1844 United States presidential election
The 1844 U.S. presidential election was the 15th presidential election, held from Friday, November 1 to Wednesday, December 4, 1844. Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in a close contest turning on the controversial issues of slavery and the annexation of the Republic of Texas. Polk completed American annexation of Texas, which was the proximate cause of the Mexican–American War.
About 1844 United States presidential election in brief
The 1844 U.S. presidential election was the 15th presidential election, held from Friday, November 1 to Wednesday, December 4, 1844. Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in a close contest turning on the controversial issues of slavery and the annexation of the Republic of Texas. President John Tyler’s pursuit of Texas annexation threatened the unity of both major parties. Polk completed American annexation of Texas, which was the proximate cause of the Mexican–American War. The question as to whether the institution of slavery was compatible with democratic republicanism was becoming a permanent issue in national politics, writes Julian Zelizer. The incumbent President, John Tyler, had assumed the presidency upon the death of William Henry Harrison in 1841, Zelizer says. He says Tyler became convinced that Great Britain was encouraging a Texas–Mexico rapprochement that might lead to slave emancipation in the Texas republic, and he directed a bid for a full term in 1844 to a full election for a new president. The result was a close election, with Polk winning by fewer than 40,000 votes, a margin of 1. 4%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty Party won 2. 3% of the vote. Zelizer: Polk ran on a platform embracing popular commitment to expansion, often referred to as Manifest Destiny. The prospect of bringing another slave state into the Union was fraught with problems. Both major parties – the Democrats and Whigs – viewed Texas statehood as something “not worth a foreign war’’, writes Zelizer, adding that annexation would provoke in the United States a “sectional or combat’s’” conflict with the United Kingdom over Oregon, which the U.K.
controlled Canada, over Texas. The issue of slavery threatened a sectional split in each party, he says. It also risked war with Mexico while the United. States engaged in sensitive possession and boundary negotiations with the UK, which controlled Canada,. Texas annexation thus posed both domestic and foreign policy risks, he writes. The early leader for the Democratic nomination was former President Martin Van Buren, but his rejection ofTexas annexation damaged his candidacy. The Whigs nominated Henry Clay, a famous, long-time party leader who was the early favorite but who conspicuously waffled on Texas annexation. He chose to focus on the risks of annexation while claiming not to oppose it personally. Tyler dropped out of the race and endorsed Polk, who won the presidential election by a narrow margin of less than 1,500 votes, according to Zelizer’s calculations. The election was also the first to be held under the color of law, and Polk was the first president to be re-elected as a Democrat with a majority of votes in the House of Representatives. The next year, Texas became the first state to be admitted to the Union as a state, but only as a result of an act of Congress by President Andrew Jackson.