National Republican Party

views updated Jun 11 2018


The National Republican Party flourished between 1827 and 1833, though it did not take that name until the last months of 1830. It originated from the coalition that elected John Quincy Adams president in February 1825, and supported his administration and his unsuccessful reelection bid in 1828. It led the opposition to Andrew Jackson's presidency after 1828 and ran Henry Clay as his main opponent in 1832. In the last forty years, historians have tended to deny that National Republicans constituted a real party, but in many states they created the organization and voter support that the Whig party used to oppose the Jacksonian Democrats after 1833.


The term national republican was often used after 1815 to delineate those Jeffersonian Republicans who wished to see an active federal government pursuing a positive economic policy. In particular, representatives of the farming majority in the middle Atlantic, border, and northwestern states advocated strengthening the home market and national self-sufficiency through federal appropriations to build roads and canals and through high protective tariffs to encourage domestic industry. Supporters of this American System divided in the 1824 presidential election between Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson. By contrast, Adams gained most of his support from the urge of New Englanders—whether living in the Northeast or in recently settled areas farther west—to secure a president who was not a southern slaveholder. Though New England was still associated with the traditional Atlantic economy, early in 1825 Adams privately committed himself to Clay's policy, attracted Clay's "national republican" supporters, and so won the critical House election of 9 February 1825.

Opposed from the start by the supporters of the disappointed candidates, who gradually rallied behind Jackson's cause, the administration advocated an ambitious program of internal improvements. Under Adams, Congress voted far more money for roads and canals than under all previous presidents put together, though the voting on particular measures often reflected regional as much as partisan support. Despite losing control of the House of Representatives after the midterm elections of 1826–1827, the administration forces pushed through the most protective tariff of the entire antebellum period in 1828, though only with the last-minute assistance of northern Jacksonians. Adams men could reasonably claim that their ranks in Congress had shown a degree of commitment to the American System far surpassing that of the sectionally divided Jacksonians.

In the presidential election of 1828, the Adams men demonstrated a party discipline and organization challenging that of the Jacksonians. From March 1827 a small central committee in Washington organized the interchange of information, raised money to finance the press campaign, and established a campaign paper in Washington titled We The People. In twelve states the Adams men used a state delegate convention to name their electoral ticket and legitimize a state management committee, and organized congressional elections along national party lines. They spread the mantle of popular approval over their People's Ticket, stressed the interests of "laboring men," and scurrilously damned Jackson for his bloodthirstiness and immorality. Their campaign successfully expanded the Adams-Clay votes of 1824 and 1826, but they were overwhelmed by a massive shift to Jackson among new voters in some critical northern states.

party persistence

Under Jackson, the disillusioned Adams men slowly transformed themselves into a major opposition party, as marked by their adoption of the title National Republican in 1830. They seized on the fact that while in 1828 Jackson had been portrayed in each state as supporting whatever policies were locally popular, once he was in power he revealed a pro-southern bias. The opposition rightly portrayed his Maysville Road Veto of 1830 as a betrayal of the American System and condemned his Indian Removal Act of 1830 as both an immoral refusal to maintain the United States' treaty obligations toward native peoples and a corrupt effort to expand the slave economy. When in 1832 he came into conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court and then vetoed the bill rechartering the second Bank of the United States, his opponents severely criticized both his disregard for established constitutional principles and his irresponsible attack on the nation's prosperity.

By this point, however, National Republicans were suffering from a major cleavage in their ranks. A fervent crusade against Freemasonry had taken hold in New England–settled constituencies, and those most aroused began to demand the exclusion of all Masons from public office. Before 1829 this demand had been subordinated to the need to reelect Adams, but thereafter it divided his supporters. Some National Republicans were Masons; many more were suspicious of Freemasonry, but objected to political discrimination based on religious or private affiliations and opposed a crusade that distracted attention from national issues. As a result, the anti-Masons had to pursue their political objectives by forming a third party, which in many northern states became the bitter opponent of the National Republicans in state and local elections. Since the anti-Masons were in part objecting to the aristocratic advantages that Masons supposedly enjoyed in law and politics, the National Republicans inevitably became associated with elite privilege in a way that their broader record entirely repudiated.

This cleavage did not greatly weaken the National Republican campaign in the 1832 presidential election, simply because most anti-Masons who had opposed Jackson in 1828 were unwilling to assist his reelection. Only in Massachusetts and Vermont, where the Jacksonians stood no chance of winning, did statewide anti-Masonic and National Republican tickets run against each other. In the three electorally powerful states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, the anti-Masons and the National Republicans agreed on a coalition: in return for a free run in the state elections without National Republican opposition, the anti-Masons agreed to support amalgamated electoral tickets that would vote in the electoral college for the candidate most likely to defeat Jackson.

