This is an essay, etc. Phrasing inspired by James Shapiro’s Contested Will: “This is a book about when and why many people began to question whether William Shakespeare wrote the plays long attributed to him, and, if he didn’t write them, who did.”
Garrison and slaveholding gentry of Charleston, South Carolina, agreed on anti-anti-slavery bona fides of both Van Buren and Harrison. On Garrison, see the Liberator, February 7, March 13, April 3, April 24, and September 18, 1840. Choosing between the major candidates was for Garrison equivalent to making a choice “between rottenness and corruption, the plague and leprosy, Satan and Beelzebub.” On Charleston meeting, see Niles’ Register, May 30, 1840 (vol. 58), 200: “[W]e rejoice that both the candidates for the presidency are foes to the abolitionists.”
Old Tippecanoe. The Battle of Tippecanoe took place on November 7, 1811. As governor of the Indiana Territory, Harrison led a force of militia and U.S. army regulars from Vincennes to Prophetstown, near present day West Lafayette. While suffering a high number of casualties, Harrison’s force dispersed an encampment of Native Americans from several tribes who had gathered there largely at the instigation of the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh (who was not present for the battle). Later, in the War of 1812, Harrison was commissioned as a major general, and his force scored a victory over the British and allied Native Americans at the Battle of the Thames, in what today is the Canadian province of Ontario, on October 5, 1813. In that battle, Tecumseh was killed, possibly (and reputedly) at the hand of Richard Mentor Johnson, who was later to serve as Van Buren’s vice president. In the 1840 campaign, Johnson refused to criticize (and even praised) Harrison’s war record. This infuriated Francis Preston Blair, who devoted a remarkable share of the Globe‘s space to exceedingly detailed accounts of Tippecanoe, and, especially, to the 1813 siege of Fort Stephenson. See the Globe, May 28, June 2 and 22, August 17, 18, 26, and 28, and September 9 and 11, 1840.
Emancipator on Whigs nominating Harrison instead of Clay. See reprint in Liberator, December 20, 1839.
Blair’s letter to Jackson, December 15, 1839. William Ernest Smith, The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics, vol. 1 (New York, 1933), 140.
Democratic “Address to the People of Ohio.” Globe, January 21, 23, and 31, 1840.
William Slade, John Quincy Adams, and William Cost Johnson in Congress, 1839-40. William Lee Miller, Arguing About Slavery (New York, 1996), 352-72.
John L. O’Sullivan, “desirable reform of annual elections.” Democratic Review, February 1838 (vol. 1), 279-92. A “semi-monarchical character,” “Presidential Palace,” and “into the Pacific Ocean,” ibid., April-May 1840 (vol. 7), 285-86, and September 1840 (vol. 8), 203.
Clay’s speech in Hanover County, Virginia. Niles’ Register, July 25, 1840 (vol. 58), 322-24.
Jackson’s public letter. Globe, October 14, 1840.
Harrison’s churlish defense. Niles’ Register, November 15, 1834. Harrison was responding to an invitation from the state of Indiana to a commemoration of the Battle of the Thames. The celebration was sponsored by supporters looking to elevate Richard M. Johnson to the presidency in 1836, and the invitation had stated the event would honor the victory won “by the American forces under gen. Harrison and col. Johnson.” Harrison answered: “If I had an associate in command of the forces, it was unquestionably [Kentucky Governor Isaac] Shelby and not col. Johnson. But gentlemen, I had no associate in command of the army. I was as completely clothed with the characteristics of ‘commander of the forces as was…gen. Jackson…to whom…I was the senior in rank.” In an accompanying note, then-editor Hezekiah Niles rather oddly asserted that Harrison’s prickly reply would in fact “strike every reflecting man” as entirely just.
