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Party Formation through Petitions: The Whigs and the Bank War of 1832–1834

  • Daniel Carpenter (a1) and Benjamin Schneer (a1)

When President Andrew Jackson removed the public deposits from the Bank of the United States, he set off an economic and political crisis from which, scholars agree, the Whig Party emerged. We argue that petitioning in response to removal of the deposits shaped the emergence of the Whig Party, crystallizing a new line of Jacksonian opposition and dispensing with older lines of National Republican rhetoric and organization. Where petitioning against removal of the deposits was higher, the Whigs were more likely to emerge with organization and votes in the coming years. We test this implication empirically by using a new database of petitions sent to Congress during the banking crisis. We find that petitioning activity in 1834 is predictive of increased support for Whig Party candidates in subsequent presidential elections as well as stronger state Whig Party organization.

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1. On the weakness of the Federalists after 1812, consult Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, reprint (W.W. Norton, 2006), 158–59; on the divisions and weakness within the Republicans (variably known as Democratic-Republicans or Jeffersonian Republicans), see Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, 159, 218–219, 223, 234–236, where it appears vividly in the debate over the Missouri Compromise; see also Richard P. McCormick, The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (W.W. Norton, January 1973), 14–16.

2. Richard R. John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse, 2nd Printing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, November 1998), Ch. 6; Reeve Huston, “Jacksonian Political Practices” (Unpublished).

3. We are currently at work on another paper that generalizes this argument and refers as well to the rather precise anticipation of antislavery voting by antislavery petitioning in the United States.

4. Furthermore, we show that National Republican voting patterns before the removal of the deposits do not exhaust the predictive power of anti-BUS petitioning for subsequent Whig party development.

5. Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy.

6. Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 26, Ch. 25.

7. From 1833 to 1845, antislavery activists sent more than 8,500 petitions to the House of Representatives with at least 864,318 signatures (compiled from Harvard University database on antislavery petitions, in consultation with staff of National Archives Center for Legislative Archives). While we do not have information on the number of petitions (or the number of signatories on petitions) sent to the Senate, 150,000 signatures over a six-month period would appear comparable to the rate experienced at the height of antislavery petitioning. Note, however, that many antislavery activists also petitioned state legislatures, and that antislavery petitioning also continued through the 1840s and 1850s to the Congress, whereas Bank petitioning died off in 1834.

8. On women's petitioning, consult Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne, The Abolitionist Sisterhood: Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994); Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996); Suzanne M. Marilley, Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States: 1820–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996); Anne M. Boylan, The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1797–1840 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Susan Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women's Political Identity (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); Kathryn Kish Sklar, Women's Rights Emerges Within The Anti-Slavery Movement, 1830–1870: A Brief History With Documents (Macmillan, Bedford Series in History and Culture, 2000); Alisse Portnoy, Their Right to Speak: Women's Activism in the Indian and Slave Debates (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, October 2005); Johann N. Neem, Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts, Vol. 163 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); Ann-Marie E. Szymanski, Pathways to Prohibition: Radicals, Moderates, and Social Movement Outcomes (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2003). Szymanski and Boylan both discuss petitioning for temperance and related moral reform and benevolence movements, while Portnoy discusses an early campaign against removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands.

9. On petitions for bank chartering, consult Howard Bodenhorn, “Bank Chartering and Political Corruption in Antebellum New York: Free Banking as Reform,” in Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's Economic History, ed. Edward L. Glaeser and Claudia Goldin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 231–57. See, more generally, Howard Bodenhorn, State Banking in Early America: A New Economic History (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). On antitax petitioning in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, also sponsored by business as well as issuing from individuals, consult Romain D. Huret, American Tax Resisters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

10. On the concept of party formation, consult Ronald P. Formisano, The Birth of Mass Political Parties: Michigan, 1827–1861 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), and specifically, Formisano's deft and concise conceptual treatment in Chapter 1 of that book, “The Historical Problem of Party Formation.” See also McCormick, The Second American Party System. For another example of intraparty emergent organizations, see Rubin Ruth Bloch, “Organizing for Insurgency: Intraparty Organization and the Development of the House Insurgency, 1908–1910,Studies in American Political Development 27, no. 02 (2013): 86110 .

11. Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek, The Search for American Political Development (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

12. Formisano, The Birth of Mass Political Parties, 3.

13. To be sure, petitions are much older than parties, even in parliamentary contexts. Thomas N. Bisson, The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins of European Government (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, July 2010); Geoffrey Koziol, Begging Pardon and Favor: Ritual and Political Order in Early Medieval France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011); J. R. Maddicott, The Origins of the English Parliament, 924–1327 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

14. Wyatt-Brown Bertram, “Prelude to Abolitionism: Sabbatarian Politics and the Rise of the Second Party System,The Journal of American History 58, no. 2 (1971): 316–41; John Richard R., “Taking Sabbatarianism Seriously: The Postal System, the Sabbath, and the Transformation of American Political Culture,Journal of the Early Republic 10, no. 4 (1990): 517–67. For a rich discussion of the various movements that began to organize during this period, often but not exclusively linked to religious activism, consult Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, September 2009), Chs. 5 and 8.

15. Wyatt-Brown, “Prelude to Abolitionism,” 329.

16. Ibid., 340.

17. Ibid., 330.

18. See Carpenter Daniel and Moore Colin D., “When Canvassers Became Activists: Antislavery Petitioning and the Political Mobilization of American Women,American Political Science Review 108, no. 03 (2014): 479–98.

19. Daniel Carpenter, “Recruitment by Petition: American Antislavery, French Protestantism, English Suppression,” mimeo, 2015.

20. Lomazoff Eric, “Turning (Into) ‘The Great Regulating Wheel’: The Conversion of the Bank of the United States, 1791–1811,Studies in American Political Development 26 (March 2012): 123 .

21. Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 81–85.

22. Bray Hammond, Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957).

23. As Americans would later observe with the politics of Cherokee removal and Jackson's famous refusal to implement Chief Justice Marshall's opinion in Worcester v. Georgia, this was part of a larger pattern of resistance to judicial constraint in decisions that also happened to benefit trans-Appalachian white constituencies.

24. The BUS held the revenues of the U.S. Treasury upon deposit, and Taney claimed authority to take them back and reassign them to other banks before the BUS charter expired in 1836.

25. Arthur Meier Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Jackson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1945), 111–114; Howe, What Hath God Wrought.

26. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 25.

27. Clay and Biddle initially thought that the Bank recharter veto would turn the country against Jackson; Biddle to Clay, August 1, 1832, Henry Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8: Candidate, Compromiser, Whig, March 5, 1829–December 31, 1836 (The University Press of Kentucky, November 1984) (hereinafter, The Papers of Henry Clay), 556–57. Erastus T. Montague (Waltham, Virginia) to Clay, April 4, 1832, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 487; Clay to Thurlow Weed, April 14, 1832, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 492. On the tenuous state of alliance between Anti-Masons and National Republicans in New York; see also Clay to John H. Ewing, April 14, 1832, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8; Clay to Peter B. Porter, May 1, 1832, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 556–557 (“I greatly fear that that the cooperation between the Anti Masons and N. Republicans in N. York is far from certain”); Clay to Porter, April 26, 1832, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 499–500; Ambrose Spencer (New Albany, N.Y.), to Clay, April 28, 1832, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 500–501; Hiram Ketchum to Clay, May 12, 1832 (putting hopes in an alliance of anti-Masons and NRs), The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 510; William Preston Vaughn, The Anti-Masonic Party in the United States: 1826–1843 (The University Press of Kentucky, November 2009), 42–45. On Kentucky, see Thomas Metcalfe (Frankfort, Kentucky) to Clay, May 7, 1832, Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 506 (“…the coalition which is so much dreaded by the Jackson Papers (Viz) a united effort of the Calhoun and Clay parties, with the anti-Masons—which in the end is to result to the benefit of the latter”). In an editorial published six days earlier, Jabez Hammond appealed for an alliance of Anti-Masons with Clay and Calhoun supporters (Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 1, 1832).

