Not everyone who runs for the Presidency wins. Some strike it lucky and win again later, like Richard Nixon. Most, however, never get to occupy the Oval Office.
Henry Clay (1832, National Republican; 1844, Whig)
- Opponent: Andrew Jackson/James K. Polk
- State: Kentucky
- Running Mate: John Sergeant/Theodore Frelinghuysen
Background and Education: Henry Clay was born on the 12th April 1777 in Clay Spring, Hanover County, Virginia. His parents were John Clay and Elizabeth Hudson. He would become the seventh of sixteen children. John Clay was a middle-class minister and tobacco farmer who managed to pull the family up to the Virginia elite. He died when Henry Clay was only four, but left behind an estate and many slaves. Elizabeth Clay remarried after their house was gutted by British soldiers. She would have a further seven children.
The family moved away upon Elizabeth’s remarriage, but Clay remained in Hanover County to be educated. He only received a few years of formal education and did not attend any elite universities or schools. Through family connections, Clay scored a clerkship with a top lawyer. He worked as a secretary during his studies before passing the bar in 1797.
Personal Life: Clay married Lucretia Hart in 1799. Her family was extremely wealthy and her money helped Clay’s influence grow. He bought a large farm called Ashland. Whilst Clay and Lucretia’s marriage was one of convenience, she was a good influence on him and they were close enough to have eleven children.
All of their daughters died either as children or as young women, whilst their sons were varied in their success. Two sons spent time in asylums- one went on to live a normal life as a horse breeder whilst the other died there. Another died in the Mexican-American War. The remaining two become a farmer and a lawyer/politician respectively.
Lucretia died twelve years after her husband. They are buried together in the Lexington Cemetery, Kentucky.
Pre-Election Career: Clay moved to the booming town of Lexington, Kentucky in order to practice law. His intelligence and oratory skills marked him as a very talented lawyer. Clay enjoyed life in Kentucky and began teaching at a local university. His love for gambling and drinking earned him the nickname ‘Prince Hal.’ In 1803, Clay was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. He would also be elected to serve two terms in the Senate by the Kentucky legislature.
In 1807, Clay became part of the defense team in the treason trial of Aaron Burr. The charges were essentially trumped up by Thomas Jefferson and this showed. The judge in the trial, Chief Justice John Marshall, believed there was no evidence. Clay and his legal partner John Allen gained an acquittal for their client. Burr remained a pariah for the rest of his life.
Clay was the first lawyer to file an amicus curiae with the Supreme Court. He’s also possibly the first lawyer to use the insanity defense in a US court.
A member of the Senate for forty years (though not consecutively), Clay became one of the most remembered Senators of his day and of all time. A strong orator, his speeches in the Senate were legendary. Clay was part of the ‘Great Triumvirate’, a group of the three most prominent Senators of the time. The other two were Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
His career was so lengthy that it’s impossible to mention everything he did. Clay was a war hawk who disliked Britain, helped bring forth the Second Missouri Compromise, earned the hatred of Andrew Jackson and led the passage of the Tariff of 1824 among other things.
Clay hoped to serve as Secretary of State under James Monroe but was not offered the role. He eventually became Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams. Clay had helped Adams win the contested 1824 election, which Andrew Jackson called ‘a corrupt bargain.’ Whilst Clay and Jackson had a mutual hatred of one another, he became friends with Adams and the two worked well and closely together.
Election: Clay ran for President twice. The first was in 1832. His opponent was incumbent Democrat Andrew Jackson. Jackson’s viciousness and monetary policy had alienated many top politicians, but his populism and more down-to-earth nature made him a hit with the general public. Clay’s running mate was former Pennsylvania congressman John Sergeant.
Jackson ran a populist campaign which saw huge turnout and enthusiasm. Clay was unable to create division within the electorate. Jackson won in a fair landslide.
In 1844, Clay ran for a second time. This time he represented the Whig Party and his running mate was former New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen. His opponent was James K. Polk, a relatively unknown Democratic politician. Clay liked his chances against the outsider Polk. To everyone’s surprise, however, Polk proved a strong candidate. He was consistent on the topic of annexing Texas, was a strong speaker, and supported Western explanation. Clay, by contrast, was inconsistent. His early lead vanished and Polk won.