Harrison’s straitened finances. The general was in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of early-19th-century dollars. See Freeman Cleaves, Old Tippecanoe (New York, 1939), 247-55, 277-78, 382, and Dorothy Burne Goebel, William Henry Harrison (Indianapolis, 1926), 238. As a self-consciously erudite but financially strapped 19th century scion of 18th century Virginia privilege, Harrison exemplified perfectly both the pursuit of the “Horatian ideal” and the systemic economic challenges documented among the Old Dominion’s sons by Richard D. Brown and by Rhys Isaac, respectively.
Democratic editor admits privately. Thomas Allen’s September 30, 1838, letter to William C. Rives, quoted in James Roger Sharp, The Jacksonians versus the Banks (New York, 1970), 236.
Polk on the stump in Tennessee gubernatorial election of 1839. Jonathan M. Atkins, Parties, Politics, and the Sectional Conflict in Tennessee, 1832-1861 (Knoxville, 1997), 73.
Webster and Weed, 1838. Robert V. Remini, Daniel Webster (New York, 1997), 480.
Harrison’s log cabin and his spacious 16-room home. Cleaves, 26, and 229.
Charles Ogle’s speech. National Intelligencer, June 30, July 2, 4, 21, 23, and 25.
James Brooks’ dispatch. Reprinted in the May 25 National Intelligencer, and in the May 30 Log Cabin.
Joshua Giddings’ speech. Log Cabin, June 13.
Enough information to rough out a pretty fair replica. “GEN. HARRISON’S HOUSE,” Log Cabin, July 18. See also the report of Henry H. Fuller of the Boston Atlas, reprinted in the Log Cabin, September 19 (“As it now stands, precisely one-half of the front part and one ell-part is of logs; the other end being constructed more recently was built precisely to correspond with the log end in height and shape and the whole is now weather-boarded and painted so as to present a uniform aspect in front, no logs appearing”); and “GEN. HARRISON AT HOME,” Log Cabin, October 17.
Correct representations. See for example Log Cabin, July 18: “GEN. HARRISON’S HOUSE. Mr. N. Dearborn, of Boston, has published a steel portrait of Gen. Harrison, together with a correct representation of his residence.”
Harrison’s speech at Greenville, Ohio. National Intelligencer, August 21. In what, incredibly, was a single sentence, Harrison said: “But, notwithstanding my wish and my determination not to engage as a politician in the pending canvass for offices to administer the General Government, although I would have preferred to remain with my family in the peace and quiet of our log cabin at the Bend, rather than become engaged in political or other disputes as the advocate of my own rectitude of conduct, yet, from the continued torrent of calumny that has been poured upon me, from the slanders, abuses, and obloquy which have been promulgated and circulated to my discredit, designed to asperse and blacken my character, and from the villainous and false charges urged against me by the pensioned presses of the Administration, my attendance at this celebration appeared to have been made an act of necessity, a step which I was compelled to take for self-defense.”
Early adopters, not innovators. On January 10, the following squib ran in the Intelligencer: “It is stated that the People are of [the] opinion that General HARRISON has lived in a ‘log cabin’ long enough, and intend, on the 4th of March, 1841, to give him free rent of their great white house in Washington city.” Four days later, a reprint from the New York Daily Whig appeared in the Intelligencer‘s columns: “The ‘Log Cabin Candidate‘ is the term of reproach given to General HARRISON.” The report on the Harrisburg rally didn’t appear in the Intelligencer until January 27: “At an early hour, we learn from the Chronicle, a transparency representing General HARRISON’S ‘log cabin’ on one side, the Battle of the Thames on another, the flag of the Republic on a third, and the motto ‘Democracy, Reform, and One Presidential Term‘ on the fourth was introduced; and it was then that the full hearts of the country people broke loose with all the wild joyous acclamations that their lungs could give vent to….”
John Bach McMaster, A History of the United States, vol. 6 (New York, 1906), 562. The new orthodoxy did not prevail overnight. As late as 1944, Charles and Mary Beard’s snippet on 1840 noted with curt accuracy that Whigs “boasted that Harrison had a wing to his house made of logs.” See Charles Beard and Mary Beard, A Basic History of the United States (New York, 1944), 251.