28. Clay to Charles Hammond, November 17, 1832 (liberty at risk, PHC). On the dashed hopes of an alliance with anti-Mason voters, see Samuel L. Southard to Clay, December 1, 1832 and Robert W. Stoddard to Clay, November 12, 1832 (on New York), Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay. Vol 8, 601. “Death warrant” remark from Charles Shaler (Pittsburgh) to Clay, February 6, 1833, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 618.

29. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 83.

30. For further discussion on religiously motivated petitioning, consult John, “Taking Sabbatarianism Seriously.”

31. Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay. Vol. 8, 687. Taney's report of December 30, 1833, was also distributed as a pamphlet.

32. There is, to be sure, evidence of meeting-based petition signing or of petitions being laid out at public meetings, churches and other venues in these other campaigns, but from existing literature and data we have examined elsewhere, door-to-door canvassing appears to be much more common with those petitions. Consult Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship, 47, 97, 99–103, 109–111; Portnoy, Their Right to Speak; Julie Roy Jeffrey, The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 88–95.

33. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 26.

34. Clay to Biddle, December 21, 1833, Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay. Volume 8: Candidate, Compromiser, Whig, March 5, 1829–December 31, 1836, 681; Clay adds that “If the local Banks could be induced to concur in such a movement so much the better.” Memorials in favor of the restoration of the deposits arrived from Philadelphia and were received in the Senate on March 4, 7, 14, 19, 25, 26, and June 19, 1834. As Holt summarizes, “Clay took the lead in attempting to consolidate the polyglot opposition” Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 25. Clay to Henry Clay, Jr., January 23, 1834, Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 692.

35. For the speech of December 26, consult The Register of Debates; being a Report of the Speeches delivered in the Two Houses of Congress reported for the United States Telegraph … 23rd Congress—1st Session. Vol. I (hereinafter, The Register of Debates), January 1834 , 58–94. As the editors of the Clay Papers summarize the address of December 26, “This was Clay's major speech on the removal of the deposits and the censure of Jackson and Taney” [Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 684; Holt also sees the speech as central to Clay's development and to that of Whig origins Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 26–27. Southard's speech, more technical and elaborate than Clay's, appears in The Register of Debates, January 8, 1834; 143–198.

36. For the remarks on partisan removal, see The Register of Debates, December 26, 1833; 67–68. The poetic conclusion to the remarks of December 26 appears on p. 75.

37. Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 691.

38. For an example of a meeting presided over by military officers, see Scioto Gazette, March 19, 1834: “Gen. Duncan McArthur was called to the Chair, Col. Abraham Hagler, George Will, Esq. and Gen. James Manary chosen Vice Presidents.” Clay's allies agreed with his strategic emphasis on mobilizing public opinion, though the concept of public opinion and public sentiment was being transformed even as they wrote by developments in the electorate, pamphleteering, the aftermath the Second Great Awakening and the testimonial energies to which it gave rise. Peter B. Porter (writing from Black Rock, NY) to Clay, January 5, 1834, Clay The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 686: “I am glad to see the question of the deposits progress so moderately in both houses; for I think you will constantly gain by delay, if not continued too long. Every day's discussion aided by manifestations of public sentiment, and evidences of public distress, cannot, I think, fail to produce some effect on the Jackson men in Congress who have not abjured every sentiment of patriotism” (emphasis in original). On some of the transformations of political discourse in these years, see Howe, What Hath God Wrought; Sandra M. Gustafson, Imagining Deliberative Democracy in the Early American Republic (Chicago and London: University Of Chicago Press, May 2011), especially Ch. 4.

