The Whigs REALLY Didn’t Like Van Buren

The great American steeple chase for 1844
The great American steeple chase for 1844

Tune — “Lucy Long.”

Now Matty, on the shelf you’re laid,
I’m sure it is no joke —
The Locos thought you would not do,
So nominated Polk.

Oh, Matty they’ve denounced you,
They say you cannot shine,
And all you’ve left to cheer you now
Is thoughts of days lang syne.

To make a President of Polk,
‘Tis getting rather late;
By Jimmy Jones he was used up
For Governor of his State.

Oh, Matty they’ve denounced you, &c.

Now Matty, back to Kinderhook,
They say that you must go—
They fear that you will die with grief,
Your heart is filled with woe.

Oh, Matty they’ve denounced you, &c.

Though Cass with some’s a favorite;
But no — he would not do —
They wanted one to act a Pork,
And Polk, they’ve brought out you.

Oh, Matty they’ve denounced you, &c.

Now bid adieu to Blair and all,
And to the White house too;
They poked you out of the window now —
They’ve all forgotten you.

Oh, Matty they’ve denounced you, &c.

Though Johnson has some good deeds done,
And some that’s very black,
They bid him leave, and off he went
Like a man that had the sack.

Oh, Matty they’ve denounced you, &c.



“Lucy Long” is another minstrel-show number (not to be confused with the sea chantey of the same name).  As commonly presented on stage, “Lucy Long” included cross-dressing for comic effect.  Like many minstrel songs it does not pay to listen to the lyrics too closely.  The past is a foreign country….

“Matty” is Martin Van Buren of Kinderhook, New York  Although Van Buren went to the convention with more delegates than any other candidate, he lost them ballot by ballot until at last Polk, the original “dark horse,” won the nomination.

Rather than a plurality, or simple majority, the convention rules required that to achieve nomination the winning candidate had to carry two-thirds of the delegates.  Polk had gone to the convention hoping to be Van Buren’s running mate; he came out the candidate.

The Locos are the Locofocos, formally the Equal Rights Party, a briefly-divergent pro-labor/anti-monopoly splinter group of the Democratic party.  The Whigs blamed the Locos for pretty-much everything.

“Days lang syne” are from Robert Burns’ poem that is commonly sung these days on New Year’s Eve.  Literally, days long gone.

James C. “Jimmy” Jones was another Whig.  Polk had been Governor of Tennessee from 1839 to 1841.  Jones defeated Polk in the gubernatorial race in 1841, when Polk stood for re-election, and again in 1843.   (It was not uncommon at the time for two — or more — candidates from the same party to face off in a general election.)

The phrase “used up” (now chiefly applied to supplies) in the 1840s could be applied to people,  meaning weakened, drained, or sapped, e.g. actors who received bad reviews, or as in Poe’s story, “The Man That Was Used Up.”

Cass is General Lewis Cass,  recently Minister to France for President Tyler. Cass was one of the last two candidates still in play at the Democratic convention, losing the nomination to Polk on the ninth ballot.

Blair was Francis Preston Blair (his friends called him Preston), the vastly influential editor of the Washington Globe.  Blair House in Washington D.C. today is part of the President’s Guest Quarters, and Blair’s estate, Silver Spring in Maryland, is an unincorporated town.

Johnson was Colonel Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, Van Buren’s vice president.  The good deeds he’d done included killing Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames.  The deeds that were “very black” included publicly identifying his African-American mistress Julia Chinn (“mistress” because it was illegal to marry her) as his wife, acknowledging his two daughters by her as his,  giving them his name, and introducing them in society.  As Johnson once said, “Unlike Jefferson, Clay, Poindexter and others I married my wife under the eyes of God, and apparently He has found no objections.” (Note on this note: This brief summary makes things seem far simpler than they were.)

Johnson found his high-water mark at the convention in the third ballot.  After that his tally went down each time ’til he got zero votes on the eighth.

Tomorrow:  A Political Catch!

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