Later Years: Clay returned to private life as a lawyer for a time. Despite saying he wouldn’t run again, he decided to seek the Whig nomination for 1848. He was beaten by war hero Zachary Taylor. Incidentally, Taylor had led forces at Buena Vista, the battle that had killed Clay’s son Henry Jr. Clay was no fan of Taylor, seeing him as just some soldier who was trying his hand at politics.
In his final years, Clay continued to live up to his diplomatic reputation as The Great Communicator. He helped bring forth the Compromise of 1850- this allowed people to decide if slavery was allowed in their territory, made California a free state, and tightened fugitive laws.
Clay began to fall ill in 1850. He died of tuberculosis on the 29th June 1852, after months of being bed-ridden. Millions lined the route between DC and Lexington. He was also the first person given the honour of lying in state at the Capitol rotunda.
Appearance and Character: Henry Clay was a stern looking man with a thin body and round chin. His hair grew wispy as he aged. As a person, Clay was polarising. He was known to be very hot-headed, combative and sarcastic. Clay was also extremely intelligent, eloquent, passionate and kind. He was known for his excellent manners and courtesy. Clay was known was the ‘Great Compromiser’ and his oratory skills were second to none.
Lewis Cass (1848, Democratic)
- Opponent: Zachary Taylor
- State: Michigan
- Running Mate: William O. Butler
Background and Education: Lewis Cass was born on the 9th October 1782 in Exeter, New Hampshire. His parents were Jonathan Cass and Molly Gilman. He was the oldest child. Little is known about his early life, except the family was sufficiently wealthy enough to send him to the elite Phillips Exeter Academy. Cass was briefly a teacher before he started learning law. He was called to the bar in 1802.
Personal Life: Cass married Elizabeth Spencer in 1806. They had seven children over twenty-three years- two sons and five daughters. Little is known about their marriage, but it was still passionate enough to have their last child two decades after the first. Their surviving daughters married prominent men and their son would become Ambassador to the Holy See.
Elizabeth died in 1853, thirteen years before her husband. They are both buried at Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit.
Pre-Election Career: Cass started his career as a lawyer in Ohio. In 1806, he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. One year later he was selected by President Jefferson to be US Marshal for Ohio. Cass served in the War of 1812 and left service as a Brigadier General. Jefferson’s successor, Madison, appointed Cass as the Governor of Michigan Territory. Cass became an advocate for Michigan, designing its Great Seal, creating the state motto and founding the Historical Society of Michigan.
After his time in Michigan, Cass became Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War. Though he’d worked with Native Americans in his role as Governor of Michigan Territory and negotiated with them, he was part of Jackson’s removal policy. It was because of Cass’ history that he was thought right for the job. Cass was appointed Ambassador to France in 1836 and served for six years. In 1845, he was elected to the Senate.
Election: In 1848, Cass became the Democratic nominee for President. His opponent was Zachary Taylor, a popular general who was smart enough to be deliberately vague on policy. The Democratic Party was also split, with many flocking to former Martin Van Buren’s Free Soil Party. Taylor won with a plurality of the popular vote.
Later Years: In 1857, Cass became Secretary of State under James Buchanan. He was mainly inactive due to his age and Buchanan was a lot more interested in foreign policy himself, but Cass did contribute. He negotiated the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty with the British to limit control in Latin America.
Cass reigned on the eve of the Civil War in December 1860. He lived the rest of his life as a private citizen. Cass died on the 17th June 1866 in Detroit.
Appearance and Character: Lewis Cass was a portly man with a large, flabby face and small eyes. Little is known about his personality.
Winfield Scott (1852, Whig)
- Opponent: Franklin Pierce
- State: New Jersey
- Running Mate: William A. Graham
Background and Education: Winfield Scott was born on the 13th June 1786 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. His parents were William Scott and Ann Mason. William Scott died when his son was small, leaving behind wealth and a prosperous plantation. Scott was educated in various schools and dropped out of university to be a law apprentice. He was called to the bar in 1806.
