Home > 1828-1852 Campaigns, 1848 Campaign > 1848–The Whig-ish Candidate–Becky Bitar

1848–The Whig-ish Candidate–Becky Bitar

1848 was an eventful year in American history; the Mexican-American War was ending, the Gold Rush was introduced, the issue of slavery was being widely disputed, women began discussing their rights for the first time, and the Whig party was taking a political lead (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1848).  The presidential election of Zachary Taylor, over Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren, was allegedly based on his “national appeal as a war hero.” Taylor was known for his involvement in the Mexican-American War and caught the hearts of American people as being a “nationalist” man of his country (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3). 

Taylor’s military involvement of the Mexican-American war the primary foundation of his political campaign; it was essentially his only form of (non-Aristotelian) ethos. Taylor’s ethos was established mainly though his social character; people knew him as a war hero. Americans were not concerned with Taylor’s Aristotelian ethos, or establishing credibility throughout his speeches, because they already knew who he was and respected him. This was made clear in the fact that Taylor did not fully identify with any political party. He only promised to “serve” his country. He said’ “”I have no private purpose to accomplish, no party objectives to build up, no enemies to punish—nothing to serve but my country” (http://www.scmidnightflyer.com/zac.html). Taylor was attempting to win the hearts of his audience by using Kenneth Burke’s Theory of identification; he was identifying himself with the audience by identifying his ways with theirs. He was communicating to be like his audience (http://blog.umd.edu/tpg/comm-401-spring-2011/powerpoint-presentations-comm-401/). This idea is also made clear with his presidential campaign poster. 

The poster depicts a, military dressed, Taylor on top of a white horse, in between two columns topped with lady justice and lady peace. The columns are wrapped with cloths that say the words “Palo Alto”, “Monterey”, and “Buena Vista”, all terms of Taylor’s successes in the Mexican-American War. There is a dove with an olive branch flying atop Taylor’s head, marking a symbol of peace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_symbols). And finally, there is a huge log at his feet that have the letters “UNION” on it. This poster was made to appeal to any American of the time. It incites an overwhelming feeling of peace, justice, and liberty. Although it could be interpreted as a Whig poster because of the “UNION” log, (and Whigs were pro-union) Taylor was probably attempting to reach out to all Americans. The fact that he was not fully affiliated with any political party, made it easier for him to attract all types of people for his audience. Because of his military involvement, Taylor refused to claim any political party, and rarely voted. He essentially ran with “no platform” and was publicly criticized for doing so (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3).  

This political cartoon plays on this issue of Taylor’s lack of platform with the topic of slavery; one of the biggest issues of the time. Because America had just recently acquired the Western states, the “Wilmot Proviso, a controversial bill prohibiting slavery in the western lands,” was recently enacted and created lots of debate over the issue (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3).  The South wanted to get rid of it while the North wanted to keep it in place. Taylor, wanting to appeal to all audiences, did not directly promise anything except “he hinted that if elected President, he might not veto” the bill (http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/taylor/essays/biography/3).

The cartoon depicts the hot issue of slavery as a pull between the three parties. Taylor, pulling the cow’s tail on the left, is saying “I don’t stand on the Whig Platform, I ask no favor and shrink from responsibility.” Van Buren, milking the cow, says “I go in for the free soil, Hold on Cass, don’t let go Taylor. (That’s the cream of the Joke).”  And Cass, holding the cow by the horns, says “Matty is at his old tricks again and going in for the Spoils old Zach, and myself will get nothing but skim milk”  (http://hdl.handle.net/10088/2413). The cow most likely represents slavery. This was most likely a political cartoon offered by the free-soil party. It makes fun of Taylor and Cass. Van Buren was the free-soil party candidate and was pro-slavery. Cass was the Democratic candidate and was in favor of popular sovereignity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Cass). And as we all know, Taylor did not make anything clear, but was considered the “Whig candidate.” The cartoon is playing on Taylor’s inconsistency. It is making fun of the fact that he claims himself as a Whig but has his own beliefs otherwise. This cartoon was most likely an attempt to attract the South. The South was most interested in slavery, which both Van Buren and Cass supported. But the cartoon depicts Van Buren as the one with the upper hand, as he is milking the cow and ordering Taylor and Cass to get out of his way. Cass, while technically in support of slavery, by being in favor of popular sovereignty, is depicted as weak and complaining about Van Buren. This cartoon was definitely an attack against Taylor and Cass.

But, in the end, it proved useless as the underdog party won. Because James K. Polk was the president before Taylor, the country assumed the Democrats would win again. Polk brought the country out of war and the Democrats seemingly had the upper hand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_K._Polk). But, Taylor and the Whigs’ use of coalescent argumentation brought the country together and appealed to the majority of American citizens. Taylor made the country feel like he was just like them. He used Burke’s theory of identification and successfully convinced voters that he was one of them. He further maintained this character by saying, “The idea that I should become President seems to me too visionary to require a serious answer. It has never entered my head, nor is it likely to enter the head of any other person.” (http://www.scmidnightflyer.com/zac.html). Taylor was an All American Man who successfully used his military persona to become president.

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