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Election of 1848

Both of the major parties hoped to avoid the slavery issue's divisiveness in 1848. Since President Polk refused to consider a second term, the Democrats turned to Lewis Cass of Michigan, a rather colorless party loyalist. Cass advocated "popular sovereignty" on the slavery issue, meaning that each territory should decide the question for itself — a stance that pleased neither side. The Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor, hero of the Battle of Buena Vista, whose earlier military blunders had been forgotten. Taylor had no political experience and had never voted.

The election picture was clouded by the presence of two other parties. The Liberty Party, which had run with some success on an anti-slavery platform in 1844, tried again in 1848, but lost its issue to a stronger challenger. The Free-Soil Party nominated former president Martin Van Buren, who garnered nearly 300,000 votes—more than enough to deny victory to Cass and the Democrats.

Election of 1848
Candidates

Party

Electoral Vote

Popular
Vote

Zachary Taylor (LA)
Millard Fillmore (NY)

Whig

163

1,362,101

Lewis Cass (MI)
William O. Butler (KY)

Democratic

127

1,222,674

Martin Van Buren (NY)
Charles F. Adams (MA)

Free Soil

0

291,616

Gerrit Smith (NY)
Charles C. Foote (MI)

Liberty

0

2,733


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Party Over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Campaign of 1848 by Joel H. Silbey.
The presidential campaign of 1848 saw the first strong electoral challenge to the expansion of slavery in the United States; most historians consider ...
Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer.
The slick and dandyish professional politician Martin Van Buren was to all appearances the opposite of his predecessor, the rugged general and Democra...