The first session of the Twenty-fourth Congress adjourned on the Fourth of July 1836. Huntsman returned home to his wife Elizabeth and their children whom he had not seen since November 1835. But there was little time for rest: his law practice that had been neglected during his absence required his attention, which meant attending to clients and traveling to courts across the Western District. There were constituents who sought his attention about matters in Washington and party leaders who sent invitations for him to attend political meetings and dinners.1
Then there was the 1836 presidential election, in which Huntsman held a personal interest in the candidacy of Hugh Lawson White. He ...view middle of the document...
While reaffirming his support of the administration itself, Huntsman boldly let both Jackson and Van Buren know decidedly who his choice would be in the presidential contest. “I am now, and have always been a supporter of the main principles of this Administration. I expect to continue so—my constituents expect it of me.”5 Yet when the United States Telegraph mistakenly labeled him among the “admitted partisans of Mr. Van Buren” in the House, Huntsman was quick to correct its assessment: he was “the partizan of no man” and insisted he “never intended to be so.” The votes he cast in Congress were not influenced by his preference or opposition to a particular candidate. “The people whom I have the honor to represent, sent me here to attend to other business; and reserved the right to make a President themselves.” As for himself, he would “vote for Judge White, if he gets no other upon earth.” But should the election be decided in the House of Representatives (as it had been in the 1824 election between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson), he would concede his personal choice for that of the majority of his constituents.6
In explaining his commitment to vote for the choice of his constituents, Huntsman also articulated the principles that guided him throughout his public career.
These great and fundamental principles of American liberty were inculcated upon my mind when I went to school in the old fields of Virginia in my boyhood, in the forests of the far west they have grown to maturity. I am pertinaciously in favor of the holy and sanctified right of instruction. No twisting, no dodging—and I shall obey the wish of a majority of my constituents in this instance, or resign. I consider it not only the corner stone, but pillar also, of our political edifice. The essence and quintessence of our republican institutions, require the representative to speak fully, and truly, the voice of his constituents. Whenever he fails to do that, he is a misrepresentative. He is a man whom republicans despise, and fools laugh at as an aristocrat in republican clothing.7
During the campaign, President Jackson criticized several members of the Tennessee congressional delegation, including Huntsman, for their endorsement of White. He was allegedly overheard at a reception in Jonesboro, Tennessee saying that he believed Huntsman “was hanging on the fence, and it was doubtful which side he would fall.” White brought up the statement during a speech he gave in Knoxville on August 30:
In justice to that gentleman [Huntsman] I must be permitted to state, if there be any sincerity in man, he is as much on the Tennessee side of the fence, as any of his colleagues. I have thought it right on this occasion to bring this point plainly and distinctly to your view that you might every one see the reason why I and my friends are denounced as Federalists, opposed to the Administration and the Antipodes of our esteemed and venerable Chief Magistrate.8