Jeffrey Lord | Karl Rove is a modern day Whig

If the Republican Party or conservatives don’t change “they’ll go the way of the Whigs.”

Meet Karl Rove.

One of America’s Whigs.

The original Whigs, of course, expired in the early 1850s. The proximate cause of their death was a disagreement over slavery. 

The annexation of Texas had been a huge controversy within the Whig Party. Why? The increasing Whig opposition to the slavery issue. As a rule, Whigs opposed slavery. Democrats were staunch supporters, the two men credited as founders of their party, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson both slave owners. The first Whig president had been William Henry Harrison — elected in 1840 in a campaign that left the tender topic of annexing the new Texas Republic un-discussed. Famously, Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in history, caught pneumonia, and was dead within a month. His Vice President and successor, John Tyler, was a former Democrat but nominally a Whig — and a lifelong slaveholder. Tyler believed Texas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state, and came close to getting congressional approval. He failed, with 28 of 29 Whig Senators opposing him. Having thus angered the Whigs over slavery he was not re-nominated. Texas finally was admitted as a slave state under the leadership of Tyler’s successor, the pro-slavery Democrat, President James K. Polk.

Came the 1848 election, and the Whig nominee was General Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican War. If you will, the Dwight Eisenhower of the day.


General Taylor, popular as he was with many Whigs, was a slave owner. This was a bridge too far for some Whigs after the Texas controversy and the trickle of dissent that would become a Whig political tsunami a few years later had begun flowing in earnest. A number of incensed anti-slavery Whigs defected to a third party in 1848— the anti-slave Free Soil Party with anti-slavery Democrat, ex-President Martin Van Buren, at its head. Still, Taylor had enough Whig support to carry him over the finish line, becoming the second Whig president.

The victory was short-lived. Taylor died suddenly in 1850, leaving the White House to his Whig Vice President Millard Fillmore. Fillmore — and he would be the last Whig in the White House — signed onto the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise, its initial architect the legendary Whig Senator Henry Clay (who, dying, passed the baton of leadership to Illinois Democrat Stephen A. Douglas) exacerbated the split over slavery among Whigs. The Compromise admitted California to the Union as a “free state” — but used a clever Douglas mechanism known in the day as “popular sovereignty” to get around the slavery issue in other new states. The Compromise also enabled passage of the notorious Fugitive Slave Law, forcing states to assist in capturing and returning runaway slaves.

The Whig divide over slavery was now widening. In 1852, furious that a Whig president had signed on to the Compromise, anti-slavery Whigs defeated Fillmore for re-nomination. The “solution” to the Whig divide was thought to be General Winfield Scott, like Taylor a hero of the Mexican War. Hero or no, the Scott nomination in fact did nothing to repair the rapidly growing breach among Whigs over slavery, and Scott and his remaining Whigs got clobbered in the 1852 election by Franklin Pierce and his pro-slavery Democrats.

Two years later in 1854, the pressure on the Whigs ratcheted up as the demands rose to admit Kansas and Nebraska to the Union. The pro-slavery Douglas cleverly decided to get rid of the prohibition on slavery in these areas written into the Missouri Compromise of 1820. So Douglas played his ploy of “popular sovereignty” once again — trying to turn the issue on the right of Kansans and Nebraskans to decide for themselves whether they wanted to allow slavery in their prospective new states.

Once more — for the last time — the Whigs divided. The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law.

What does this have to do with Karl Rove? Stay with me.


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