Published Humanitas, Volume VIII, No. 1, 1995

This essay will elucidate the political culture of the American Whigs through the examination of Whiggery’s premier publication and party organ, the American Whig Review. Because it appeared, uninterrupted, from January 1845 through December 1852, the monthly magazine is uniquely suited to the purpose. Moreover, the editorial policy of the journal was extremely stable. Its three editors maintained essentially the same political editorial policy: George H. Colton, 1845 through 1847; James D. Whelpley, 1848 through 1849; and George W. Peck, 1850 through 1852. The changing title of the journal did reflect the peculiar emphases of the various editors, as well as the mood of the times and the political agenda of the Whig party. The magazine was called The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art and Science from 1845-47, The American Review: A Whig Journal Devoted to Politics and Literature from 1848 through April 1850, and The American Whig Review from May 1850 through December 1852.1 As the titles indicate, the emphasis on art and science died away first. Although literature remained a staple throughout the life of the journal, the number of pages devoted to it diminished after 1850.

This journal throws much light on influential American thinking at a crossroads in the nation’s history. A study of its contents helps to identify and understand the historical continuity between the America of the mid-nineteenth century and the America of today, but also to discern and assess the great distance traveled by American intellectual-political elites during the same period. In particular, an examination of the Whig journal alerts the reader to the fact that the last 150 years have brought a sea-change in the way that educated Americans understand their Constitution.

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