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The Rise and Fall of the American Whig…

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the…

by Michael F. Holt

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The antebellum period saw the formation and destruction of the second party system in U.S. politics between Andrew Jackson’s Democrats, which survived to the present, and their rivals the Whigs that did not. Michael F. Holt’s magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, details how the Whigs emerged from all the anti-Jacksonian forces to their disintegration in the mid-1850s due to the factional and sectional divisions.

Beginning in the mid-1820s, Holt explains the origins of the anti-Jacksonian groups that formed and later coalesced to form the Whig party in the winter of 1833-4 in Washington, D.C. then how it eventually branched out and formed in states. Through thorough research from the national down to the state, county, and local levels Holt explored how the Whig party was planted and grew throughout the country and competed against their Democratic foes. Yet this research also exposed the intraparty feuds within state parties that affected conventions on all levels, platform fights, and Election Day enthusiasm. Exploring a political relationship between state politics and national politics that is completely different than that seen in the second half of the 20th-century and early 21st, Holt shows how this different political paradigm both rose up the Whigs and eventually destroyed them.

With almost 1300 pages of text and notes, Holt thoroughly explored the 20 year history of the American Whig party from the national to the local level within every state of the Union. Throughout Holt’s assertion that the Democrats always controlled “the narrative” of the Whig’s history and how that played on the Whig intraparty feuds which eventually was one of the main three causes of the party’s disintegration. The focuses on Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, party traitor John Tyler, party destabilizer Zachary Taylor, attempted party savior Millard Fillmore, and slew of other prominent Whigs gives the stage to historical actors who shaped history. Throughout the text, the reader sees how events if changed just slightly might have allowed the Whigs to continue as a national party and the effects that might have had going forward but ultimately who personalities and how some decisions out of the party’s control resulted in fatal wounds occurring.

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party is not for the general history reader, this tome is for someone dedicated to an in-depth researched book that shifts from the halls of Congress to the “smoke-filled backrooms” of state conventions in states across the nation to election analysis in various congressional districts across the young republic. The work of an academic lifetime, Michael F. Holt gives insight into political party that ultimately lost in history but that still had a lasting impact to this day in modern American politics. ( )
  mattries37315 | Oct 12, 2018 |
4195 The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War, by Michael F. Holt (read 7 Aug 2006) I have always had a high interest in American history from Jackson till the Civil War, so decided to read this book, a 1999 monumental history of the Whig Party. 985 pages of text, 93 pages of footnotes, 21 pages of bibliography. It is exhaustive on its subject, and, frankly, exhausting. Much is of interest, but while it all deals with politics (it covers minutely the events from 1832 to 1856), I must admit it was often heavy going. The author professes to admire the Whig Party, but I could not. The Party was destroyed of course by the tension between its Northern and Southern parts. Millard Fillmore comes out looking pretty good, but I guess I had forgotten how intense was anti-Catholic feeling in the early 1850s, so that the Know-Nothings were very powerful for a little while. The accounts of the Whig Conventions of 1836, 1840, 1844, 1848, and 1852 were of high interest, as were the accounts of the presidential campaigns of those years. But I could not get too intrigued by the state-by-state study of all the Congressional elections in those years. The research shown by this book is absolutely staggering and certainly no one today alive knows more than Holt about the Whigs. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Oct 23, 2007 |
At 1248 pages, this is not a book for the casual reader; even for someone fascinated by American political history, it is, at times, tough-going, with its state-by-state (occasionally district-by-district) dissection of election results and local politicians and office-holders. But for an understanding of the complex interactions between state politics, national figures, the increasing sectionalism caused by the anti-slavery movement, and the changing demographics of the country under massive German and Irish Catholic immigration, it is an impressive and invaluable study. There is little here about religion, but the moralizing movements: abolition, temperance, public schooling (and anti-Catholicism) are examined for their effects on political alliances and election outcomes.
The author corrects the common misconception that the Whig party arose from the remnants of the Federalists; he notes its evolution from divisions within the Jeffersonian Republican party and its maturation as the opposition to Jackson's centralization of power and as the leading advocate for state and federal activism in internal improvements (canals, railroads, public schools). The importance of state issues and personalities on the fortunes of the Whig party is the central theme, although the politics of major Whig figures, Clay, Webster, John Quincy Adams, Fillmore, as well as their Democratic opponents, Jackson, Van Buren, Polk, are thoroughly examined. I have revised my estimation of Fillmore, and solidified my distaste for Webster. On the whole, an indispensable work on the onset of the Civil War and on the period between 1834 and 1856. ( )
2 vote sweetFrank | Mar 6, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0195055446, Hardcover)

Most Americans remember the Whigs as morally uptight New Englanders who provided us with some of our more mediocre presidents. In his exhaustively researched book The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Michael F. Holt partially rehabilitates the reputation of this once-thriving political party. Founded in 1833, following Andrew Jackson's decimation of the Second Bank of the United States, the Whigs were united in the belief that the federal government was obligated to sponsor the nation's internal development and to promote manufacturing and large-scale agricultural endeavors. In Holt's account, however, proponents of Whiggery were divided on numerous other issues.

The nature of these disagreements amongst party leaders (most notably Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and future presidents such as John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore) take up the majority of space in Holt's 1,200-page account. Instead of relating how general sentiment on major issues (such as territorial expansion and the Compromise of 1850) determined the Whigs' fate, Holt shows how local and statewide political caucuses, party "kingmakers," federal patronage, and special interests created competing factions within the party even before sectionalism fractured cooperation between Northern and Southern wings in 1854. Amidst the diffused levels of power that defined the Federalism of the post-Jacksonian era, Holt concludes that the more popular leaders (such as Taylor and Fillmore) tried to balance competition amongst party factions instead of imposing an ideological "hard line" on sectional issues, a move that alienated many of the party's key ideological supporters. Written in an engaging narrative style with a minimal engagement of abstract theory, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party meticulously reconstructs the byzantine world of 19th-century American politics. --John M. Anderson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:01 -0400)

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"The political home of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Horace Greeley, and the young Abraham Lincoln, the American Whig Party was represented at every level of American politics - local, state, and federal - in the years before the Civil War, and controlled the White House for eight of the twenty-two years that it existed. Now, in The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Michael Holt gives us the only comprehensive history of the Whigs ever written - a monumental history covering in rich detail the American political landscape from the Age of Jackson to impending disunion."--BOOK JACKET.

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