Buoyed by these arrangements, the National Republicans in 1832 resorted once more to the machinery used in 1828, calling state and district nominating conventions. At the national level they organized the first national convention ever designed exclusively as a nominating device, which in December 1831 produced the first keynote address, the first nominating speech, and the first floor demonstration, all on behalf of Henry Clay. In May 1832 they generated the first formally issued party platform, which laid down the principles upon which the Whig Party would operate in the two decades after 1834. Their vigorous newspaper and broadside campaign, making innovative use of political cartoons, helped draw out a popular vote that correlated very closely with that they had received in 1828, but Jackson won even more heavily in the electoral college.


The failure of the National Republicans in both presidential campaigns resulted primarily from the fact that the anti-southern issues that gave them life restricted their reach. They appealed powerfully in twelve states stretching from Maine and Vermont to Maryland and Kentucky, always carrying at least seven of them and challenging closely in at least three others; together, these states elected 53 percent of U.S. Representatives and represented a clear majority in the electoral college. The party won its largest majorities in New England and regularly secured about half the vote in the large states of New York and Ohio, though not in Pennsylvania. The National Republicans also found extensive support in some parts of the South—in the border states, in sugar-growing Louisiana, and in Appalachia—but did disastrously in most of the older seaboard South, in the Cotton Kingdom, and on the farthest frontiers of Missouri and Illinois. This exclusion from much of the South explains why they found national success so elusive: the Jacksonians had so many more safe congressional seats and so many assured electoral college votes that the National Republicans had to win virtually all the marginal constituencies while the Jacksonian Democrats needed only a few for national victory.

After 1832 it became clear that the name "National Republican" was a major liability, even as Jackson's renewed attack on the national bank in September 1833 brought on a crisis that emphasized the urgency of strengthening the anti-Jacksonian opposition. Anti-Masonry was already losing its force as the number of Masonic lodges declined, but political anti-Masons saw National Republicans as their major opponents in state contests, despite their common stance on national issues. Similarly the appearance of an opposition movement within the South in the wake of the nullification and bank crises created the opportunity for a genuinely national opposition party, but only if the National Republicans could shake off their identification with antisouthernism. Hence the name "Whig" became widely used in 1834 to describe all elements of opposition, but in the states where the anti-Jacksonians of the years 1827 to 1833 had been competitive, the new party used the organizational experience of its predecessor and called upon the same body of popular support. The Whig Party became the major national party opposing the Democrats for the next twenty years, but in twelve states its ideological identity and voter base can be traced back to at least 1828, under another name.

See alsoAdams, John Quincy; Anti-Masons; Election of 1824; Election of 1828; Jackson, Andrew .


Chase, James S. Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789–1832. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973.

Howe, Daniel Walker. The Political Culture of the American Whigs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Ratcliffe, Donald J. "Antimasonry and Partisanship in Greater New England, 1826–1836." Journal of the Early Republic 15 (1995): 199–239.

——. The Politics of Long Division: The Birth of the Second Party System in Ohio, 1818–1828. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2000.

Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990.

Donald J. Ratcliffe

National Republican Party

views updated May 29 2018


NATIONAL REPUBLICAN PARTY, an outcome of the controversy surrounding the election of 1824. When none of the presidential candidates in 1824 won a majority in the electoral college, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives to select a winner. Although Andrew Jackson had won a plurality of the popular vote, John Quincy Adams won election in the House on the first ballot. Jackson's supporters protested the results, claiming that a corrupt bargain had been struck between Adams and a third candidate, Henry Clay. Adams had indeed owed his election in part to the fact that Clay had instructed his supporters in the House to vote for Adams. The charge that a "corrupt bargain" had taken place gained credence when Adams selected Clay to serve in the cabinet as secretary of state. The controversy divided the Jeffersonian Republicans so severely that they devolved into two parties, one supporting the Adams-Clay faction and the other supporting the Jackson faction. The Adams party eventually became known as the National Republicans and the Jackson party assumed the name Democratic-Republicans. In 1834 the National Republican Party was absorbed by the new and larger Whig Party, and Democratic-Republicans took on the name Democrats.


Hargreaves, Mary. The Presidency of John Quincy Adams. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985.

Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990.

William O.Lynch/a. g.

See alsoCorrupt Bargain ; Democratic Party ; Elections: Presidential .

National Republican Party

views updated May 14 2018

National Republican Party US political party, formed after the election of Andrew Jackson as president (1828). Staunchly opposed to Jackson, the party supported the Bank of the United States, a protective tariff and internal improvements. Daniel Webster and Henry Clay were dedicated leaders of the party. By 1836 it had become the Whigs.

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National Republican party