Tag Archives: James K. Polk

A December Election

Elizabeth Martin's take on the 1844 election

Elizabeth Martin’s take on the 1844 election

When last we left the Whigs, they were fighting the presidential race of 1844, pitting their candidate, Kentucky’s Henry Clay, against Tennessee Democrat James K. Polk.  Both parties had dumped their presumptive heirs to the nomination, Vice President John Tyler and former President Martin Van Buren, respectively.

With their nation poised to become a continental power, the Whigs and Dems sparred bitterly over the annexation of Texas and Oregon, Manifest Destiny, and the westward expansion of slavery (Polk was for, Clay against).  But economic issues such as the tariff (Polk wanted to lower it) also hovered in the background.  Voting began on November 1–this was the last presidential election to be held on different days in different states–and when it concluded on December 4, 1844, Polk was declared the winner by a narrow margin.

In Elkton, Kentucky, 53-year-old Elizabeth Martin found herself on the wrong side of the vote (had she been able to vote, that is).  Writing to her nephew Benjamin Hinch, she mourned the outcome as “a grate calamity indeed” that left the defeated Whigs “all down in the mouth.”  Elizabeth’s daughter Avaline was also disappointed.  “The times are very hard with us,” and were likely to continue “since they have elected old Polk.”  But this joint mother-daughter letter included another, more personal debate, as the women earnestly proposed suitable names for Hinch’s newborn son.

Elizabeth and Avaline Martin’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections about politics, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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