Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Andrew Tremel

Whig Party

The Whig Party thrived in the Philadelphia region from its founding in 1834 through its demise twenty years later. The party, which emerged from the National Republicans in opposition to Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) and his Democratic Party, claimed the Whig name from the patriots of the American Revolution. Whigs controlled Philadelphia government through electoral victories and circulation of Whig-leaning papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the North American during a tumultuous period of racial conflict, nativism, and the consolidation of the city with Philadelphia County.

[caption id="attachment_27921" align="alignright" width="209"]A lithograph of Henry Clay, who is seated as he looks into the distance away from the viewer of the portrait. A leader of the Whig Party and one of the most influential politicians in U.S. history, Henry Clay is depicted in this 1844 lithograph. Clay advocated a system of policies that he dubbed the “American System,” a program of internal improvements and tariffs to help spark the development of industry. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Whigs often struggled from appearing to be little more than an opposition party to Jackson and the Democrats. Generally, though, Whigs championed Henry Clay’s (1777-1852) American System, a program of tariffs and internal improvements. They also supported a national bank to manage currency. The party achieved more success regionally than at the national level, finding issues that drew in voters. In the Philadelphia region, these included improvements to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (in which Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland invested) and the widening of the Morris Canal in New Jersey. Throughout the era, Pennsylvania and New Jersey remained competitive statewide. Pennsylvania Democrats kept a strong hold on the state House of Representatives and governorship. Whigs sometimes controlled the state Senate. New Jersey Whigs ruled state offices from 1837 to 1848. Newark, Trenton, Elizabeth, Burlington County, and Jersey City were anti-Jackson strongholds. Camden County, which favored Democrats, formed from Whig-leaning Gloucester County in 1844. Delaware Whigs controlled Kent and Sussex Counties and sent a Whig delegation to Congress.

[caption id="attachment_27918" align="alignright" width="300"]A ninteenth century political cartoon depicting Andrew Jackson being roasted over a barbecue, with several people watching and commenting on his demise. Opposition to the defunding of the Second Bank of the United States was one of the central issues of the early Whig Party. This 1834 political cartoon features President Andrew Jackson roasting over the fires of Public Opinion over his war against the Second Bank of the United States. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s Whig Party developed from economic concerns and, as a result, appealed to voters of all socioeconomic groups. Although Pennsylvania supported Jackson in the 1828 presidential election, the president waged war against the Second Bank of the United States (headquartered in Philadelphia), protective tariffs, and internal improvements—all important to the commonwealth’s voters. Nevertheless, Jackson remained very popular despite his administration working against Pennsylvania’s interests. He lost Philadelphia in the 1832 election, but carried the state. He also won New Jersey, but the Garden State elected an anti-Jackson legislature. In congressional elections, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware all voted for candidates who opposed Jackson in the bank debate. In 1834, despite the early gains, anti-Jacksonians, by then called Whigs, lost seats in Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature, partly from the economic malaise that followed Jackson’s veto of a new charter for the national bank. The bank’s credit restrictions during the Bank War, Jackson’s popularity, and Election Day riots contributed to Whig defeats.

Riots and Nativism

Whigs saw both successes and challenges through the following years. Lawyer John Swift (1790-1873), a Whig, served as Philadelphia’s mayor for much of the 1830s. In 1839, he won reelection by popular vote, the first mayor so chosen (rather than by vote of the City Council). Racial conflicts marked Swift’s years as mayor. Many Whigs were anti-slavery; some leaned toward abolitionism. A riot in August 1834 became an election issue. Whigs claimed that Democrats in Southwark and Moyamensing started it for political reasons; Democrats countered that the riots resulted from the ineptitude of Whig governance and called for a combined city-county government. Swift was unsuccessful in preventing violence in 1834, and he failed again in 1838 when he lukewarmly tried to prevent anti-abolitionists from burning Pennsylvania Hall, built by abolitionist groups.

