1836 Federal Election

Date: From 1836-11-03 to 1836-12-07

The presidential election of 1836 largely became a referendum on out-going President Andrew Jackson's policies, legacy, and hand-picked successor. Jackson designated Martin Van Buren as his heir, and delegates to the Democratic National Convention, held a full year before the election, acceded to his wishes, unanimously nominating Van Buren. Though a controversial choice, the convention nominated Richard M. Johnson for vice-president. Jackson's preference for Van Buren and his policies on the tariff, banks, and internal improvements, as well as his handling of the Nullification Crisis, the Second Bank of the United States, and the French Spoliation claims, caused dissension within the Democratic Party, and in 1834 and 1835, Anti-Jackson Democrats joined with the National Republicans and Anti-Masonic Party to form the Whig Party in opposition to the Jackson administration. Lacking a national organization, the Whigs held no national convention, and could not agree on a single candidate to oppose Van Buren. Instead, Whig strategy was to run as many sectional candidates as possible, hoping to prevent Van Buren from getting a majority in the Electoral College, throwing the contest into the House of Representatives. Whigs in various sections of the nation nominated William Henry Harrison, Hugh Lawson White, Daniel Webster, and Willie P. Mangum to challenge Van Buren. The Whig strategy failed, as Van Buren garnered substantial majorities in both the Electoral College and the popular vote. Democratic electors withheld their votes from Johnson, however, and he ended up one vote short of a majority in the vice-presidential contest. For the first (and only) time in American history, the vice-presidency would be decided in the U.S. Senate. The Senate would decide between Johnson and Francis Granger, the two top vice-presidential vote-getters. On February 8, 1837, the Senate elected Johnson on the first ballot.

In the U.S. House of Representatives elections, the Democrats held onto their majority, but saw it further eroded from 1832, as the Whigs picked up twenty-five seats. In the Senate, the Democrats resumed control after becoming the minority party in 1832.

Major J. Wilson, The Presidency of Martin Van Buren (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1984), 16-19; Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845 vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Row, 1998), 252-56, 374-76; Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 485-87; "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.