The election of 1848 was the 16th quadrennial presidential election in the history of the United States. In it, the Whig candidate Zachary Taylor received the majority of both popular and electoral votes, surpassing Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren, who ran for the Democratic and Free Soil Parties, respectively.


The 16th presidential election in the history of the United States came soon after the end of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, which resulted in a clear American victory and the acquisition of considerable territories. Judging on this fact, it would be feasible to assume that the election of 1848 hinged on the political issue of the status of newly conquered lands – but that assumption would be wrong. While debates concerning the future status of Mexican Cession as free states or slave states raged in the Congress until the Compromise of 1850, this division was sectional rather than partisan and, as such, did not affect the elections directly. Careful not to anger potential voters, the competing candidates made no definitive stands on dividing political issues of the time. This tendency was especially evident with Zachary Taylor, who essentially limited his campaign speeches to uncontroversial platitudes to avoid alienating anyone. As a result, the presidential campaign of 1848 did not involve an acute political struggle based on a dividing political issue forcing the participants to make decisive statements.

The major candidates in the election of 1848 were Zachary Taylor, Lewis Cass, and Martin Van Buren with Millard Fillmore, William O. Butler, and Charles Francis Adams, Sr., as their co-running candidates for vice-Presidency, respectively. Unlike Cass, a prominent Senator for the Democratic Party, and Van Buren, and ex-president seeking reelection, Taylor was a hero of the recent war and not a political figure, up to the point of boasting he never voted in presidential elections. These three tandems corresponded to the political parties in the election of 1848, namely, the Whig Party, the Democratic Party, and the Free Soil Party.

The results of the election of 1848 were clear and uncontroversial. Taylor won with 1,361,393 popular and 163 electoral votes, Cass lost with 1,223,460 and 127, respectively, and Van Buren, despite not winning a single elector to his case, still convinced 291,501 voters to support him. Due to the evident nature of Taylor’s victory, there were no major issues with the election of 1848.

Despite the Whig victory, the events of 1848 demonstrated the impending crisis of the party: it was only able to win by choosing a popular war hero without a strong commitment to its values. This gradual dissolution of Whig popularity continued – four years later, Whigs suffered a crushing defeat in the next contest for the presidency. Thus, the elections of 1848 and 1852 signaled the ongoing crisis of the Whig party. On the other hand, the outcome of the elections demonstrated the crisis of the existing political system as a whole. The performance of the Free Soil Party in the election of 1848 was an especially evident indication of this crisis. A third party siphoning off more than ten percent of the popular vote was a signal that Whigs and Democrats, just as the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans before them, did not offer an accurate representation of the nation’s political spectrum anymore. Thus, the first signs that the nation needed a new party to replace the dissolving Whigs and relatively unpopular Free Soilers already manifested in 1848.

1848 United States Presidential Election map
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org