United States presidential election, 1840

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United States presidential election, 1840

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All 294 electoral votes of the Electoral College
148 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout 80.2%[1]
  William Henry Harrison.jpg MartinVanBuren.png
Nominee William H. Harrison Martin Van Buren
Party Whig Democratic
Home state Ohio New York
Running mate John Tyler none
Electoral vote 234 60
States carried 19 7
Popular vote 1,275,390 1,128,854
Percentage 52.9% 46.8%

Presidential election results map. Orange denotes states won by Harrison/Tyler, Blue denotes those won by Van Buren & one of his three running mates. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

President before election

Martin Van Buren

Elected President

William Henry Harrison

The United States presidential election of 1840 was the 14th quadrennial presidential election, held from Friday, October 30, to Wednesday, December 2, 1840. It saw President Martin Van Buren fight for re-election during a time of great economic depression against a Whig Party unified for the first time behind a single candidate: war hero William Henry Harrison. Under these circumstances, the Whigs easily defeated Van Buren.

This election was unique in that electors cast votes for four men who had been or would become President of the United States: current President Martin Van Buren; President-elect William Henry Harrison; Vice-President-elect John Tyler, who would succeed Harrison upon his death; and James K. Polk, who received one electoral vote for vice president, and who would succeed Tyler in 1845. 42.4% of the voting age population voted for Harrison, the highest percentage in the history of the United States up to that time.[1]

The 67-year-old Harrison was the oldest President elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980 and died little more than a month after his inauguration. His vice president John Tyler succeeded him, though no law at the time precisely outlined the details of vice presidential succession, and Tyler's precedent of assuming the full office was followed by convention until ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967.

The choice of Tyler for Vice President proved to be disastrous for the Whigs: while Tyler had been a staunch supporter of Clay at the convention, he was a former Democrat and a passionate supporter of states' rights who blocked the Whigs' political program in office. Instead of giving Tyler a full four year term, he only served what was left of Harrison's term until Inauguration Day; and was not given the chance to get one full term.

The Whigs would only elect one other president in 1848: Zachary Taylor. Taylor would also die in office, only serving for little more than a year, and his successor Millard Fillmore destroyed the Whig image and the Whig Party dissolved after the election of 1852. President Martin Van Buren, who lost this election, attempted to regain the Democratic nomination in 1844. Upon losing, he won the nomination of the Free-Soil party in 1848.


Democratic Party nomination

Democratic candidates

Van Buren, the incumbent president, was re-nominated in Baltimore in May 1840. The party refused to re-nominate his sitting vice-president, Richard Mentor Johnson. In the electoral college, the Democratic vice-presidential votes were divided among Johnson, Littleton W. Tazewell, and James K. Polk.

Whig Party nomination

Whig candidates

Three years after Democrat Martin Van Buren was elected President in the election of 1836 over three Whig candidates, the Whigs met in national convention determined to unite behind a single candidate. The convention was chaired by Isaac C. Bates of Massachusetts and James Barbour of Virginia presided over the convention. The party nominated the popular retired general William Henry Harrison of Ohio for President, the most successful of the three Whig presidential candidates from the previous election. Harrison, though a slave-owner and aristocrat, was perceived as being simple and a commoner.[2] The convention nominated John Tyler of Virginia for Vice President. The two would go on to win the 1840 presidential election, defeating the Democratic incumbents, President Martin Van Buren and Vice President Richard M. Johnson.

Because Harrison (born in Virginia) was considered a Northerner (as a resident of Ohio), the Whigs needed to balance the ticket with a Southerner. They also sought a Clay supporter to help unite the party. Tyler was finally chosen by the convention after several Southern Clay supporters had been approached but refused. Tyler had previously been the running-mate of Hugh Lawson White and Willie Person Mangum during the four-way Whig campaign at the previous election.

Anti-Masonic Party nomination

During the Van Buren administration, the Anti-Masonic Party had continued to disintegrate, as its leaders moved one by one to the Whig party. Party leaders met in September 1837 in Washington, D.C., and agreed to maintain the party. The third Anti-Masonic Party National Convention was held in Philadelphia in November 1838. The delegates voted to nominate William Henry Harrison for president and Daniel Webster for vice-president.

Convention vote
Presidential vote Vice Presidential vote
William Henry Harrison 119 Daniel Webster 119

General election


Caricature on the aftermath of the panic of 1837.