[caption id="attachment_27919" align="alignright" width="207"]A black and white photographic portrait of Theodore Frelinghuysen. Frelinghuysen is seated in an appointed parlor looking into the camera. Theodore Frelinghuysen, posing in this 1855 photograph by Matthew Brady, was a U.S. Senator from New Jersey who became the Whig candidate for Vice President in 1844. A leader in the nativist, anti-Catholic American Bible Society, he was put on the ticket to appeal to the nativist base of the party. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The city’s voters continued to back Whigs despite setbacks, hoping that their policies would lead to economic growth. Swift’s successor was John Scott (1789-1858), who led the city through additional turmoil as the Whigs became more associated with nativism (policies favoring native-born Americans over immigrants). In the summer of 1844, when nativist riots occurred in immigrant (particularly Irish) and Catholic neighborhoods, Scott tried to end to the violence. At St. Augustine Church on May 8, he pleaded with the rioters for peace to no avail. The mob hurled rocks at the mayor and burned the church. Such nativist violence likely cost the Whigs Philadelphia in the 1844 presidential election, when their candidate for vice president was former New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen (1787-1862), a leader of the nativist, anti-Catholic American Bible Society. Whig President John Tyler (1790-1862) vetoed a national banking bill, further damaged Philadelphia Whigs’ election hopes, despite the fact that national leaders expelled Tyler from the party.

[caption id="attachment_27920" align="alignright" width="183"]A man dressed as a nineteenth century general sits atop a throne of skulls. Two Mexican-American war heroes, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, were among the competitors for the Whig Party’s presidential nomination in 1848. In this 1848 political cartoon, the central figure (not clearly identified as representing Scott or Taylor), sits atop a pile of skulls. The caption reads, “An Available Candidate, the one qualification for a Whig President.” (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

By the time Whigs convened in Philadelphia for their national convention in 1848, the party was splitting along sectional lines. In the aftermath of the Mexican-American War, many Whigs rallied around war hero Zachary Taylor (1784-1850). As a slaveholder, Taylor drew in some southern support. Some northerners backed Taylor, seeing him as a ticket to regaining the White House. Other northern Whigs backed Henry Clay. At the convention, which opened on June 7 in the former Chinese Museum building at Ninth and Sansom Streets, Pennsylvanians favored Taylor but New Jersey Whigs preferred Clay. Taylor ultimately defeated his divided opposition in four ballots. With Whigs actively seeking the nativist vote, Millard Fillmore (1800-74) received the vice presidential nomination. In the campaign, Whigs tried to lure working-class voters by blaming a recession on the 1846 Walker Tariff, which substantially cut duties. The bill was so unpopular that Philadelphians burned city native Vice President George M. Dallas (1792-1864) in effigy for casting the tie-breaking vote. Philadelphians, regardless of class or party, believed tariffs to be economically beneficial to the city’s businesses. This matter helped to put Pennsylvania into the Whig column. Taylor also comfortably won New Jersey and Delaware on his way to defeating Democrat Lewis Cass (1782-1866) and Free Soil candidate Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) for the presidency.

City-County Consolidation and Demise

[caption id="attachment_27922" align="alignright" width="254"]A ninteenth century map of Philadelphia after its consolidation with the surronding County in 1854. Various parts of the City are shaded in different colors. Throughout the antebellum era, Democrats and Whigs debated the issue of consolidating the City of Philadelphia with surrounding Philadelphia County. Although Whigs in the city opposed the merger, it eventually passed in the heavily Democratic state legislature and was signed into law by a Democratic governor. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Through the 1840s, Philadelphia Whigs and Democrats debated the idea of consolidating the city (then bounded by South Street, Vine Street, and the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers) with Philadelphia County. The 1844 nativist riots called attention to the need for greater law enforcement in the city’s suburbs. Whigs, who controlled the city through the decade, opposed merging with the Democratic-leaning county. After years of effort in the legislature, on February 2, 1854, Democratic Governor William Bigler (1814-80) signed the Act of Consolidation that joined the city with Philadelphia County. It set up twenty-four wards with a mayor serving a two-year term. Despite the expanded territory of the city, Whigs retained control of the mayor’s office as a coalition between Whigs and Know Nothings (a nativist political movement) elected Robert T. Conrad (1810-58), a businessman, judge, and playwright, the first mayor after consolidation.

While nativism propelled Conrad into elected office, it ended the career of another Whig politician, Joseph Chandler (1792-1880). He served on the City Council from 1832 until 1848, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He also helped the Whig paper Gazette of the United States gain some national attention. Highly respected by Philadelphians because of his work to improve the city, he was not renominated in 1854, he believed, because of his conversion to Catholicism. His supporters blamed Know Nothing influence in the faltering Whig Party.

