By the time Fillmore had succeeded to the presidency, the disintegration of the party was already manifest; in 1848 several important Whigs joined the new Free-Soil party, along with the abolitionists. In New England a bitter struggle developed between antislavery "Conscience Whigs" and proslavery "Cotton Whigs," in other places between "lower law" Whigs and "higher law" Whigs (the term "higher law" had originated from a famous speech by William H. Seward, who declared that there was a higher law than the Constitution).
In the election of 1852, the party was torn wide open by sectional interests. Both Clay and Webster died during the campaign, and Winfield Scott, the Whig presidential candidate, won only 42 electoral votes. This brought about a quick end to the party, and its remnants gravitated toward other parties. The newly formed (1854) Republican party and the sharply divided Democratic party absorbed the largest segments. Other Whigs, led by Fillmore, drifted into the Know-Nothing movement.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.