1853 Massachusetts gubernatorial election

The 1853 Massachusetts gubernatorial election was held on November 14.

1853 Massachusetts gubernatorial election

← 1852 November 14, 1853 (1853-11-14) (popular) January 9, 1854 (1854-01-09) (legislative) 1854 →
  EmoryWashburn.jpg 3x4.svg Colonel Henry Wilson (Massachusetts Senator, U.S. Vice President).jpg
Nominee Emory Washburn Henry W. Bishop Henry Wilson
Party Whig Democratic Free Soil
Electoral vote 29
Popular vote 59,224 35,086 29,020
Percentage 45.94% 27.22% 22.51%

Governor before election

John H. Clifford

Elected Governor

Emory Washburn

Whig Governor John H. Clifford declined to run for a second term in office. Emory Washburn won the race to succeed him. Because no candidate received a majority of the vote, the legislature selected Washburn as the winner.

Washburn was the last governor selected by the legislature; the popular majority requirement was eliminated in 1855. This was also the last election in which the Free Soil Party was a major factor; it was effectively supplanted by the Republican Party in 1854.


1853 constitutional conventionEdit

The election was dominated by the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1853, which proposed a new constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The primary debate at the convention, held from May 4 to August 2, was over the system of representational apportionment used in the House of Representatives.

The debates notably saw the Whigs adopt a strategy of constitutional reform, a reversal from their historical record of conservative retrenchment. The Whig positions, calculated to enhance their urban majority, included equal representation, plurality elections, popular election of executive officers, elimination of mandatory straight-ticket voting, and abolition of the poll tax.[1] The Democratic-Free Soil majority stood in support of the disproportionate representation of their agrarian base. Free Soiler Francis W. Bird remarked, "I thought I came here as one of the progressives in company with a majority of this Convention, but I find that we have all turned to the 'right-about-face.' The conservatives are on the engine, and the radicals are on the brake."[1]

General electionEdit


  • Henry W. Bishop, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Democratic)
  • Bradford L. Wales (Democratic-Hunker)
  • Emory Washburn, attorney and former State Senator (Whig)
  • Henry Wilson, former President of the Massachusetts Senate (Free Soil)


Consistent with their new positions following the constitutional convention, the Whig convention at Fitchburg in September resolved in favor of equal representation, the plurality system, expansion of elective offices, abolition of debtors' prison, elimination of the poll tax, and synchronization of state and national elections. Several Whig candidates even embraced the ten-hour day, the focus of their opposition as recently as 1851.[2]

The Democratic convention, seeking to maintain an edge with social reformers, adopted a platform more aggressively favoring labor rights than any ever taken by the party prior to the American Civil War. It included resolutions denouncing corporations for depressing wages, compelling excessive hours from employees, and blacklisting labor organizers.[3]

The convention scrambled political coalitions in the commonwealth; anti-Coalition, anti-prohibition, national Democrats fielded a separate ticket for the second consecutive year and a number of prominent Free Soilers including Charles Francis Adams Sr., John G. Palfrey, and Samuel Hoar opposed the new constitution. Catholic press also denounced the proposed constitution, which included a measure to block public funds from sectarian schools.[3]

On the eve of the election, U.S. Attorney General Caleb Cushing issued a statement enjoining Democrats from further cooperation with anti-slavery forces or suffer the loss of federal patronage.[3]


1853 Massachusetts gubernatorial election[4]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Emory Washburn 59,224 45.94%  0.99
Democratic Henry W. Bishop 35,086 27.22%  0.78
Free Soil Henry Wilson 29,020 22.51%  4.03
Ind. Democratic Bradford L. Wales 5,477 4.25%   3.99
Write-in 114 0.09%  0.05
Total votes 128,921 100.00%

Legislative voteEdit

The Massachusetts House of Representatives certified the popular returns on January 9. Emory Washburn was the first candidate nominated for Governor with 187 votes. On a second ballot, Bradford Wales was nominated with 156 votes. In the Senate, Washburn defeated Wales with 29 out of 30 votes.[5][a]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Senate was composed of 30 members, all of whom were in attendance. However, the source does not make clear whether the remaining Senator cast his vote for Wales or abstained.


  1. ^ a b Mulkern 1990, p. 53.
  2. ^ Mulkern 1990, pp. 53–54.
  3. ^ a b c Mulkern 1990, p. 54.
  4. ^ Dubin, Michael J. (2003). United States Gubernatorial Elections, 1776-1860: The Official Results by State and County. Jefferson: McFarland & Company. p. 118. ISBN 9780786414390.
  5. ^ The Massachusetts Register for the Year 1854. 1855. pp. 40–41.


  • Mulkern, John (1990). The Know-Nothing Party in Massachusetts: The Rise and Fall of a People's Movement. Boston: Northeastern University Press.