United States presidential election, 1848: Wikis


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1844 United States 1852
United States presidential election, 1848
November 7, 1848
ZacharyTaylor small.png LewisCass-portrait.png
Nominee Zachary Taylor Lewis Cass
Party Whig Democratic
Home state Louisiana Michigan
Running mate Millard Fillmore William O. Butler
Electoral vote 163 127
States carried 15 15
Popular vote 1,361,393 1,223,460
Percentage 47.3% 42.5%
Presidential election results map. Blue denotes states won by Cass/Butler, Orange denotes those won by Taylor/Fillmore. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

Incumbent President
James K. Polk

Zachary Taylor

The United States presidential election of 1848 was an open race. President James Polk, having achieved all of his major objectives in one term and suffering from declining health that would take his life less than four months after leaving office, kept his promise not to seek re-election.

The Whigs in 1846-47 had focused all their energies on condemning Polk's war policies. They had to quickly reverse course. In February 1848 Polk surprised everyone with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War and gave the U.S. vast new territories (including California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico). The Whigs in the Senate voted 2-1 to approve the treaty. Then in the summer the Whigs nominated the hero of the war, Zachary Taylor. While he did promise no more future wars, he did not condemn the war or criticize Polk, and Whigs had to follow his lead. They shifted their attention to the new issue of whether slavery could be banned from the new territories. The choice of Taylor was almost in desperation--he was not clearly committed to Whig principles, but he was popular for leading the war effort. The Democrats had a record of victory, peace, prosperity, and the acquisition of both Oregon and the Southwest; they appeared almost certain winners unless the Whigs picked Taylor. Taylor's victory made him one of only two Whigs to be elected President before the party ceased to exist in the 1850s; the other Whig to be elected President was William Henry Harrison, who had also been a general and war hero, but died a month into office.



Whig Party nomination

Whig candidates

Candidates gallery

Taylor/Fillmore campaign poster

Mexican-American War General Zachary Taylor of Louisiana, spurred by his successes on the battlefield but who had never voted in an election himself, was openly courted by both the Democratic and Whig parties. Taylor ultimately declared himself a Whig, and easily took their nomination, receiving 171 delegate votes to defeat Henry Clay, Winfield Scott, Daniel Webster and others. After Webster turned down the vice presidential candidacy, Millard Fillmore received the party's nomination for Vice President.

Convention Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2 3 4
Zachary Taylor 111 118 133 171
Henry Clay 97 86 74 32
Winfield Scott 43 49 54 63
Daniel Webster 22 22 17 14
John Middleton Clayton 4 3 1 0
John McLean 2 1 0 0
Convention Vice Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2
Millard Fillmore 115 173
Abbott Lawrence 109 87
Andrew Stewart 14 0
Thomas M.T. McKennan 13 0
Abstaining 23 6

Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates:

Candidates gallery

Cass/Butler campaign poster

The Democrats countered by nominating Lewis Cass, who had served as Governor and Senator for Michigan, as well as Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson, and from 1836-1842 as ambassador to France. General William Orlando Butler was nominated to join Cass on the ticket, garnering 169 delegate votes to defeat five other candidates, including future Vice President William Rufus deVane King and future Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Democrats chose a platform that remained silent on slavery, and with Cass suspected of pro-slavery leanings, many anti-slavery Democrats walked out of the Baltimore convention to begin the Free Soil party.

Convention Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2 3 4
Lewis Cass 125 133 156 179
Levi Woodbury 53 56 53 38
James Buchanan 55 54 39 33
John C. Calhoun 9 0 0 0
William Jenkins Worth 6 6 5 1
George M. Dallas 3 3 0 0
William O. Butler 0 0 0 4
Abstaining 39 38 37 35
Convention Vice Presidential vote
Ballots 1 2
Before shifts
After shifts
William O. Butler 114 169 290
John A. Quitman 74 62 0
William R. King 26 8 0
John Y. Mason 24 3 0
James I. McKay 13 11 0
Jefferson Davis 1 0 0

Free Soil Party nomination

Van Buren/Adams

A third party, the Free Soil Party, was organized for the 1848 election to oppose further expansion of slavery into the western territories. The party was led by Salmon P. Chase and John Parker Hale. Former President Martin Van Buren defeated Hale by a 154-129 delegate count to capture their nomination, while Charles Francis Adams, the son and grandson of two other presidents, was chosen as the vice presidential nominee.

Convention vote
Presidential vote Vice Presidential vote
Martin Van Buren 244 Charles Francis Adams, Sr. 467
John Parker Hale 183
Joshua R. Giddings 23
Charles Francis Adams, Sr. 13
Others 4

General election


The undeclared platform created within the Whig party left them campaigning only Taylor's established military history. The Democratic and Free Soil parties dealt with the loss of votes when they chose their stance on slavery in the newly acquired Southwestern territory. Whether or not slavery should be allowed in the new territories was a controversial issue that had many voters switching parties. The undeclared Whig party avoided the controversial issues and thus avoided losing voters. With Taylor remaining vague on the issues, the campaign was dominated by personalities and personal attacks, with the Democrats calling Taylor vulgar, uneducated, cruel and greedy, and the Whigs attacking Cass for graft and dishonesty. The division of the Democrats over slavery allowed Taylor to dominate the Northeast


"Cock of the walk" - Zachary Taylor as victor

With the exception of South Carolina, which left the selection of electors to its legislature, the election of 1848 marked the first time in which every state in the union voted for President and Vice President on the same day: November 7, 1848. Taylor won election over Cass, capturing 163 of the 290 electoral votes cast. However, Taylor won barely more than 47% of the popular vote, mainly because of the 10% the Free Soil Party had won.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a) Electoral
Running mate Running mate's
home state
Running mate's
electoral vote
Count Pct
Zachary Taylor Whig Louisiana 1,361,393 47.3% 163 Millard Fillmore New York 163
Lewis Cass Democratic Michigan 1,223,460 42.5% 127 William Orlando Butler Kentucky 127
Martin Van Buren Free Soil New York 291,501 10.1% 0 Charles Francis Adams, Sr. Massachusetts 0
Gerrit Smith National Liberty New York 2,545 0.1% 0 Charles C. Foote Michigan 0
Other 285 0.0% Other
Total 2,879,184 100% 290 290
Needed to win 146 146

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1848 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (July 27, 2005). Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (July 31, 2005). (a) The popular vote figures exclude South Carolina where the Electors were chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.

Electoral college selection

Method of choosing Electors State(s)
Each Elector appointed by state legislature South Carolina
Each Elector chosen by voters statewide (all other States) *

* Massachusetts law provided that the state legislature would choose the Electors if no slate of Electors could command a majority of voters statewide. In 1848, this provision was triggered.

See also


  • Graebner, Norman A. "Thomas Corwin and the Election of 1848: A Study in Conservative Politics." Journal of Southern History, 17 (1951), 162-79.
  • Hamilton, Holman. Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House reprint 1966.
  • Michael F. Holt; The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. 1999.
  • Nevins, Allan. Ordeal of the Union: Volume I. Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847-1852 1947.
  • Rayback, Joseph A. Free Soil: The Election of 1848. University Press of Kentucky, 1970.

External links

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