Whigs and Anti-Masons
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 that 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 the 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.
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. 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.