# 9: Right to Instruct [Hoffmann]


Hoffmann, William S. Willie P. Mangum and the Whig Revival of the Doctrine of Instructions. The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Aug., 1956), pp. 338-354




“For too long historians have denounced the Jacksonians as ruthless partisans. The truth is that in many instances their political enemies were the bitterest partisans and the ones who originated some of the most unsavory political maneuvers of the era” (338).


“Yet Mangum was an intelligent enough judge of political sentiment to know that recharter of the national bank was not popular with the mass of voters, and he desired to place his break on more elevated grounds than championship of the bank. He thought he could revive the doctrine of instructions and make it serve as a ready instrument for his purpose” (341).


“Mangum’s party made use of the doctrine of instructions to embarrass its political enemies. Whigs in the Virginia legislature had already successfully instructed William C. Rives out of the Senate, but their fellow partisans in North Carolina thought they could accomplish their purpose before the legislature met. Whig politicians arranged for party meetings to instruct senators and congressmen to restore the deposits. Henry W.  Connor, Democratic congressman from Lincoln County, replied to one such petition with a respectful answer. He declared that he would resign if instructed by a majority of his district to carry out some act which he could not approve, but he denied that the group instructing him constituted a majority. The Charlotte Miners and Farmers Journal arraigned Connor for refusing to obey or resign and declared that his letter constituted a denial of the right of instruction.


“Most of the Whig resolutions attempted to embarrass Senator Bedford Brown. On the days allotted for introducing petitions in the Senate, Mangum would respectfully introduce anti-removal petitions and call them instructions from the people of North Carolina. On February 11, 1834, he introduced one such petition from Burke County, declared his willingness to obey, and called on Brown to do likewise or to resign. Brown asked for the petition to be read and then declared that it came from members of the opposite political party and did not represent the attitude of the state. A week later Mangum again called up the ‘instructions,’ and Georgia Senator John Forsyth expressed disgust at the ‘miserable petition.’ Brown declared that it had been the work of ‘a partisan collection of bank men in a pot house . . . led by a disappointed politician.’ Mangum took this as an allusion to Samuel Carson, an open supporter of nullification who had been defeated for re-election, and Mangum praised the defeated congressman highly. Burke County Whigs protested against Brown’s language, and Whig editors continually reminded readers that Brown had called his fellow citizens ‘pot house politicians’ and the voice of his constituents ‘miserable petitions.’ They denounced him for not resigning or obeying instructions. “At the height of the removal controversy the voters of the state went to the polls to elect legislators. The Whigs made Brown’s refusal to obey instructions one issue of the state campaign, and both parties talked of the election as serving to instruct the senators. Most of the candidates took a clear stand. They either opposed recharter of the national bank, supported the  administration, and favored the re-election of Bedford Brown, or they condemned removals and opposed Brown’s re-election” (343-344).


“…the election of 1834 was the first in the history of the state when people voted for legislators primarily because of their stand on national issues” (345).


“He strongly implied that the most useful thing which the legislature could do would be to instruct senators and representatives to support the annual-distribution bill. He was trying to arrange for the type of instructions which Mangum had requested the previous year. The legislature did pass instructions, but not the kind Swain and Mangum desired. The Whigs had first used instructions to try to embarrass political opponents, but Democrats could also play the game” (345).


“Some Whigs, remembering the events of the past summer, asserted that instructions should come from the people meeting in primary assemblies instead of from a legislature that was selected for other purposes. Hugh McQueen of Chatham County tried to limit instructions to matters of expediency, allowing the senators to decide questions of constitutional interpretation for  themselves” (346).


“On December 11 [1834] the House passed the resolution upholding the right of instruction by 99 votes to 28, but it passed the instruction to expunge by only 69 to 57. On December 27 the Senate approved the right of instruction 41 to 19, and the specific instructions 33 to 28. The Whig press nevertheless cited figures to show that the vote actually proved that the majority of free white men disapproved the resolution and thus actually instructed Brown to resign. Whig figures could not keep the instructions from actually reaching the senators. “Brown needed no instructions, and Mangum, unless his own friends felt it desirable, would neither resign nor obey. Mangum’s mail included letters from many Whig leaders, and all but one pleaded with him to ignore the instructions. Mangum realized that other Whig senators were in a similar predicament, and he believed that his resignation would cause theirs to follow. A few resignations would give the Democrats control of the Senate, and Mangum and the other Whigs were too ardent partisans to allow this to happen if it could be avoided” (347).