Many identified as Whigs because of politics or economics, but a reformist movement within the party contributed to its demise. Nationally, the Whig Party splintered over sectional tensions—particularly over slavery. The Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 divided Whigs in Congress. After New Jersey’s two Whig senators voted against the Compromise of 1850, voters replaced them with conservative, unionist Democrats. In Delaware, the party’s antislavery wing pushed for an abolition bill that narrowly failed in the legislature. Upper-class Protestants steered the party toward nativism, advocacy for temperance, and high tariffs, which hurt the party among immigrants, Catholics, and the working class. Philadelphia voters split between the American Party (which formed from the Known Nothing movement), the new Republican Party, and the People’s Party (which avoided the slavery issue but was ideologically similar to the Republicans). By the early 1860s, the city was becoming a Republican stronghold.

The work of the Whigs’ elder statesman, Henry Clay, on measures such as the Compromise of 1850 gained for the party a reputation for compromise and union. Long after the demise of the nineteenth-century Whigs, this legacy inspired the Modern Whig Party, a centrist, grassroots movement founded in 2007 with the goal of luring voters disenchanted with the Republicans and Democrats. In 2013, a candidate running under this revived Whig banner, Robert Bucholz (b. 1974), won election as a Judge of Elections in Philadelphia’s  56th Ward. He was the first Whig elected to an office in nearly 160 years since Whigs dominated the region’s politics.

Andrew Tremel is an independent researcher and public historian at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

Presidents of the United States (Presence in Region)

Presidents of the United States, seeing Philadelphia as the city most connected to American independence, often have turned to the city and region to campaign, advance their agendas, and commemorate the past. In the city where the nation’s first two presidents established the executive branch of government, presidential legacies have spurred commemoration as well as controversy.

[caption id="attachment_22992" align="alignright" width="302"]President John F. Kennedy in front of Independence Hall delivering a July 4th address. On July 4, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed a crowd at Independence Hall and tied the ideals of the Declaration of Independence to the Cold War. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s long association with the presidency began after the Residence Act of 1790 placed the federal government in the city for ten years, while work began on a new capital city on the Potomac River. Presidents George Washington (1732-99) and John Adams (1735-1826) resided and instituted the executive branch of government in a house at Sixth and Market Streets rented from financier Robert Morris (1734-1806).  

From the President’s House, Washington oversaw construction of the new capital and declined Philadelphians’ generous offer of a new, large presidential residence built on Ninth Street between Market and Chestnut. (Twice, during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and the hot summer of 1794, Washington opted for Germantown.) Guided by the U.S. Constitution drafted in Philadelphia in 1787, Washington established the role of the presidency. In 1792, for example, after conferring with his cabinet, Washington vetoed a bill (concerning apportionment of House seats) for the first time. One achievement was the 1795 ratification of the Jay Treaty, an attempt to settle lingering conflicts with Great Britain. Debates over the extent of the federal government’s powers led to the formation of political parties and contributed to Washington’s decision to step down after two terms, setting another precedent that lasted into the twenty-first century.

On March 4, 1797, John Adams took the oath of office in Congress Hall, becoming the first president sworn in by the chief justice. The peaceful transfer of power to another administration was especially significant for the young republic. Adams had to negotiate the ongoing development of the country’s first political parties, the Federalists (with which Adams identified), and the Democratic-Republicans, an opposition party led by Vice President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). Adams also confronted foreign policy problems with France, including the Quasi-War in 1798.

When Philadelphians received the news of George Washington’s death in 1799, the city joined Congress in formally mourning the founding father on December 26. A procession began at Congress Hall and led to Zion Lutheran Church, Fourth and Cherry Streets, for a service attended by Adams and conducted by Bishop William White (1748-1836).

Presidential Visits and Sites of Mourning

The departure of the federal government from Philadelphia to its permanent location in Washington, D.C., in 1800 did not sever the city’s connection to presidents. Philadelphia’s role as the birthplace of independence and the American government continued to draw attention from presidents who visited the sites associated with this history and invoked the nation’s founding documents in their speeches.

