1842 Federal Election

Date: From 1842-08-01 to 1844-02-14

The 1842 mid-term elections found the Whig Party, which gained substantial majorities in both houses of Congress in 1840, divided and in disarray. The death of President William Henry Harrison in April 1841 had elevated John Tyler to the presidency. A former states-rights Democrat who broke with Andrew Jackson over his handling of the Nullification Crisis and the Second Bank of the United States, Tyler had joined the Whigs in opposition to Jackson and Martin Van Buren, Jackson's successor, but he did not share many of the Whig views on banks, tariffs, and other economic matters. A strict constructionist, Tyler found much of the Whig platform unconstitutional. In 1841, Tyler vetoed two separate bills for a national bank, prompting his entire cabinet except Secretary of State Daniel Webster to resign and the Whigs to read him out of the party. Tyler's veto of Whig tariff bills, handling of the Dorr Rebellion, and defiance of Henry Clay, the real leader of the Whigs, further eroded his strength in Congress and in the nation. Tyler was anathema to the Democratic Party for his betrayal in 1840, leaving Tyler politically isolated.

Tyler's unpopularity, Whig Party division, Democratic party unity, and improved economic conditions in the aftermath of the Panic of 1837 pointed to a Democratic victory. In the House of Representatives, the Whigs lost sixty-nine seats, winning just seventy-three, giving the Democrats, who won 148 seats (up from ninety-nine in 1840), the majority. Though losing three seats, the Whigs retained a slight majority in the Senate, with twenty-nine seats to twenty-three for the Democrats.

Norma L. Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 77-112; "Party Division in the Senate" United States Senate Website, accessed February 7, 2018, https://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/history/one_item_and_teasers/partydiv.htm; "Party Division of the House of Representatives, 1789-Present," Office of the Historian, United States House of Representatives, accessed February 7, 2018, http://history.house.gov/Institution/Party-Divisions/Party-Divisions/.