In the wake of the Panic of 1837, Van Buren was widely unpopular, and Harrison, following Andrew Jackson's strategy, ran as a war hero and man of the people while presenting Van Buren as a wealthy snob living in luxury at the public expense. Although Harrison was comfortably wealthy and well educated, his "log cabin" image caught fire, sweeping all sections of the country.

Harrison avoided campaigning on the issues, with his Whig Party attracting a broad coalition with few common ideals. The Whig strategy overall was to win the election by avoiding discussion of difficult national issues such as slavery or the national bank and concentrate instead on exploiting dissatisfaction over the failed policies of the Van Buren administration with colorful campaigning techniques.

Log cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison

Harrison was the first president to campaign actively for office. He did so with the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too". Tippecanoe referred to Harrison's military victory over a group of Shawnee Indians at a river in Indiana called Tippecanoe in 1811. For their part, Democrats laughed at Harrison for being too old for the presidency, and referred to him as "Granny", hinting that he was senile. Said one Democratic newspaper: "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."

Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage of the winning candidate in each county. Shades of yellow are for Harrison (Whig) and shades of blue are for Van Buren (Democrat).

Whigs took advantage of this quip and declared that Harrison was "the log cabin and hard cider candidate", a man of the common people from the rough-and-tumble West. They depicted Harrison's opponent, President Martin Van Buren, as a wealthy snob who was out of touch with the people. In fact, it was Harrison who came from a family of wealthy planters, while Van Buren's father was a tavernkeeper. Harrison however moved to the frontier and for years lived in a log cabin, while Van Buren had been a well-paid government official.

Nonetheless, the election was held during the worst economic depression in the nation's history, and voters blamed Van Buren, seeing him as unsympathetic to struggling citizens. Harrison campaigned vigorously and won.


Harrison won the support of western settlers and eastern bankers alike. The extent of Van Buren's unpopularity was evident in Harrison's victories in New York (the president's home state) and in Tennessee, where Andrew Jackson himself came out of retirement to stump for his former vice-president.

Few Americans were surprised when Van Buren lost by an electoral vote of 234 to 60. But many were amazed by the close popular vote. Of 2,400,000 votes cast, Van Buren lost by only 146,000. Given the circumstances, it is surprising that the Democrats did as well as they did.[3]

Of the 1,179 counties/independent cities making returns, Harrison won in 699 (59.29%) while Van Buren carried 477 (40.46%). Three counties (0.25%) in the South split evenly between Harrison and Van Buren.

Harrison's victory won him precious little time as chief executive of the United States. After giving the longest inauguration speech in U.S. history (about 1 hour, 45 minutes, in cool weather), Harrison served only one month as president before dying of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a) Electoral
Running mate
Count Pct Vice-presidential candidate Home state Elect. vote
William Henry Harrison Whig Ohio 1,275,390 52.9% 234 John Tyler Virginia 234
Martin Van Buren Democratic New York 1,128,854 46.8% 60 Richard Mentor Johnson Kentucky 48
Littleton W. Tazewell Virginia 11
James Knox Polk Tennessee 1
James G. Birney Liberty New York 6,797 0.3% 0 Thomas Earle Pennsylvania 0
Other 767 0.0% Other
Total 2,411,808 100% 294 294
Needed to win 148 148

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. "1840 Presidential Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved July 27, 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Source (Electoral Vote): "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved July 31, 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

(a) The popular vote figures exclude South Carolina where the Electors were chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.

Popular vote
Van Buren
Electoral vote
Van Buren

Geography of results

Cartographic gallery

Results by state

Source: Data from Walter Dean Burnham, Presidential ballots, 1836-1892 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1955) pp 247-57.

