The Whig nomination of 1812 was the first time the Whig Party would agree upon and select a unified candidate. From its original creation in 1806, the Whig Party had grown to become a national party, especially compared to other such parties that mostly dwindled and died in a matter of years. Despite being considered a national party, the Whigs only held the support of roughly 12-15% of the country, mostly from the rich merchant class. In 1812, many of these merchants and self proclaimed Whigs met in Boston, Massachusetts to pick a candidate that they could all support. This was the first nominating convention in the history of the URAS. The the largest party, the Crown Party, encompassing nearly 70% of the country, had already announced they would support their 1808 nominee, Prime Minister and former General William Henry Harrison of Virginia. With this in mind, the Whigs gathered in Boston in an attempt to stop a complete one party monarchial state.
1812 featured a wide selection of men claiming to best represent Whig interests. A two-thirds majority of delegates was required for the Prime Minister nomination, while only a simple majority was needed for the Viceroy nomination. Most if not all knew that the Whigs stood no chance at winning, but they also knew that the first nominee stood a good chance at gaining control of this fastly growing party. Possible nominees included:
- Congressman Elbridge Gerry (67) of Massachusetts
- Governor Dewitt Clinton (42) of New York
- Former General John Eager Howard (59) of Maryland
- Congressman Rufus King (56) of New York
Out of these possible candidates, Elbridge Gerry was the most popular. He had served in various positions in the Massachusetts government for over 40 years first as a member of the Fraternity of Freedom then as a Jeffersonian, before being elected to the House of Congress in 1808 and had served there as the leading congressional Whig since. At the same time, he was extravagently wealthy, and been one of the key founders of the Whig Party back in 1806. He pleased all sides of the party, but few expected him to carry support out of New England. But others saw this as a good thing, since the Whig base needed to be sured up. But Gerry was also 67 at the time of the convention, which many said was far too old (especially considering Harrison's youth). But then again, the Whigs had no hope of victory, so why did it matter?Probably the most ambitious of the selected men was Dewitt Clinton of New York. The youngest contender there, Clinton had been raising himself up through New York state politics until finally becoming the Mayor of New York City in 1805. Elected in 1807 as a Whig, he quickly became a main contender in the party just by his position. In 1810, by deep outcry in the state, the King had appointed Clinton as the Governor of New York; a somewhat powerless position, but a coveted one none the less. Clinton instantly became a national figure, since he was the first Governor in the history of the URAS to be a member of the Whig Party. In 1812, Clinton was hopeful for glory, but many other Whigs disliked his naked ambition and lack of agreement with the main platform; essentially Clinton only agreed with the need for internal improvements (specifically for New York) and the restrainment of the King's power (to further his own power). Also, in 1795, Dewitt's uncle, New York Governor and founding father George Clinton, had been impaled for treason. This fact greatly hindered Dewitt's climb for power.
Like Gerry, former General John Eager Howard was a popular choice. A rich Maryland planter, Howard was also a member of the Freemasons. But more importantly than this, he was a soldier. Howard had served as a colonel in the Great Revolution, and had even been pulled out of retirement to serve in the Second Seven Years' War, where he had been promoted to brigadier general. It came to a shock for Marylanders when Howard announced himself a Whig in 1808, and began probing for a possible nomination. Despite his probing, Howard had never served in political office, but many friends agreed he was politically astute and a firm advocate of the Whig platform. Inspired by the Crown Party's nomination of Harrison, many Whigs thought nominating Howard would bring them into the national spotlight as a real party. But at the same time, even more Whigs feared the fact that he was a soldier; this came from the fact that many Whigs were mistrustful of a powerful military, and even of the monarchy. For Howard, what made him popular, also made him unpopular.
And last but certainly not least, was Rufus King. King was a native of Maine, a graduate of Harvard, and had served in the Great Revolution for two years as a major. Moving to Massachusetts in 1780 and finally settling in New York in 1791, King continued to work as a lawyer, becoming well known within New York circles. Working quietly in politically rich New York, he was part of the New York State assembly for a time as a Jeffersonian until its dissolution in 1807. In 1806 he was present at the creation of the Whig Party and in 1808 King was elected as a Congressman from his adopted state. Considered a man of principle and known for his friendly personality, King was a known favorite among most Whigs, although nearly all of New York's support had been gathered up by Dewitt Clinton. And like Clinton, he had a political skeleton in his closet; his father had been a Royalist during the Great Revolution.
When the Whigs convened, many were unsure of who would be nominated; many considered that all four had a good chance. The founding Whigs and the merchants favored Gerry, while Howard carried the support of the younger Whigs who had slim hopes of a possible victory. Likewise, Clinton held little support outside of New York, but even this kept him in the limelight as a possibility. King remained in the background, as a possible compromise choice among the other three. Eventually, someone made the convincing argument that since this was the first Whig nomination and they had more to gain from appearance than possible victory, Gerry recieved the support of the Convention. To satisfy the other side, Howard gratefully accepted the nomination as Viceroy. Clinton was much less pleased, and left the convention in a huff; he would run as an independent in 1812.
Both Crown and Whig candidates ran a frontporch campaign. As expected, Prime Minister William Henry Harrison was easily chosen for a second term, having almost universal and national support. Gerry faired moderately well, recieveing a large amount of support in the New England states and the far north of Canada. Clinton, as he vowed, ran as an independent, and his popularity rivaled Harrison's in the state of New York; but nowhere else. After Harrison's victory, Clinton would return to the Whigs, and after Gerry's unfortunate death in 1814, stood in a good position to overtake the party. But his plans for power would end up being defeated by an equally ambitious Duke.