By Sen. Bill Doyle
On the national level, the “Era of Good Feeling” came to a close with the election of 1824. Four men ran for president that year – John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and William Crawford – and none gained a majority. The election was thrown into the House of Representatives, and Adams, with Vermont Congressional support, won.
Jackson, stung by defeat, started running almost immediately for the 1828 election, which he won. Jackson believed he spoke for the “little man,” the man with a farm who was looking west. His followers were known as Jacksonian Democrats. Many historians believe that this was the beginning of the Democratic party.
While Jackson won the presidency in 1828, he failed to carry a single Vermont county. The supporters of Adams felt this was a true reflection of Vermont political character: “The results are worthy of the character of the Green Mountain Boys, and the consciousness of having done their duty to themselves and their country…” During this period, the Vermont General Assembly rejected a Constitutional amendment which would have limited the presidency to one six-year term.
Adams was supported by the more business-minded interests of the country. His following termed themselves National Republicans. They later became known as Whigs.
The Whigs opposed President Andrew Jackson, whom they tagged “King Andrew the First.” The Whigs were an “organized incompatibility,” including Northerners who wanted a high tariff, Southerners who wanted a low tariff, small Northern farmers and wealthy Southern planters. In Vermont the Whigs appeared to include former Federalists, anti-Jacksonians and National Republicans who wanted internal improvements such as canals.
In Vermont, the heirs of the Jeffersonian Republican-Democratic Party won the governorship and legislature during most of the 1820s. In 1828, however, Samuel Crafts, the National Republican candidate, won the gubernatorial race. In 1831, an Anti-Mason, William Palmer from Danville, won. The Anti-Masons were a single-issue party: they worried that the secrecy of the Masonic order was a threat to the democratic process. Their strength in Vermont was great. Palmer won election four times, and in the national election of 1832, Vermont was the only state that voted for the Anti-Masonic candidate for president, William Wirt.
The Anti-Masonic movement was short-lived. By 1836 it had lost its momentum. Most of its adherents, led by William Slade, who would later become governor and congressman, joined the Whigs.
Vermont politics were unstable at this time, and as often as not, no candidate for governor was able to gain a statewide majority. The ultimate in political instability was reached in 1835 when no candidate for governor was able to gain a majority. The unicameral General Assembly was incapable, after three days of wrangling and thirty-five ballots, to choose a governor. As a last resort, it was decided that Lieutenant Governor Silas Jenison should be elevated to governor. This debacle was an important factor in the adoption of a constitutional amendment that abolished the Governor’s Council and created the Vermont State Senate in 1836. A greater equality of representation based upon population.
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 223-2851.