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[Detail] United States Capitol [ca 1846]

Historical Comprehension: The Whig Party

The Whig Party's history coincided with the era of the daguerreotype. Its origin and dissolution were based on various political conflicts. In 1834, Henry Clay and other members of the National Republican party joined forces with disgruntled Democrats to establish the Whig Party in opposition to President Andrew Jackson's policies.

Six years after the party's formation, William Henry Harrison won the presidential election on the Whig ticket, but he died one month into serving his term. His successor, Vice President John Tyler, demonstrated loyalties to the Democrats and was kicked out of the party. Henry Clay earned the 1844 Whig nomination but his refusal to discuss the issue of the annexation of Texas as a slave state prompted many northern abolitionists to leave the party. This ensured victory for Democratic candidate James K. Polk.

Whig candidate Zachary Taylor won the presidency four years later but his opposition to admitting California prompted debates over what would be known as the Compromise of 1850. Taylor died in the midst of the debate and his successor, Millard Fillmore, supported the Compromise despite objections from within the party.

The debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which nullified the ban on slavery in U.S. territories established by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, ultimately caused the remaining members of the Whig Party to split and join the Democrats, the new Republican Party, or the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party.

Searches on Whig and Democrat provide a number of portraits of various Congressmen associated with both parties. These portraits can be organized according to political affiliation and used to create an illustrative timeline documenting the rise and fall of the Whig Party.

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