The first presidential visit came in 1817, only months after President James Monroe (1758-1831) took office and embarked on a goodwill tour of each state. A large crowd welcomed Monroe to Philadelphia on June 5. He addressed the veterans of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati and stopped at sites throughout the city, including Peale’s Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Pennsylvania Hospital.

Presidents generally saw enormous, raucous crowds during official visits, particularly in the first part of the nineteenth century. This era witnessed a growing participation in politics, with the public drawn in particular to populist leaders who spoke out against the elite. One such figure, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), appeared before thirty thousand at the Navy Yard on June 8, 1833. The following day, a mob poured into First Presbyterian Church, where Jackson attended services. The president visited Independence Hall on June 10, a year to the day after he vetoed the renewal of the charter for the Second Bank of the United States, located one block away on Chestnut Street. The mayor intended to host a small reception at Independence Hall, but crowds of uninvited guests eager to see Old Hickory broke in and quickly overcrowded the first floor. Some had to flee the onrush through windows.

The city hosted two memorials for deceased presidents. In 1848, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) lay in state in Independence Hall, the first president to have the honor. Adams had served in the House of Representatives since 1831, the only person to do so after his presidency. Philadelphians paid respects to “Old Man Eloquent” as his remains were taken from Washington to Massachusetts for burial.

The only other president to lie in state at Independence Hall was Abraham Lincoln (1809-65). As president-elect in 1861, Lincoln passed through Philadelphia on his way his inauguration in Washington, D.C., and participated in the city’s celebration of Washington’s Birthday on February 22. He raised the flag over Independence Hall and spoke of Philadelphia as the birthplace of the Union. The thirty-four-star flag reflected the recent admission of Kansas after years of debates over slavery in the territories.

[caption id="attachment_22994" align="alignright" width="268"]President Lincoln's funeral carriage moving down a crowded Broad street in 1865. President Lincoln’s body arrived in Philadelphia on April 22, 1865. The funeral car is shown here passing mourners on Broad Street. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

During the Civil War, Lincoln returned to the city to visit the Great Central Fair, a fund-raiser for the U.S. Sanitary Commission at Logan Square. Lincoln arrived on June 16, 1864, a day declared a local holiday. Less than one year later, Philadelphians assembled for Lincoln again, but in mourning. A train bearing Lincoln’s remains, en route to Illinois for his burial, arrived in Philadelphia on April 22, 1865. Mourners draped black bunting throughout the city and watched the funeral procession from rooftops. Ticketed guests paid respects to the slain president in Independence Hall that night, and the public viewing followed the next day. Crowds gathered as early as 4:30 in the morning; the doors opened at 6 a.m. An estimated 85,000 passed by Lincoln’s casket.

When a reunited nation celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, the Centennial Exhibition brought President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) to Philadelphia. Together with Brazilian Emperor Don Pedro II (1825-91) and a number of European princes, Grant attended the opening festivities on May 10 and turned on the massive Corliss steam engine that ran the hundreds of machines on display. The technology displayed and the visit of Don Pedro (the first reigning monarch to visit the United States) captured the imagination of visitors, while the exhibition of George Washington’s uniform, camp set, and household items harkened back to an earlier, different, era.

The political activities of Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker (1838-1922) led to another notable presidential visit. Wanamaker, who served as postmaster general under Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), remained active in the Republican Party. He campaigned for William Howard Taft (1857-1930) and ultimately developed a friendship with the president. On December 30, 1911, Taft repaid Wanamaker’s service by dedicating the new Wanamaker Building at Thirteenth and Market Streets, the first time in history that a president dedicated a department store.

[caption id="attachment_22990" align="alignright" width="273"]President Woodrow Wilson delivering a speech at Independence Hall in 1919. President Woodrow Wilson visited Independence Hall on July 4, 1919, not long after he had signed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

The nation’s birthday often served as an occasion for presidential visits and speeches referencing self-government and the freedom forged by the founders. In this tradition, President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) spoke at Independence Hall on July 4, 1914. This was Wilson’s second visit to the city in less than a year; the president also spoke at the rededication of Congress Hall on October 25, 1913. Both addresses called upon Americans to embrace the principles of the Founding Fathers, particularly the former speech, which focused on the idea of liberty. President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) participated in the 1926 festivities, which included a speech at Independence Hall and a visit to the Sesquicentennial Exposition. On July 4, 1962, President John F. Kennedy (1917-63) addressed a crowd at Independence Hall and tied the ideals of the Declaration of Independence to the Cold War, discussing American leadership in the fight for independence in nations under Communist control. Gerald Ford (1913-2006) and George W. Bush (b. 1946) were among the presidents who took part in July 4 events at Independence Hall.