“Although the resolution failed, it served Mangum’s purpose well. The Democratic press continued to attack ‘disobedient Senator Mangum’ for refusing to obey the expunging instruction, [54] but the Whigs turned public attention toward the land resolution. They charged that the Democrats had “sacrificed the dignity of poor old North Carolina to gratify a miserable cabal at Washington” (348).

“The North Carolina Democrats were inconsistent because they lacked the partisan conformity of their more highly disciplined rivals. The Whigs gained more strength in attempting to pass resolutions for distribution than they lost when the Democrats successfully passed the instructions to expunge the censure of Jackson” (350).

“In spite of the embarrassment to Mangum, Whigs suffered little because of the instructions vote. Throughout the contest and the months following it the Whigs constantly denounced the Democrats as partisans and pictured themselves as independents. The Raleigh Register reported: ‘We behold angry, vindictive, and vituperative partisanship. Every question is converted into one of rancorous party feeling and the only test of merit acknowledged by ‘the party’ is pure unadulterated whole-hog Jacksonianism.’ The Whig journals repeated the charges so frequently that many historians have accepted them as truth” (350).

“Yet because the Democrats voted as a party to instruct Willie P. Mangum they have received condemnation as bitter partisans” (351).

“The Whig spokesmen continued to argue that the people had the right to instruct senators, but they insisted that the people’s voice could not be determined by a partisan legislature. They tentatively admitted that in statewide elections the voice of the people might be speaking.) In the first direct election for governor, which occurred in August 1836, the Whigs made a strong campaign, and one issue was the unfair partisan action of the Democrats in instructing Mangum for the sole purpose of removing him from the Senate. Occasionally in predicting victory Whigs declared that the election would show whether the people had wanted the instructions sent to Mangum or whether they wanted Brown to resign” (351-352).

“Occasionally the instructions to Mangum were listed as examples of vicious Democratic Partisanship” (352).

“Meanwhile the Democrats gained control of the Virginia legislature and instructed Tyler and his colleague to support the expunging resolution. Tyler, unlike Mangum, accepted the principle of instructions and resigned. Mangum’s friends were irritated at Tyler’s action. Weston Gales, editor of the Raleigh Register, called the resignation ‘the strongest rebuke to Whig principles’ and urged those who approved Mangum’s course to revoke the nomination. The Democrats answered that the Register’s statement proved that Whig principles meant the ignoring of the will of constituents” (352).

“…Whigs’ charges of Democratic partisanship, they still believed that Democrats did not have enough cohesion to elect a Democrat. Mangum’s term had but four months to run and he accepted Graham’s proposal. On November 23, 1836, almost two years after the instructions had been passed, Mangum wrote a letter to Graham and to Hugh Waddell and enclosed his resignation. The Whig plan failed, and Democrat Robert Strange won election to Mangum’s seat, both for the remaining months of Mangum’s term and for the next six years” (354).

“Mangum’s party nevertheless profited from the instructions exchange. In 1838 the Whigs gained control of the legislature and passed a resolution favoring distribution. Senators Brown and Strange formally asked the legislature if the resolution was meant as instructions and declared that if it was, they would resign. The Whigs avoided a direct answer by declaring that the resolution was perfectly clear. Brown and Strange resigned on June 30, 1840, shortly before the next state election. The Whigs again gained a majority and replaced both Democrats. As had Mangum, Brown resigned only a few months before his term expired, but Strange surrendered a full two years. The Whigs named Mangum to replace Brown, and William A. Graham received Strange’s post… Obedience to instructions cost the Democrats dearly. Mangum and the other Whigs who refused to obey instructions or resign might have championed ‘free thought’ for senators when they voted against the registered will of constituents, but it was free thought for themselves, not for all men” (354).


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