The Whigs Are Partying Like It’s 1856

For the first time in 157 years, a Philadelphia man won a local election as a Whig. Is this a comeback for the party of Webster and Clay?

Henry Clay, a former U.S. senator and Whig Party member
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Nov. 7, 2013, 6:54 a.m.

The Whigs are mak­ing a comeback.

Well, sort of. On Tues­day, 36 Phil­adelphia voters elec­ted Whig can­did­ate Robert Bucholz as the judge of elec­tion for the Fifth Di­vi­sion of the 56th Ward. He beat Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent Lor­etta Pro­basco, who se­cured 24 votes.

The Whigs haven’t been a ma­jor polit­ic­al party in the United States since the mid-1800s. The Whigs pro­duced four U.S. pres­id­ents in their brief his­tory — Wil­li­am Henry Har­ris­on, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Mil­lard Fill­more — and had sev­er­al na­tion­al lead­ers among its mem­bers, in­clud­ing Henry Clay and Daniel Web­ster.

The party, however, dis­solved fol­low­ing the failed pres­id­ency of Fill­more that ended in 1853. It also showed deep di­vides in the party on the is­sue of slavery.

But in 2007, a group of Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan vet­er­ans wanted to change that and star­ted the Mod­ern Whig Party.

Its sym­bol an owl, the party is based in Wash­ing­ton and claims it has 30,000 mem­bers across the coun­try. While many of the is­sues for the party have changed in the last 150 years or so, party mem­bers claim its ba­sic polit­ic­al philo­sophy is the same: mod­er­a­tion and com­prom­ise.

As Bucholz, an en­gin­eer for de­fense con­tract­ors by day, told the Phil­adelphia In­quirer on Wed­nes­day, “The time for a third party that can broker con­sensus is long over­due. There have been many at­tempts since the be­gin­ning of our coun­try, but the two ma­jor parties con­trol the elec­tion laws, the bal­lot, and the con­ver­sa­tion.”

A closer com­par­is­on of the plat­forms of the party from 150 years ago to today shows many sim­il­ar­it­ies:


  • Em­phas­ize states rights on most is­sues.
  • Lim­it for­eign en­tan­gle­ments.
  • Mod­ern­ize the eco­nom­ic sys­tem through the mar­kets and in­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion.
  • Pro­mote high­er tar­iffs on trade, not high­er taxes.
  • Sup­port a na­tion­al bank.
  • Use gov­ern­ment-fun­ded pro­grams to ex­pand the road and canal sys­tems throughout Middle Amer­ica.
  • Cre­ate pub­lic schools and pro­mote private in­sti­tu­tions, like col­leges and char­it­ies.


  • Give states the power to handles budget is­sues.
  • De­vel­op al­tern­at­ive en­ergy re­sources and re­duce de­pend­ency on for­eign oil.
  • Re­form edu­ca­tion and add an em­phas­is on space, oceans, medi­cine, and na­n­o­tech­no­lo­gies in the pub­lic and private sec­tors.
  • Be pro­gress­ive on so­cial is­sues, ad­voc­at­ing the gov­ern­ment stay out of “le­gis­lat­ing mor­al­ity.”
  • Give vet­er­ans prop­er be­ne­fits.

While Bucholz’s elec­tion is just one, small res­ult for the party, the idea of in­flu­en­cing town boards, city coun­cils, and judge­ships across the coun­try could work. Polls show that Amer­ic­ans are fed up with Wash­ing­ton and the mem­bers of the two parties that dom­in­ate polit­ics. The Mod­ern Whig Party could of­fer voters an out.


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