Ceremonial occasions were not the only times that presidents used language linking the present with the Revolutionary War era. For example, President Richard Nixon (1913-94) used Independence Hall as a backdrop to unveil his program for federal revenue sharing on October 20, 1972, claiming it presented an extension of principles established by the Founding Fathers.

The Campaign Trail

Philadelphia’s role in hosting political conventions also brought presidents—and potential presidents—to the city. From the Whig Party convention in 1848, which nominated Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), through the 2016 Democratic National Convention, twelve national party conventions convened in Philadelphia.

[caption id="attachment_22983" align="alignright" width="300"]President Ford visiting the Italian Market in 1972. President Gerald Ford visited Philadelphia in 1976, before a televised debate against Jimmy Carter at the Walnut Street Theatre. Here, Ford was visiting the Italian Market, where he tossed a watermelon. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

One of the most publicized of these events was the 1936 Democratic convention, which nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) for a second term. In his acceptance speech, broadcast nationwide by radio, Roosevelt drew parallels between the American Revolution and his New Deal domestic programs, comparing concentrated wealth to the tyranny of British rule. Aware of the political situation in Europe, the president outlined the importance of American democracy as a counter to the rise of dictatorships in Europe. In 1948, the Republicans, Democrats, and the Progressives all held conventions in the city. That year, the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action had a hand in crafting a strong civil rights platform for the Democrats, which led to a walkout of southern delegates.

The 1930s saw Pennsylvania shift from a Republican stronghold to a battleground state during presidential elections, largely because of the Great Depression. As Philadelphia also began to shift from a bastion of Republicanism to a solidly Democratic city, the city attracted numerous important campaign visits. Before losing the 1932 election to Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) campaigned at Reyburn Plaza with an estimated one hundred thousand in attendance. In the 1960 campaign, both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon blitzed the state. Later, Barack Obama (b. 1961) delivered a major address on race and American culture at the National Constitution Center in the 2008 campaign. In the twenty-first century, Philadelphia remained an important campaign stop.

Regional Ties

Presidential interest and influence in the region extended beyond Philadelphia. Two presidents had connections to Gettysburg, about 140 miles west of the city. Abraham Lincoln delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address there on November 19, 1863, and Dwight D. Eisenhower purchased a farm near the battlefield in 1950. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) visited the Eisenhower farm on a state visit in 1959; the president presented the Soviet leader with a bull. James Buchanan (1791-1868) lived in nearby Lancaster, purchasing Wheatland, an estate a mile from the town, in 1848 near the end of his tenure as secretary of state. Wheatland witnessed lobbying by office seekers after Buchanan’s election in 1856, several visits from Buchanan in the ensuing years, and the fifteenth president’s retirement. Woodrow Wilson served as president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, the culmination of his career as an academic political scientist, and as governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913, his first elected office.

[caption id="attachment_22987" align="alignright" width="286"]President John and Reverend Leon Sullivan entering the Opportunities Industrialization Center in 1967. President Lyndon Johnson visits the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center in 1967. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Presidents have also found rest and relaxation in the region. Starting with Ulysses Grant in 1874, Atlantic City became a destination for vacationing chief executives. City officials were grateful for the national attention that accompanied these dignitaries. Harry Truman (1884-1972) and Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) enjoyed golfing at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. For others, like John F. Kennedy, the city was a campaign stop. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-73) was nominated for a full term at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964, though the event brought attention to the city’s then-seedy accommodations. In all, sixteen presidents stayed in Atlantic City before, during, or after their time in office.

Lyndon Johnson returned to New Jersey in 1967 for the Glassboro Summit. On June 23-25, Johnson met with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin (1904-80) on the campus of Glassboro State College (later renamed Rowan University). Though the summit yielded little diplomatically, both sides were amicable and their meeting somewhat calmed Cold War tensions, at least temporarily.

