president in the 1840s, there was widespread support in Cuba for annexation to the United States. If he had lived and served a second term, Polk might have even acquired Northern Mexico in an enlarged Gadsden Purchase.

    • John Foskett October 20, 2012 / 10:32 am

      I admire good satire. And this is very, very good. Well done.

  14. Lyle Smith October 19, 2012 / 7:28 pm

    I would vote for the forward minded James K. Polk. He seems to have enthusiastically supported westward expansion, and expertly campaigned on the issue in a bi-partisan fashion by tying Texas annexation to the Oregon boundary dispute.

    In retrospect, Henry Clay’s mild support for expansion seems absurd. The Oregon Trail was just getting started and Texas was wanting annexation. Instead Senator Clay chose to talk about banking and tariffs. As a Kentuckian he may have ought to have known better, because in 1844 it was about the hope of the West.

  15. Michael Bartley October 19, 2012 / 7:55 pm

    I voted for Polk. As a westerner and mountaineer (which I am but let’s just imagine ourselves there and then), I strongly support territorial expansion. Working in the Buffalo robe trade along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains always on the move primarily between Fort Laramie on the North Platte and Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas, has shown me our future and our future is trade. I want the lands south of the Arkansas River and along the Santa Fe trail in the hands of the United States in the certainty that American expansion will bring about strength and consistency in trade policy replacing the weak, inconsistent, and infuriating policies of the Mexican government. The expansion of our frontier along with the subsequent new polices will create the conditions necessary to control the trade, particularly in Comancheria with the powerful and essential Comanche/Kiowa – Cheyenne/Arapaho alliance, with the ultimate goal of achieving peace between the Texians and the Indians, always good for trade. As I always say to my Mexican and Arapaho wives, we can achieve peace in our time (no really, I coined this expression look it up on the Wikipedia just give me a minute to go there and make some…let’s call them…”corrections.” Don’t worry I know what I’m doing. I have experience just ask Ms. Palin). Finally, as a northerner by birth I want the Oregon question settled as I can clearly envision a future or should I say a destiny that is manifest (again give me a minute to “correct” the “historical” record) which will be good for (you guessed it) business. Control of the rivers, the Rio Grande, Grand (btw, fyi, it is the Grand and the Green that make the Colorado and the Green is the mother river in spite of what Colorado politicians believe), Siskadee and Colorado in the South and the Snake and Columbia along with the Missouri in the North, is, of course, essential for travel, trade and continued expansion. With Polk’s strength, I believe he will achieve more in four years than most men could in eight, the future of the fur trade remains golden. Our children and our children’s children will continue to trade with the Indians in a mutually beneficial partnership in the wild and free territories of the west now and forever more. It is a certainty. As surely as there will always be great herds of buffalo, the United States will always be United and peace will reign throughout the land.

  16. SF Walker October 19, 2012 / 9:31 pm

    I voted for Polk, despite the fact he was a Southern Democrat. Polk was maybe the only President who ever accomplished everything he outlined on his platform. Annexing Texas and the region that became California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada had benefits that would prove invaluable to the U.S. in the future. Who would turn down vast quantities of Nevada silver–which later helped fund the Union war effort?

    As for the Mexican War, it was indeed unjustified, but I feel the time has come for us to stop feeling guilty about it. Comparing the overall state of affairs in the two countries, I think it would have been better for all concerned in the long run if we’d annexed all of Mexico in 1848.

    • rcocean October 20, 2012 / 11:40 am

      Given that Mexico attacked us, and thought they would win (look it up) I’ve never felt ‘guilty’ about it. But others should continue to do so since they seem to feel its a badge of moral superiority.

      • Margaret D. Blough October 20, 2012 / 3:55 pm

        Did Mexico attack the US? The alleged attack was in an area that both the US and Mexico claimed. Both moved troops into the area, and Mexican troops attacked a US cavalry contingent. The US was on very shaky grounds in claiming this as a cassus belli.

  17. peterjprice2012 October 20, 2012 / 9:54 am

    Att: Dr. Simpson: I watched the ‘Antietam’ Special on CSPAN
    with You Touring the Battle Field. Maybe You could Email Me
    ? I have a Few Questions Concerning Sept. 17, 1862. I’m doing some Research Pertaining to the Union War effort and its
    Industry during the Civil-War..

  18. peterjprice2012 October 20, 2012 / 10:04 am

    James K. Polk is One of My Favorite Presidents! Why? Cause
    He is Probably the Only Prez.In
    History who Fulfulled all his So-Called Promises.

  19. James Taylor October 20, 2012 / 11:46 am

    The election of 1844 probably cannot to interpreted today through our present eyes. Of the 105 electoral votes received by Clay, 47 came from the Upper South. Of the 170 for Polk, 76 came from the Northeast. I cast for Clay, as I think I would have been opposed to general expansion. The United States had already demonstrated signs of being too large and diverse to be a single political unit, without risking great peril to itself.