39. On Tazewell's leadership of the Norfolk meeting, consult the Spectator, January 16, 1834.

40. On the Second Bank as a regulator of state financial institutions, consult Lomazoff, “Turning (Into) ‘The Great Regulating Wheel’.” Clay to Biddle, February 2, 1834, Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay,  Vol. 8, 694; pressing the Bank recharter issue, Clay believed, would only have supplied fresh energy and evidence to Jackson's “assertions that the only question is a renewal of the Charter.”

41. The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 705.

42. Ibid., 710.

43. Porter to Clay (quotation), January 5, 1834, The Papers of Henry Clay,  Vol. 8, 685–686 and Porter to Clay (expressing judgment that the longer the deposits debate goes, the stronger Clay's position will become), February 15, 1834, Ibid.,  698. Clay to Littleton W. Tazewell, February 1, 1834, Ibid., 693; see also Clay to Clay, Jr., February 19, 1834, Ibid.,  699. On Virginia's resolutions against removal of the deposits, consult Niles' Weekly Register, Vol. 45 1834 (University of Michigan Library, April 2009), January 4, 1834; 309 and The Papers of Henry Clay,  Vol. 8, February 1, 1834; 388.

44. Clay offered remarks on petitions from Troy, New York, and Berks County, Pennsylvania, and noted that the support went well beyond the anti-Jackson vote the in 1832 election, The Register of Debates, 681, 718. For similar remarks on a petition from Louisville, Kentucky, consult The Register of Debates, 719–724. For remarks on 400 signers of a petition being “Administration men,” and “Jackson men,” see Register of Debates, March 4, 1834; 802–803, 860–862. On the Erie County petition with 4,000–5,000 signatures, see Porter to Clay, March 30, 1834, Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 709. For Clay's suggestion that the Senate compile and analyze all petitions and memorials presented to the Congress on the issue, see The Register of Debates, 1302–1305, 1310–1315; Clay, The Papers of Henry Clay, Vol. 8, 713–715, 733. For remarks on petition totals and their representation and measurement of public opinion, see Clay's Comment in Senate, April 11, 1834 and Remark in Senate, June 9, 1834, The Register of Debates, 2036–2037; The Congressional Globe: 23rd Congress (1834), 464.

45. As Holt summarizes the matter, “Common opposition to Jackson therefore was, at least initially, the strongest bond uniting incipient Whigs,” Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 28.

46. The full text of the memorial, along with meeting minutes and a list of citizens attending, was printed. Scioto Gazette, March 19, 1834.

47. This passage came from an account of a public meeting of the people of Loudoun County. The report remarked that it was a “very numerous Meeting.” Alexandria Gazette, January 21, 1834.

48. Ibid.

49. See the biographical summary available from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress at

50. Portland Advertiser, March 18, 1834.

51. Records on Magoun are scarce; however, his “Political Graveyard” entry notes that he served as Mayor of Bath, Sagadahoc County, ME. See

52. Enquirer, January 16, 1834.

53. One caveat is that, because the text of the Congressional Globe was digitized through optical character recognition (OCR), Type II errors might occur if the digitized text itself did not accurately capture our keywords. While we acknowledge the potential for this type of error, the digitization of the text in the Globe is quite clean and effective. As a result, we do not believe OCR leads to a substantial amount of Type II errors.

54. One potential concern about petitions is that they reflect the biases of members of Congress who might not submit all petitions to be read on the floor. One issue that allays this concern to some degree is that petitioners could submit their petition to any member of Congress sympathetic to their agenda. Henry Clay, for example, read a number of petitions from states other than Kentucky. Furthermore, during the crisis, Congress appears to have set aside time on the calendar specifically for the submission of petitions to the floor.

55. As Bray Hammond, in his work describing the attack on the bank, related one commonly held view, “All intelligent New Yorkers agreed that this charter enabled a corporation located in Philadelphia, a majority of whose acting directors resided in that city, to exercise a dangerous power over the monied and mercantile operations of the great city of New York” Hammond, Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War, 357.

