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THE ANTI-ABOLITIONIST CAMPAIGN OF 1840 Vernon L. Volpe "Doyouthink that songs about coonskins and log-cabins and hard cider, or thejokes ofTom Corwin, can longdrown the cries goingup from millions of human beings in chains in the South?" complains an abolitionist character in Brand Whitlock's The Buckeyes. Much of Whitlock's last (and unfinished) novel revolves aroundthe "tomfoolery" ofthepresidentialcampaign of William Henry Harrison in 1840. Ethan Grow, an avid reader of Garrison's Liberator, scorns the Whigs for "running an old man for President , widiout aplatform, withoutaprinciple—nothingbuta reputation for fightingIndians,"while theyignored the "burning, live, throbbing" issue of black slavery.1 Despite this calculated evasion, or perhaps because of it, Whidock implied, Harrison and die Whigs captured the White House and the Congress with die eager complicity ofthe voters in what has gone down in history and folklore as the "Log Cabin campaign" of 1840. Whidock might have been echoing die words of George Washington Julian, a young Whig in 1840 who became the Free-Soil candidate for vicepresident in 1852. Julian admitted to taking part in die "grand national frolic" by riding 150 miles to a mass meeting at the site ofdie Tippecanoe battlefield in Indiana. While he denied die 1840 contest had been eidier "a campaign of ideas" or a "struggle for political reform in any sense," Julian noted diat behind all die "clatter and nonsense" slavery was die real issue, but diat it went "unrecognized by bodi parties."2 Bodi Edian Grow and George Julian were nonetheless wrong in assuming thatthe majorpolitical parties avoided die slavery issue in 1840, though diis has been a common presumption. Cries were heard above die sound and fury of the 1840 campaign—not diose of suffering slaves but of their masters and odiers in bodi North and Soudi who sought protection for the South's peculiar institution. As voters listened to die campaign rhetoric in 1 Brand Whitlock's The Buckeyes: Politics and Abolitionism in an Ohio Town, 1836-1845, ed. Paul W. Miller (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 1977), 194. Tom Corwin won election in 1840 as Governor of Ohio (and later as United States Senator) and was well known for his wit and eloquence. ' Political Recollections, 1840-1872 (Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Company, 1884), 22-29, 64-67. Civil War History, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, ©1986 by The Kent State University Press 326CIVIL WAR HISTORY 1840, diey understood diat neither partywas hostile to slavery and cheered as politicians denounced the dangerous schemes of"fanatical" abolitionists. Few commentators have discovered serious content among die campaign speeches and slogans of 1840.3 Historians have also failed to appreciate the role anti-abolitionism played in die 1840 presidential campaign. Scholars should have recognized the importance ofanti-abolitionism to the 1840 contest in the often-repeated story of how Thaddeus Stevens used a ruse to deflate the Winfield Scott boom at the Whig Harrisburg convention in late 1839. Hoping to see Old Tippecanoe nominated, Stevens wandered near the Virginia delegation and pretended to drop a letter from Scott to Francis Granger seeking die support of antislavery Whigs. Virginia quickly abandoned die abolition-tainted Scott while New York defected to Harrison.4 Many antislavery men preferred to believe Harrison was nominated in deference to the views ofthe free states, but Stevens's ploy and the reaction it elicited demonstrated die decisive power ofquite a different force. Contemporaries and historians alike have typically portrayed die "Log Cabin campaign" as a nonsensical one in which Whig politicians rode to victory by exploiting die voters' folly. A former Whig editor ofthe Cincinnati Chronicle, Edward D. Mansfield, suggested the campaign of 1840 was not "a conflict of great principles" but rather a "conflict about the material interests of the people—in fact, about tiieir pockets." In 1845 an Indiana Whig admitted that his party must again "stoop to conquer" as they had five years before. The Cincinnati abolitionist press, the Philanthropist, also bewailed the campaign of 1840 but blamed both parties for failing to stand for "great fundamental principles."5 Historian William Nisbet Chambers styles the Log Cabin race the "Image Campaign of1840," and contends that as the Whigs often were "on the unpopular side of issues...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 325-339
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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