  20. Mark October 20, 2012 / 12:28 pm

    There’s a lot I don’t like about Polk but I voted for him. I like driving the Pacific Coast Highway in the U.S. and Austin’s pretty cool also. In another sense it may not have made much of a difference other than timing – expansion was coming regardless of who was President. Americans were going to keep migrating West into sparsely settled areas and they would eventually become part of the US anyway.

    • SF Walker October 20, 2012 / 9:18 pm

      I feel the same way–westward expansion was inevitable, since the US was the dominant and fastest-growing power in North America; of course it happened much more quickly under Polk than it would have under someone like Henry Clay. Even a strict constructionist like Thomas Jefferson couldn’t turn down the Louisiana Purchase, even though the Constitution didn’t expressly allow it.

  21. Hunter Wallace October 20, 2012 / 12:41 pm

    The attempt by Yankees to reduce Polk’s glorious legacy to “the extension of slavery” is laughable. California entered the Union as a free state. If memory serves, blacks were banned from entering the Oregon Territory.

    If Polk had succeeded in acquiring Cuba from Spain (like Texans, most Cubans supported annexation at the time), slavery wouldn’t have been “extended” (Cuba was already the world’s leading producer of slave grown sugar).

    Cuba would have balanced California in the Senate. Sectional tension would have been diffused. Similarly, an expanded Gadsden Purchase that would have included Baja California, Sonora, and Chihuahua would have been an ENORMOUS long term boon to the United States.

    Suppose Polk had succeeded in annexing the Republic of Yucatan. Imagine how Yucatan (and Cuba) could have been developed by the 21st century given its potential for tourism.

    The only positive thing that I can say about William Seward is that he annexed Alaska. If Yankees had spent less time agitating the absurd and grossly counterproductive abstract question of the “extension of slavery” (by the 1920s, 3x as much land in the South was planted in cotton, and the West remained unsuited for cotton), the United States would now include much of Mexico and the Caribbean.

    Fortunately, Polk defeated Clay and Texas (with all its oil wealth) and California (with all its gold and oil) and Nevada (with all its silver) was secured to the United States. Imagine what the U.S. economy would be like today without Texas and California, and Oregon and Washington, and Arizona and Nevada and Utah and New Mexico.

    From a long term perspective, the best thing that ever happened to the United States was Southern dominance in the Union and the marginalization of the Yankee until Lincoln’s election. Were it not for Jefferson, Jackson, and Polk, the Gulf of Mexico and the West would not be part of the United States due to New England’s stupidity and myopia.

    • James Taylor October 20, 2012 / 3:26 pm

      I’m not sure it is accurate to say the US was dominated by the “south” before Lincoln. What might be so is that US politics was largely directed by a “great middle”., one that kept a lot of notions that were popular to some extent in the lower south and upper tier of the north from flaming the entire country into conflict and disorder. New England’s “stupidity and myopia” was self interest as was the ” stupidity and myopia” of the lower south.. In my mind, trouble was the sum of uniting such diverse areas into a single political unit. The “middle” statesmen were .gone several years before the Civil War. This was no fault of Lincoln, but, it was Lincoln who decided to allow the conflict to proceed. I do not think Lincoln understood he was standing for the “marginalized Yankees”. I don’t think he understood what had kept the country going. .

    • John Foskett October 21, 2012 / 8:11 am

      Your perspective on Oregon and Washington is,”interesting”. In your effort to spin history, you ignore the fact that the US/Britain dispute was settled by a compromise because Polk’s adventures in Mexico were diverting US military and other resources. In fact we got Oregon and Washington by a process which thoroughly po’d the folks who were pushing the whole Mexico enterprise. Can’t have it both ways……

      • peterjprice2012 October 22, 2012 / 9:48 am

        What about ‘Thomas Jefferson’.?
        The Yankee’s Glorify him as a Big Anti-Slavery Guy, Even though He ‘OWNED’ Hundred’s of Slaves! Thomas Jefferson Despised Slavery but He didn’t do too Much to Give up his Slaves, Now did He…?

        • Brooks D. Simpson October 22, 2012 / 10:17 am

          I think many folks would contest your premise that “Yankees” “Glorify” Jefferson “as a Big Anti-Slavery Guy.” My experience in Charlottesville suggests that many white Virginians did. Others seemed a little too eager to try to make sure that under no circumstances could TJ be linked with Sally Hemings.

        • Ned B October 22, 2012 / 12:39 pm

          LOL! Who are these Yankees? The ones I know villify him as a Big Slavery Guy.

        • John Foskett October 25, 2012 / 2:31 pm

          And That HAS what TO dO with WhAt I Said About us Getting Oregon?

  22. peterjprice2012 October 22, 2012 / 9:28 am

    Abraham Lincoln sure thought it was Wrong for President Polk to Attack Mexico! He thought it was So Wrong, He Left the Government because of it. Lincoln Demanded that Polk Prove to the World as to Where Mexico Fired the First Shots!!

  23. fra paolo October 25, 2012 / 10:29 am

    I voted for Clay. He will manage our relations with Latin America better, especially with Mexico over the eventual annexation of Texas. Who is this Polk character anyway? Some failed Tennessee governor can be trusted with the keys to the Executive Mansion? Really?

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