1840 One Hundred And Fifty Years Ago

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On May 5 the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore nominated President Martin Van Buren to run for a second term. Unable to choose from a number of favorite-son candidates for Vice-President, the delegates left the selection to their “fellow-citizens in the several states.”

Thirty thousand Whigs had also descended upon the city to stage a raucous parade aimed at drawing the nation’s attention away from the Democrats. In a procession that featured log cabins on wheels and barrels of hard cider symbolizing the roughhewn image of their candidate, Gen. William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe, and his Vice-Presidential candidate, John Tyler, the Whigs strutted through the streets of Baltimore on the day before Van Buren’s nomination, chanting, “Van, Van is a used-up man” and “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” The Baltimore Patriot said of the parade that “a thousand banners, burnished by the sun, floating in the breeze, ten thousand handkerchiefs waved by the fair daughters of the city, gave seeming life and motion to the very air.”

Campaigning for Harrison in June, Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky sought to show that the Whigs stood for something more than hard cider. In a June 27 speech in Hanover County, Virginia, Clay defined the Whig platform, which focused on limiting the amount of power that Jackson and Van Buren had invested in the Presidency in the previous twelve years. Clay proposed a one-term limit to the Presidency, a restriction of the veto power, congressional control of the Treasury, and a new national bank. But the Whig party’s hardcider tub-thumping would do more to elect Harrison in 1840 than all of Henry Clay’s eloquence.

Grazing animals, liquor traffic, and nearby lumbering operations had become intolerable to the commandant of Fort Snelling, on the Mississippi River in the Wisconsin Territory. On May 6 he expelled all civilian squatters from his fort. Among the group that settled four miles downriver was a whiskey salesman named Pierre Parrant, known for his “intemperate and licentious” behavior and a blind eye that gave “a kind of piggish expression to his sodden, low features.” The settlement was soon known as Pig’s Eye, after its most memorable character. Residents later decided that the name of their Catholic chapel looked better on their mail; renamed St. Paul, the town became the capital of the new state of Minnesota in 1858.