The Whig Party originated during the mid 1830s. The Whigs included traditional enemies who united in their opposition to President Andrew Jackson and his policies. Southern slaveholders, who opposed Jackson's support of the Tariff of 1828, supported the Whig Party. Abolitionists despised Jackson because he was a slave-owner and advocated slavery's expansion into new United States territories. Businessmen objected to Jackson's lack of support for banks, specifically the Second Bank of the United States. Finally, a large number of farmers and industrialists opposed Jackson's failure to support internal improvement projects, such as turnpikes and canals.
The Whig Party believed in a strong federal government, similar to the Federalist Party that preceded it. The federal government must provide its citizenry with a transportation infrastructure to assist economic development. Many Whigs also called for government support of business through tariffs. Tariffs were taxes placed on foreign-made goods sold in the United States. These taxes would increase the price of foreign goods, making American products more attractive to the consumer. Whigs also believed that the government should play a role in creating a moral citizenry. The government should support temperance, public education, observance of the Sabbath, and, according to some Whigs, abolitionism.
At the same time that the Whig Party formed, the Democratic Party also existed. The Democrats, as a whole, believed that the states should retain as much power as possible. The federal government should only have a bare minimum number of powers, and these powers should consist only of ones necessary for the federal government to function. The Democrats emphasized the rights of the common people, a message that was especially receptive among small farmers and factory workers. The Democratic Party also called for the United States' expansion. This would open up new land for settlement, a message that struggling farmers and factory workers, who hoped to own their own land someday, welcomed.
The Whig Party ran its first candidates for president in 1836. Unfortunately, the party had three candidates, William Henry Harrison, Hugh White, and Daniel Webster, running for the presidency. Combined, the three men had an impressive showing against the Democratic candidate, Martin Van Buren. The Whig candidates received a combined 739,000 votes to Van Buren's 765,000 votes. Unfortunately for the Whigs, running three candidates cost them the election. In 1840, the Whig Party chose Harrison as its only candidate. Harrison received 53.1 percent of the vote to incumbent Van Buren's 46.9 percent. Unfortunately for the Whigs, Harrison died a month after taking office. Vice President John Tyler succeeded Harrison. While Tyler said he would follow the Whig Party's ideology, his presidential actions were more in keeping with the Democratic Party's policies. Both the Whigs and the Democrats refused to endorse Tyler for the presidency in 1844. The Democratic candidate, James Polk, ran on a platform of United States expansion. He defeated the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, primarily due to James Birney of the Liberty Party running for the presidency as well. Birney drew numerous abolitionist votes away from Clay, allowing Polk to win by a mere thirty-eight thousand votes.
The Whig Party ran Zachary Taylor in 1848 for the presidency. This election began the collapse of the Whig Party. Taylor, a southern slaveholder, divided the Whigs into Northern and Southern factions. As tensions increased over slavery's expansion in the late 1840s and the early 1850s, Northern Whigs could not support a slave-owner. The Democratic Party nominated Lewis Cass, a former Ohioan. Southern Democrats could not support a Northern candidate. In the end, Taylor won, thanks to numerous Southern Democrats voting for him, but the Whig Party was in decline. The Whigs ran Winfield Scott in 1852. Scott lost to Franklin Pierce, and the growing tensions over slavery prevented the party from ever running another candidate for the presidency. The party divided, with most Southern Whigs joining the Democratic Party and Northern Whigs joining the Free Soil Party.
The Whig Party proved to be strongest in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, although Whig candidates had strong showings in the South as well as in the Midwest. In Ohio, many voters supported the Whigs and their call for internal improvements. Joseph Vance, a Whig, became the first Whig governor of Ohio in 1836. The Whig Party also dominated the Ohio legislature at this same time. The Panic of 1837 caused Ohio voters to replace Vance with Democrat Wilson Shannon and to replace the Whig majority in the legislature with a Democratic one. As the state's economic conditions improved, Ohioans returned a Whig, Thomas Corwin, to the governor's office. By 1845, the Whigs controlled both the legislature and the governor's office once again. That year, the legislature enacted the Kelley Bank Bill, establishing the State Bank of Ohio. Unfortunately for Ohio Whigs, the turmoil that their party faced on the national level in the late 1840s and the early 1850s also influenced state politics. As the Whig Party collapsed nationally, Ohio Whigs associated themselves with other parties, primarily the Free Soil Party, the Know-Nothing Party, and eventually the Republican Party.