Most Americans remember the Whigs as morally uptight New Englanders who provided us with some of our more mediocre presidents. In his exhaustively researched book The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Michael F. Holt partially rehabilitates the reputation of this once-thriving political party. Founded in 1833, following Andrew Jackson's decimation of the Second Bank of the United States, the Whigs were united in the belief that the federal government was obligated to sponsor the nation's internal development and to promote manufacturing and large-scale agricultural endeavors. In Holt's account, however, proponents of Whiggery were divided on numerous other issues.
The nature of these disagreements amongst party leaders (most notably Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and future presidents such as John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore) take up the majority of space in Holt's 1,200-page account. Instead of relating how general sentiment on major issues (such as territorial expansion and the Compromise of 1850) determined the Whigs' fate, Holt shows how local and statewide political caucuses, party "kingmakers," federal patronage, and special interests created competing factions within the party even before sectionalism fractured cooperation between Northern and Southern wings in 1854. Amidst the diffused levels of power that defined the Federalism of the post-Jacksonian era, Holt concludes that the more popular leaders (such as Taylor and Fillmore) tried to balance competition amongst party factions instead of imposing an ideological "hard line" on sectional issues, a move that alienated many of the party's key ideological supporters. Written in an engaging narrative style with a minimal engagement of abstract theory, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party meticulously reconstructs the byzantine world of 19th-century American politics. --John M. Anderson
From Library Journal
In 1834, opponents of Andrew Jackson organized the Whig Party. In all, four Whigs sat in the White HouseAHarrison, Tyler, Taylor, and FillmoreAwhile leaders such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster failed to capture that prize, contending with Democrats over tariffs, banks, internal improvements, territorial expansion, and, ultimately, slavery until the party's demise in the 1850s. The University of Virginia's Holt, author of Political Parties and American Political Development (LJ 6/1/92), details how great national issues intersected with lesser matters like control of patronage and the ambitions of persons and factions as well as with local and state-level concerns to shape the history of the Whigs. Although only dedicated readers will complete the trek through these 1000 dense pages, this book caps the career of a prominent political historian and will long be a staple for academic library collections in history and political science.ARobert F. Nardini, North Chichester, NH
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