Old Tip vs. the Sly Fox

The 1840 Election and the Making of a Partisan Nation

Richard J. Ellis

Usually remembered for its slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” the election of 1840 is also the first presidential election of which it might be truly said, “Its the economy, stupid.” Tackling a contest best known for log cabins, cider barrels, and catchy songs, this timely volume reveals that the election of 1840 might be better understood as a case study of how profoundly the economy shapes the presidential vote.

Richard J. Ellis, a veteran scholar of presidential politics, suggests that the election pitting the Democratic incumbent Martin Van Buren against Whig William Henry Harrison should also be remembered as the first presidential election in which a major political party selected—rather than merely anointed—its nominee at a national nominating convention. In this analysis, the convention’s selection, as well as Henry Clay’s post-convention words and deeds, emerge as crucial factors in the shaping of the nineteenth-century partisan nation. Exploring the puzzle of why the Whig Party’s political titan Henry Clay lost out to a relative political also-ran, Ellis teases out the role the fluctuating economy and growing antislavery sentiment played in the party’s fateful decision to nominate the Harrison-Tyler ticket. His work dismantles the caricature of the 1840 campaign (a.k.a. the “carnival campaign”) as all froth and no substance, instead giving due seriousness to the deeply held moral commitments, as well as anxieties about the political system, that informed the campaign.

“Although often referenced as the first modern presidential campaign, the 1840 presidential election has rarely been examined in a comprehensive fashion. Richard J. Ellis has remedied this oversight by providing the first modern scholarly study of the ‘Log Cabin and Hard Cider’ campaign. This book is essential for anyone attempting to understand the presidential politics of the Jacksonian era and its modern-day influence.”

—Mark R. Cheathem, professor of history at Cumberland University, project director of the Papers of Martin Van Buren, and author of The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson

Combining tales of rivalry, rumor, and intrigue with careful analysis of voting returns and grassroots politics, this finely conceived and highly readable book establishes beyond doubt that the 1840 election was not simply a rollicking carnival of log cabins and scurrilous personality politics but also a serious conflict of issues and policies arising out of a disastrous nationwide economic downturn.—

In Old Tip vs. the Sly Fox, the campaign of 1840 can finally be seen clearly for what it was: a contest of two profoundly different visions of policy and governance, including fundamental, still-pressing questions about the place of the presidency and Congress in the US political system.

About the Author

Richard J. Ellis is Mark O. Hatfield Professor of Politics, Policy, Law, and Ethics at Willamette University. His many books include The Development of the American Presidency (3rd edition), Historian in Chief: How Presidents Interpret the Past to Shape the Future (as coeditor), and, from Kansas, Presidential Travel: The Journey from George Washington to George W. Bush.

Additional Titles in the American Presidential Elections Series