1840 Federal Election

Date: From 1840-07-06 to 1841-11-02

Coming on the heels of the Panic of 1837, the central issue of the 1840 presidential election was the economic depression gripping the country and dissatisfaction with incumbent President Martin Van Buren over his perceived mishandling of the crisis. In December 1839, the Whig Party held its first national convention, nominating William Henry Harrison and John Tyler for president and vice-president, respectively. In July 1840, the Democrats nominated Martin Van Buren for another term. Hoping to draw attention away from the first Whig convention, the Democrats adopted the first official party platform in American politics. The Democrats campaigned on hard money, strict government economy, laissez-faire economics, and the Independent Treasury System. The Whig campaign centered on soft money, government-subsidized internal improvements, a national bank, and government intervention in the economy. Both parties eschewed discussion of slavery. Despite the clear policy differences over the economy, banks, and money, the Whigs concentrated on the hardships associated with the economic depression and popular discontent with Van Buren. Abraham Lincoln took control of the Harrison campaign in Illinois, stumping the state on behalf of the Whig candidate. Riding the wave of anti-Van Buren feeling, Harrison won with a near-landslide majority in the Electoral College and a comfortable majority of the popular vote.

In the accompanying Congressional elections, the Whigs won control of the House of Representatives for the first time in its history, gaining 33 seats, with the Democrats losing 26 seats and its majority. The Whigs also gained a seven-seat majority in the Senate.

Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 570-75; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:148-67; Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 89-121; "Party Division of the House of Representatives, 1789-Present," Office of the Historian, United States House of Representatives, accessed February 8, 2018, http://history.house.gov/Institution/Party-Divisions/Party-Divisions/; "Party Division in the Senate" United States Senate Website, accessed February 8, 2018, https://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/history/one_item_and_teasers/partydiv.htm.