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, “It’s 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.
“The volume is well-written and documented, articulate in presentation, rigorous in evidence, and plausible in argumentation.”
—Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Every student of the early republic should read this account of how the Log Cabin Campaign was about style and substance.”
—Civil War Book ReviewSee all reviews...
“In Ellis’s telling, 1840 becomes a milestone in the evolution of partisan loyalties and grassroots participation, its manufactured hoopla a preview of our own media- and class-driven politics.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Although often referenced as the first modern presidentialcampaign, 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.”
—Donald Ratcliffe, author of The One-Party Presidential Contest: Adams, Jackson, and 1824’s Five-Horse Race
“The 1840 ‘Log Cabin and Hard Cider’ presidential campaign is famous for all the wrong reasons. In Old Tip vs. the Sly Fox, historian Richard J. Ellis carefully peels away the legend of a colorful but mindless contest to reveal the true story of how and why William Henry Harrison secured the Whig Party nomination and defeated incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren for the presidency. Attending especially to voting patterns in states and localities, Ellis has produced what is now the standard account of this consequential yet often misunderstood election.”
—Daniel M. Feller, professor of history and director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson, University of Tennessee KnoxvilleSee fewer reviews...
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.