Elected as a United States Senator from Tennessee in 1825, White was a supporter of Andrew Jackson. When John Calhoun resigned the vice-presidency in 1833 the Senate chose White as acting vice-president. Many of Jackson’s former supporters began to think the president had become too dictatorial when he handpicked Martin Van Buren to succeed him as president in the 1836 election. White and two other regionally popular Whigs opposed Van Buren, hoping to throw the presidential race into the House of Representatives. White won the electoral votes of Tennessee and Georgia, but the Whig alliance failed and Van Buren was elected president.
Born in North Carolina, White’s father was a militia captain who moved his family when he received a veteran’s land grant in Tennessee. Hugh White fought in the Indian wars before becoming secretary to Governor William Blount in 1793. In 1796 he began to practice law; he served as a superior court judge, district attorney and a state senator prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate. He was also Knoxville’s first banker.
White suffered from tuberculosis and was known on Capitol Hill as “The Skeleton”; the disease also killed his wife and several of his children. After the Panic of 1837 Van Buren supported the establishment of an Independent Treasury to combat overexpansion of credit. White fought this plan against the wishes of the Tennessee legislature; he resigned from the Senate in 1840 as a result of this political battle. White died the same year he resigned from the senate; had he won his bid for the presidency he would have died while in office.