Legacies and Controversies

The presidential presence in Philadelphia has been commemorated in many tangible ways. Plaques in the ground near Independence Hall marked the speeches made there by Lincoln and Kennedy. At the Wanamaker Building (Macy’s), an inscription in the floor marked where Taft stood to dedicate the building. Philadelphians placed a monument to Lincoln in Fairmount Park in 1871, and the Society of Cincinnati added a Washington monument in 1897 (moved in 1928 to the newly completed Benjamin Franklin Parkway). During the 1890s, the Fairmount Park Art Association also commissioned monuments to James Garfield (1831-81) and Ulysses S. Grant. Elsewhere in the city, a monument placed City Hall in 1908 honored William McKinley (1843-1901), and a state historical marker erected on Fourth Street in 1999 recalled the national mourning of Washington two centuries before. Several streets, including John F. Kennedy Boulevard and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Boulevard, also have been named for presidents.

[caption id="attachment_22985" align="alignright" width="255"]President Kennedy and Philadelphia Mayor Tate touching the Liberty Bell. President John F. Kennedy and Mayor James Tate touch the Liberty Bell, which became a frequently used symbol of American unity and strength during the Cold War. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s association with the early presidency forcibly came to public attention in the first decade of the twenty-first century in connection with the site of the President’s House occupied by Washington and Adams during the 1790s, which in the twentieth century became part of Independence National Historical Park. In 2002, research by independent historian Edward Lawler Jr. documented the history of the long-demolished house and outbuildings, including the presence of slaves brought from Mount Vernon to serve the Washington household. The findings made the public aware that Washington circumvented the 1780 Pennsylvania gradual abolition law by rotating the slaves between Mount Vernon and Philadelphia. This information, and knowledge of the presence of slavery only feet away from where a new Liberty Bell Center was to be built (it opened in 2003), led numerous interest groups to lobby for a commemoration of the President’s House that would recognize slavery. The result, an outdoor exhibit titled “The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation,” opened on December 15, 2010.

Controversy over a president’s legacy also erupted in 2015 at Princeton University, where Woodrow Wilson served as president. A group of Princeton students asked the university to remove Wilson’s name from its campus, including the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, because of Wilson’s attitudes on race—for example, his actions in segregating the federal workforce. The university examined Wilson’s legacy and decided in April 2016 that the president’s name would remain. Princeton’s board of trustees called for a balance of recognizing not only Wilson’s successes but also his failures.

In the aftermath of these controversies, Philadelphia continued to play an important role in remembering key moments in the executive branch’s history, from its beginnings with the ratification of the Constitution and Washington’s two terms through visits by modern presidents like George W. Bush, who received the Republican nomination at the 2000 convention held in Philadelphia, and Barack Obama. In the twenty-first century, the rich history of the region continued to attract the country’s leaders, and Pennsylvania’s status as a battleground state assured further campaigning by candidates for the presidency.

Andrew Tremel is an independent researcher and public historian at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

Bank War

[caption id="attachment_19158" align="alignright" width="300"]An 1836 satirical cartoon of Andrew Jackson's campaign to destroy the Bank of the United States and its support among state banks depicts Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and Jack Downing’s struggle against a snake with heads representing the states. This 1836 cartoon satirizes Andrew Jackson's campaign to destroy the Bank of the United States and its support among state banks. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Conflict over renewing the charter of the Second Bank of the United States triggered the 1830s Bank War, waged between President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) and bank president Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844). Operating from its Parthenon-style building on Chestnut Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets in Philadelphia, the bank served as a reliable depository for federal money and provided a sound national currency. The expiration of its federal charter in 1836 virtually ended Philadelphia’s standing as the nation’s banking center, and New York’s Wall Street supplanted Chestnut Street as the America’s financial hub.

Congress issued a twenty-year charter for the Second Bank of the United States in 1816, with the government controlling twenty percent of the bank’s stock. Modeled after the First Bank of the United States, established in Philadelphia in the 1790s, the Second Bank handled all federal deposits and expenditures. The bank had a rocky start (overextension of loans helped trigger the Panic of 1819), but it became a dependable institution, and Biddle was generally considered a highly successful and respected leader. By the end of the 1820s, the bank had twenty-nine branches and conducted $70 million in business annually. Nevertheless, President Jackson’s first annual message to Congress in 1829 alleged corruption and condemned the bank as an unconstitutional entity. He favored hard money over bank notes, but also blamed the bank for the Panic of 1819, particularly for his personal losses.