56. Ibid., 356.

57. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party 25.

58. Hammond, Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War, 256.

59. Warren E. Weber, Balance sheets for U.S. Antebellum State Banks (Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 2013)

60. ICPSR, “United States Historical Election Returns, 1824–1968,” (Ann Arbor), 1999,

61. Throughout the analysis, South Carolina is excluded because the state legislature chose its electors.

62. NHGIS, “National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0,” Minnesota Population Center (Minneapolis), 2011,

63. Considering that, roughly speaking, Dem. Vote Share = 1 – Whig Vote Share in national elections until the 1850s.

64. Formisano Ronald P., “The New Political History and the Election of 1840,The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23, no. 4 (1993): 661–82,

65. These include farmers, merchants, mechanics, traders, boot and shoe makers, cordwainers, tin-plate workers, sheet-iron workers, chair-makers, upholsterers, authors, publishers, bookbinders, watchmakers, silversmiths, and jewelers among others.

66. This marginal effect is evaluated at the mean number of antirestoration petitions in order to incorporate the interaction included in the model.

67. We include up to a fourth-order polynomial.

68. There are several additional points of emphasis with respect to Figure 5. First, in some cases states held congressional elections on odd years. For ease of estimation and presentation, these are grouped into the next even year (for example, elections held in 1835 were pooled into the 1836 sample). Second, especially in early years, not all congressional districts ran Whig Party candidates (that said, the total proportion of districts with a Whig Party candidate in 1836 is strikingly high and, as a result, there is not enough geographic variation to make a study of the determinants of candidacy an interesting exercise). The fact that there are more observations in later years (i.e., Whig candidates ran in almost every district) explains why the estimates are noisier in the early years of the sample.

69. In fact, state party factors compose perhaps the principal force examined by Holt in his history of the Whig Party.

70. James G. Gimpel, National Elections and the Autonomy of American State Party Systems (Pitt Series in Policy and Institutional Studies) (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, May 1996); David R. Mayhew, Placing Parties in American Politics: Organization, Electoral Settings, and Government Activity in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986).

71. Daniel Klinghard, The Nationalization of American Political Parties, 1880–1896, 1st ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, April 2010).

72. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 55.

73. Ibid., 210.

74. These states were chosen because of their variation in Whig party development as well as because they had sufficient numbers of counties (and sufficient numbers of petitions for or against deposit restoration) to assess within-state correlations between petitioning practices in 1834 and later patterns of Whig Party voting. States such as Georgia or Tennessee, with numerous counties but with few or no petitions, provide us with too little variation on the dependent variable for within-state analysis. Note that such states will also figure less prominently (or not at all) in the nation-wide regressions with state fixed effects.

75. Ibid., 43.

76. Ibid., 53.

77. Ibid., 52.

78. Ibid., 75, Table 6.

79. Ibid., 210, Table 19.

80. Bawn Kathleen et al. , “A Theory of Political Parties: Groups, Policy Demands and Nominations in American Politics,Perspectives on Politics 10, no. 3 (2012): 571–97.

81. Edward G. Carmines and James A. Stimson, Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

82. “Sensing the possibility of gaining allies, saloon keeper leaders approach the teachers and growers about circulating pamphlets to protest the government's ‘interference in a free society.’ Out of this activity the Freedom Party is formed.” Bawn et al., “A Theory of Political Parties,” 573. Pamphlets were circulated along with petitions, to be sure, but petitions possess two properties that pamphlets do not: the known fact that they are eventually sent to Congress, and the fact that they are signed.

83. Rubin Ruth Bloch, “Organizing for Insurgency: Intraparty Organization and the Development of the House Insurgency, 1908–1910,Studies in American Political Development 27, no. 2 (2013): 86110 ; Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas, Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party After 9/11 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

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Appendix Tables A1-A11 and Figures A1-A9

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