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THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN WHIG PARTY by Michael F. Holt

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN WHIG PARTY

Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

By Michael F. Holt

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-505544-6
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

In a massively researched survey, Holt (American History/Univ. of Virginia) painstakingly details the career of an odd political party that flourished, then vanished in the three decades before the Civil War. An unlikely union of Southern states’ rights enthusiasts, Anti-Masonic Party members, supporters of the Bank of the United States, and moderate pro-development republicans hobbled together by opponents of the populist nationalism of Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party became the party of such giants as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln, but also of such eminently forgettable figures as Thurlow Weed and Millard Fillmore. Because state and local elections were of comprehensive importance to national politicians in the 19th century, Holt delves in minutest detail into electoral developments in states and localities. Surveying the impacts of local conditions on national elections, Holt tries to show that the Whig Party’s development hinged on a variety of factors—its competitive relationship with the Democratic Party, which had local, state, and national dimensions, and the internal divisions of Whigs (which ultimately destroyed the party) as the country’s sectional crisis split them into factions were the most dynamic of these. The disparate nature of the Whigs’ ideology in different sections prevented them from developing a coherent national program, though they did win the White House with military heroes in issue-free campaigns in 1840 (William Henry Harrison) and 1848 (Zachary Taylor). Holt shows that the Whigs were consistent in their goal of attempting to unite the nation’s sections and to find a compromise on the issue of slavery, and represented the country’s last failed hope of avoiding civil war. Of evident importance to specialists, but because of its massive size and detailed emphasis on the minutiae of state and local events, inaccessible to all but the hardiest general reader.