Personal Life: Scott married Maria DeHart Mayo, the daughter of a wealthy family. She was an extremely sought after bride and had reportedly rejected over 100 proposals. Maria also reportedly rejected Scott until his rank was high enough. She was described as a very beautiful woman, talented at the harp and piano, as well as a skilled linguist. They had seven children over sixteen years. Maria was often ill and spent most of her time abroad. She died in Rome in 1862, four years before Scott.
Pre-Election Career: Scott enjoyed a very long career as a soldier, so much so that it’s impossible to summarise in a few paragraphs. He was first appointed as a Captain in the US Light Artillery just before his 22nd birthday. It was during the War of 1812 that Scott proved himself as a war hero. Following that, Scott visited Europe to study military tactics. He did this to compensate for his lack of military education. Upon his return to America, Scott married and set up shop in New York.
Scott served in the Black Hawk War and Nullification Crisis but earned the ire of Andrew Jackson (bit of a theme here). He also oversaw the removal of Native Americans. By fighting against strong odds in the Mexican-American War and helping it end, Scott became one of the most famous soldiers in America.
Despite his heroism, Scott was not exactly friends with his superiors. Not only was he court martialed for poor bookkeeping and speaking badly of a superior, he was also injured several times, involved in duelling and even accused of treason. Scott was extremely strict on etiquette at all times.
Election: In 1852, the Whigs were torn between incumbent Millard Fillmore and Winfield Scott. Scott was eventually chosen. His nomination divided the Whigs, as Scott opposed slavery. This caused many Southern Whigs to flip to the Democrats. Scott may have been a hero of the Mexican-American War, but his opponent Franklin Pierce had also served.
Pierce ended up winning in a landslide. He won 27 states and 254 electoral votes to Scott’s 4 states and 42 electoral votes.
Later Years: Scott continued his military service after losing the election. He continued to be advisor and aide to the presidents. In 1855, he became the first man since George Washington to receive the rank of Lieutenant General. As the Civil War loomed large, Scott became frustrated at President Buchanan’s inaction.
When the Civil War finally broke out, Scott declared loyalty to the Union. He was still in charge of the US Army despite his advanced age. Scott’s advice was ignored by Lincoln and other experts as the public wanted immediate action. When Scott’s advice was taken, it ended poorly for the soldiers. Knowing he wasn’t popular, Scott resigned in November 1861. He was replaced by former pupil George McClellan (who would be the Democratic nominee in 1864). Scott had been a General longer than McClellan had been alive.
After fifty-three years of military service, Scott lived as a private citizen. He was suffering from many ailments including gout and vertigo. Scott couldn’t even mount his horse anymore. He lived in West Point, spending time writing his memoirs. Scott had better relations with Ulysses S. Grant than McClellan, and praised him as a great General.
Scott died aged 79 on the 29th May 1866, just two weeks shy of his 80th birthday. His death closed the New York Stock Exchange and executive branch. The funeral was at West Point and was attended by some of the top military men of the day. He’s buried at West Point Cemetery. Scott had served under fourteen presidents.
Appearance and Character: Winfield Scott was a portly man with a serious face and curly hair. Known as ‘Old Fuss and Feathers,’ Scott was a true soldier. He ardently believed in proper discipline and etiquette. Scott had an eye for detail and was well-regarded by the men serving under him. Unfortunately, Scott was also a hot-headed youth who grew into an arrogant and vain man. He was also ruthless in the pursuit of Manifest Destiny.
John C. Frémont (1856, Republican)
- Opponent: James Buchanan
- State: California
- Running Mate: William L. Dayton
Background and Education: John Charles Frémont was born on the 21st January 1813 in Savannah, Georgia. His parents were Charles Frémont and Anne Beverly Whiting. Anne was a teenager married to a man forty years older than her, a Virginia named John Pryor. Charles Frémont had an affair with Anne. Anne was refused a divorce so Frémont was born out of wedlock. Historians generally believe that Charles and Anne never married, though some believe they did. They had more children after Frémont. Charles died when his son was five.