William Henry Harrison
Martin Van Buren
James G. Birney
State Total
State electoral
#  % electoral
#  % electoral
#  % electoral
Alabama 7 0001361828,515 45.62 - 0004866933,996 54.38 7 no ballots 62,511 AL
Arkansas 3 5,160 43.58 - 6,679 56.42 3 no ballots 11,839 AR
Connecticut 8 31,598 55.55 8 25,281 44.45 - no ballots 56,879 CT
Delaware 3 5,967 54.99 3 4,872 44.89 - no ballots 10,852 DE
Georgia 11 40,339 55.78 11 31,983 44.22 - no ballots 72,322 GA
Illinois 5 45,574 48.91 - 47,441 50.92 5 160 0.17 - 93,175 IL
Indiana 9 65,302 55.86 12 51,604 44.14 - no ballots 116,906 IN
Kentucky 15 58,488 64.20 15 32,616 35.80 - no ballots 116,865 KY
Louisiana 5 11,296 59.73 5 7,616 40.27 - no ballots 18,912 LA
Maine 10 46,612 50.23 10 46,190 49.77 - no ballots 92,802 ME
Maryland 10 33,528 53.83 10 28,752 46.17 - no ballots 62,280 MD
Massachusetts 14 72,852 57.44 14 52,355 41.28 - 1,618 1.28 - 126,825 MA
Michigan 3 22,933 51.71 3 21,096 47.57 - 321 0.72 - 44,350 MI
Mississippi 4 19,515 53.43 4 17,010 46.57 - no ballots 36,525 MS
Missouri 4 22,954 43.37 - 29,969 56.63 4 no ballots 52,923 MO
New Hampshire 7 26,310 43.88 - 32,774 54.66 7 872 1.45 - 59,956 NH
New Jersey 8 33,351 51.74 8 31,034 48.15 - 69 0.11 - 64,454 NJ
New York 42 226,001 51.18 42 212,733 48.18 - 2,809 0.64 - 441,543 NY
North Carolina 15 46,567 57.68 15 34,168 42.32 - no ballots 80,735 NC
Ohio 21 148,157 54.10 21 124,782 45.57 - 903 0.33 - 273,842 OH
Pennsylvania 30 144,010 50.00 30 143,676 49.88 - 340 0.12 - 288,026 PA
Rhode Island 4 5,278 61.22 4 3,301 38.29 - 42 0.49 - 8,621 RI
South Carolina 11 no popular vote no popular vote 11 no popular vote - SC
Tennessee 15 60,194 55.66 15 47,951 44.34 - no ballots 108,145 TN
Vermont 7 32,445 63.90 7 18,009 35.47 - 319 0.63 - 50,773 VT
Virginia 23 42,637 49.35 - 43,757 50.65 23 no ballots 86,394 VA
TOTALS: 294 1,275,583 52.87 234 1,129,645 46.82 60 7,453 0.31 - 2,412,694 US
TO WIN: 148

Campaign songs/slogans


"Tippecanoe and Tyler too"

Van Buren

Rockabye, baby, Daddy's a Whig
When he comes home, hard cider he'll swig
When he has swug
He'll fall in a stu
And down will come Tyler and Tippecanoe.
Rockabye, baby, when you awake
You will discover Tip is a fake.
Far from the battle, war cry and drum
He sits in his cabin a'drinking bad rum.
Rockabye, baby, never you cry
You need not fear of Tip and his Ty.
What they would ruin, Van Buren will fix.
Van's a magician, they are but tricks.

Election paraphernalia

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)

In popular culture

In the film Amistad, Van Buren (played by Nigel Hawthorne) is seen campaigning for reelection. These scenes have been criticized for their historical inaccuracy.[5]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Between 1828-1928: "Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections: 1828 - 2008". The American Presidency Project. UC Santa Barbara. Retrieved November 9, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "About US President William Henry Harrison". What is USA News. September 17, 2013. Retrieved September 16, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Watson, Harry L. (2006). Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 226. ISBN 0-8090-6547-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Boston Harrison Club. Harrison melodies: Original and selected. Boston: Weeks, Jordan and company, 1840. Google books
  5. Foner, Eric (March 1998). "The Amistad Case in Fact and Film".

Further reading

  • Chambers, William Nisbet. "The Election of 1840" in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (ed.) History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–1968 (1971) vol 2; analysis plus primary sources
  • Formisano, Ronald P. "The new political history and the election of 1840," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Spring 1993, Vol. 23 Issue 4, pp. 661–82 in JSTOR
  • Gunderson, Robert Gray (1957). The Log-Cabin Campaign. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Greeley, Horace (1868). Recollections of a Busy Life.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Greeley's description of the 1840 election is posted on Wikisource.
  • Holt, Michael F. "The Election of 1840, Voter Mobilization, and the Emergence of the Second American Party System: A Reappraisal of Jacksonian Voting Behavior," in Holt and nd John McCardell, eds. A Master's Due: Essays in Honor of David Herbert (1986); emphasizes economic factors; See Formisano (1993) for criticism
  • Holt, Michael F. (1999). The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505544-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shade, William G. "Politics and Parties in Jacksonian America," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 110, No. 4 (Oct. 1986), pp. 483–507 online
  • Zboray, Ronald J., and Mary Saracino Zboray. "Whig Women, Politics, and Culture in the Campaign of 1840: Three Perspectives from Massachusetts," Journal of the Early Republic Vol. 17, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 277–315 in JSTOR

External links