Lincoln the Whig

"Log Cabin Song," 1840

And this too while he was an avowed Clay man.”Lincoln autobiography, 1860

Though he would become the first Republican president of the United States, it was as a Whig that Lincoln served four terms in the Illinois legislature and one term in the U.S. Congress. The Whig Party’s demise during the 1850s, attributable primarily to internal party divisions over slavery’s westward expansion, helps to explain Lincoln’s withdrawal from politics from 1849 to 1854 as well as his reemergence as a Republican.

The Whig Party formed in opposition to Jacksonian Democrats during the early 1830s. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay led the party. His “American System” championed domestic production, public education, centralized federal banking, and internal improvements of roads, railroads, and canals. Clay competed for national attention with fellow Whigs Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John Calhoun of South Carolina. Whigs rarely achieved the party unity necessary to win the presidency.

In an 1852 eulogy for Clay , Lincoln praised the Whig leader’s patriotism and attempted to defuse escalating sectional divides. Lincoln declared, “Whatever he did, he did for the whole country… .  Feeling, as he did, and as the truth surely is, that the world’s best hope depended on the continued Union of these States, he was ever jealous of, and watchful for, whatever might have the tendency to separate them.”

Lincoln would be guided by these sentiments nine years later, when he assumed the presidency.