[caption id="attachment_19157" align="alignright" width="300"]A satrical cartoon, published in 1834, on the failure of the combined efforts of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Nicholas Biddle to thwart Jackson's treasury policy This cartoon, published in 1834, is a satire on the failure of the combined efforts of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Nicholas Biddle to thwart Jackson's order to remove the federal deposits from the Bank of the United States.
(Library of Congress)[/caption]

While Jackson, a Democrat, opposed the bank, National Republicans in Congress sought to renew the institution’s charter in 1832 (four years early), believing a veto would cost Jackson reelection. The House approved by 107-85 and the Senate by 28-20. Pennsylvania’s two senators and all but one of its twenty-five congressmen were among the bill’s advocates. The New Jersey and Delaware delegations were also strongly pro-bank. During congressional debates, pro-bank petitions came in from citizens of Philadelphia and Delaware County as well as from state banks, including fifteen from Pennsylvania. Despite nationwide support across various social groups, Jackson vetoed the bill.

Jackson handily won reelection in 1832, though his veto likely cost him votes. A majority of Philadelphians voted against Jackson (he did carry Pennsylvania); New Jersey voted in an anti-Jackson state legislature, but the state’s electoral votes ended up in Old Hickory’s column. He was still personally very popular. When Jackson visited Philadelphia on the first anniversary of his charter veto in June 1833, a reception in Independence Hall–just one block from the Second Bank–became so crowded with enthusiastic supporters that some had to escape the throng through open first-floor windows.

[caption id="attachment_19196" align="alignright" width="247"]Portrait of Nicholas Biddle This 1830 portrait of Second Bank of the United States president Nicholas Biddle was painted by James Barton Longacre. (The National Portrait Gallery)[/caption]

Jackson insisted that the bank was “trying to kill me,” and he vowed to destroy it at any cost. He believed his reelection a mandate and continued to portray the bank as a corrupt tool of foreign interests that worked against Americans. In 1833, President Jackson instructed his treasury secretary to withhold federal deposits, later transferring federal money to “pet banks” (state banks with Democratic ties). Jackson dismissed two secretaries before finding a willing accomplice in Roger B. Taney (1777-1864). In response, Biddle contracted the bank’s operations by calling in loans and exchanging state notes for specie to protect the institution and its investors. The bank’s board of governors unanimously concurred.

As the Second Bank limited its operations, however, an economic depression began, businesses closed, unemployment rose, and inflation reached one of its highest rates in U.S. history. Biddle did not have the capital to make payments on the national debt. The War Department forbade the bank from carrying out its responsibility of paying Revolutionary War pensions in an attempt to turn public opinion against it. Still, the bank initially lost little support and a new political party, the Whigs, emerged to challenge Jackson’s supposed tyranny. At the height of the Bank War, 1833-34, the Senate received 243 memorials calling for the return of federal deposits and only 55 petitions supporting the president’s actions. In January 1834, the Philadelphia Board of Trade issued a statement blaming the financial panic on the Jackson administration. Other Philadelphia banks also protested the president’s actions. Tensions grew to the point that wealthy, pro-administration Philadelphians found themselves excluded or expelled from social organizations. In Congress, the Whig-controlled Senate censured Jackson for his actions against the bank. Each side blamed the other for the turmoil.

Biddle ultimately relaxed the bank’s credit policies and the economic malaise lifted. The bank thus received the brunt of the blame for the previous years’ problems. The public turned against the bank, viewing its actions as vindictive. In 1834, Election Day riots occurred in Philadelphia, and the Whigs lost seats in Congress and the state legislature. Finally, in 1836, two weeks before the U.S. charter expired, the Pennsylvania legislature granted the bank a state charter. By the time Biddle retired in 1839, the bank was in poor shape. Over the following two years, when it could not pay its debts, the bank suspended and resumed specie payments twice, closing its doors permanently in 1841.

The Bank War cost Philadelphia and the nation a central bank, shifting the nation’s financial center to New York City. Thereafter, local banks lacked any regulating authority and the resulting speculation triggered panics through the rest of the century.

Andrew Tremel is an independent researcher and public historian at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

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