Frémont was a talented mathematician but his irregular attendance at college got him expelled.
Personal Life: Frémont became a protégé of popular Senator Thomas Benton. Through this, he met Benton’s daughter Jessie. Jessie was very educated and close to her father. Benton didn’t like the idea of Frémont and Jessie together as she was still very young and Frémont was from a poor family. Frémont was sent away but the pair eloped upon his return. Benton was initially angry but grew to accept his new son-in-law.
Jessie lived as a frontier wife whose husband was often away. She assisted her husband’s career and would be his most influential advisor. Jessie enjoyed life in the city and was a politically active socialite. She was a key supporter of his presidential campaign and many deferred to her over him. Jessie died in 1902, surviving her husband by twelve years.
Frémont and Jessie had five children- two daughters and three sons.
Pre-Election Career: Frémont had a fascinating and long career. His first role as a Naval mathematics teacher. He then joined the United States Topographical Corps (later the Engineering Corps). This saw Frémont travel the country widely. Along with his wife Jessie, Frémont authored many books and articles about science and nature. Frémont’s main area of interest was the far west of Continental America. He produced maps that would be used by many.
Frémont enjoyed several western expeditions that mapped unknown parts of the USA. It was during these expeditions that he came into contact with Narive Americans. He’d already been ordered to clear land for their removal but went further by killing some of them. Frémont was very anti-slavery though, something that would come up during the Civil War.
During the Mexican-American War, Frémont played an important role in opening up California. He helped a group of American settlers rise up against the Mexican government and personally received Mexico’s surrender. Problems arose when he refused to recognise the new, legitimate Governor of California. Frémont was arrested, court martialed and accused of mutiny among other offences. Whilst Frémont was found innocent of mutiny, he was found guilty of disobedience and misconduct. His sentence was commuted by President Polk.
Frémont continued exploration. He bought cheap land in California and when gold was discovered on it in 1848, Frémont became extremely wealthy. From 1850 to 1851, Frémont served as the first of two Senators of California. His was only a short term and he lost re-election. During his term, Frémont supported anti-slavery measures.
Between then and the 1856 election, Frémont went on more expeditions.
Election: Frémont became the Republican Party’s first ever candidate in the 1856 election. He cleared the first ballot easily and his running mate William L. Dayton, a former New Jersey Senator, beat Abraham Lincoln to the second spot.
The Democrats portrayed the new Republican Party as extremists who would get rid of slavery at any cost. Whilst the Republicans did want to get rid of slavery, they pragmatically wanted to do it slowly. That still scared many in the South. Rumours also spread that Frémont was a Roman Catholic. With a French sounding name, it seemed plausible to the generally anti-Catholic population.
Frémont won eleven states to James Buchanan’s nineteen and Millard Fillmore’s one. It was a very respectable score for a new party.
Later Years: Frémont lived life as a private citizen during the Buchanan administration. That all changed when the Civil War broke out. Frémont was in Europe when this happened and returned when Lincoln called him home. He was given the role of commander of the Department of the West. Frémont eventually earned Lincoln’s ire when he declared complete emancipation in Missouri. Lincoln relieved him of his command and sent him elsewhere. Frémont proved ineffective and lost his command to his disliked subordinate John Pope. He asked to be relieved and his wish was granted.
Frémont’s life took a downward spiral following the Civil War. He made poor investments in the railroads that led to his bankruptcy following the Panic of 1873. Frémont was then given the role of Governor of the Arizona Territory. This provided him with some money but Frémont was not interested in the position. Told that he had to actually spend time in the state, Frémont chose to resign. He managed to get some money together in 1890 after being made eligible for a pension.
Frémont died suddenly on the 13th July 1890 after a very brief illness. He is buried in the Rockland Cemetery of Sparkill, New York.
Appearance and Character: John C. Frémont was a brunet with shaggy hair and a matching beard. As a person, Frémont was brilliant, naturally intelligent and passionate. He worked his way up from humble beginnings and illegitimacy to become a top politician. Frémont was also hugely temperamental and impulsive. Frémont paved the way for westward expansion but at the cost of Native American lives.