Secretary of State John Forsyth’s letter to Vice President Van Buren, August 5, 1835. William Allen Butler (Harriet Allen Butler, ed.), A Retrospect of Forty Years, 1825-65 (New York, 1911), 78-79.
Pan-partisan origins of anti-abolitionist rhetoric and actions. In effect, some northern Democrats threatened or even mobbed abolitionists in part to prove Van Buren was “safe” on anti-abolitionism even though he was a northerner. Conversely, some northern Whigs threatened or even mobbed abolitionists in part to prove the party was “safe” on anti-abolitionism even though it numbered among its members an avowed abolitionist like William Slade. Purely in terms of electoral politics, it’s telling that Webster wrote precisely the same soothing public letters to southerners as Van Buren. Most famously, in May of 1835, Webster assured a concerned citizen of Georgia that the federal government had neither the power nor the wish to touch the peculiar institution. See Norman D. Brown, Daniel Webster and the Politics of Availability (Athens, 1969), 35; and Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate (New York, 1987), 237.
Anti-abolitionist violence as partisan media events. John Nerone, Violence Against the Press (New York, 1994), 100-01: “The role of the national Democratic party in instigating the Utica riot, as well as other such ‘media events’ in 1835 and 1836 has been well documented….The role of Van Burenite politicos in the riot was uncommonly visible and clearly meant to send a signal to the southern wing of the Democratic party, which was not enthusiastic about Van Buren’s candidacy.”
In the eyes of highly placed party officials. In Senate debate, Silas Wright of New York assured John Calhoun that the Utica anti-abolitionist riot was “evidence of the correct state of opinion” in the Empire State. See Gerald S. Henig, “The Jacksonian Attitude toward Abolitionism in the 1830s,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 28 (1969), 48-49.
“I send you the enclosed proceedings.” Van Buren’s September 10, 1835, letter “to a gentleman in Augusta, Georgia,” reprinted in William Holland, The Life and Political Opinions of Martin Van Buren, Second Edition (Hartford, 1836), 346-47.
Van Buren, Clay, and Harrison were identical in where they “stood.” This applies to the period encompassing the 1836 and 1840 elections. Several (though by no means most or all) abolitionists rejoiced in print at seeing first Clay and then Van Buren defeated by Harrison. Then again, by 1848, Van Buren — a native of Kinderhook, New York — was running for president on the ticket of the Free Soil Party. For his troubles he was branded the “Kinderhook Iscariot” by Democrats who supported Lewis Cass.
Entire states stayed away from the Whig nominating convention. In both Tennessee and Georgia, parties opposed to Van Buren had based their appeals on the most strident anti-caucus rhetoric and thus could hardly be seen turning around and participating in a national party convention. On Tennessee, see Thomas B. Alexander, “The Presidential Campaign of 1840 in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 1 (1942), 22. On Georgia, see Anthony Gene Carey, Parties, Slavery and the Union in Antebellum Georgia (Athens, 1997), 47. Additionally, South Carolina stood aloof from the second party system at the time of the log cabin campaign. Enfranchised residents of the Palmetto State would not vote directly for presidential electors until after the Civil War.
Both parties were doing it. The idea that Democrats were listless in 1840 or that they swore off large rallies on newfound principle isn’t supported by the election’s results (the party increased its vote total by nearly 50 percent compared to 1836) or by contemporaneous accounts. When Adams famously wrote in his journal that year of a “revolution in the habits and manners of people,” he specifically noted “numerous assemblages in all the States where the opposition is in any strength.” And, that August, Niles’ Register editor Jeremiah Hughes published a note on the challenges of covering the election: “Such large assemblages of people — of both parties — have never before been convened in this country.” See Adams (Charles Francis Adams, ed.), Memoirs, vol. 10 (Philadelphia, 1874-77), 356; and Niles’ Register, August 22, 1840 (vol. 58), 393.