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)

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.