The election of 1824 – provided by Richard Sale


The most visible candidate was House Speaker Henry Clay. A leading War Hawk during the War of 1812, Clay had a power base in Kentucky, was a gifted public speaker, and had support for his so-called American System of protective tariffs and federally sponsored internal improvements. His high-profile advocacy of these issues made him a familiar name in much of the country. Although he was well known, his clear identification with the war and nationalism weakened his roots in the South, which was beginning to fear supporting anyone for President who was not a slave owner or a supporter of states' rights.


Then there was General Andrew Jackson from Tennessee, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson's reputation as an Indian fighter and western expansionist, owing to his military escapades in Spanish Florida (see Jackson biography, Life Before the Presidency section), gave him national standing above all other candidates. It also helped that Jackson could enter the race as an outsider, a defender of the Republic who had risked his life in service of his nation. In fact, his supporters talked about him as another George Washington. Few experienced politicians, however, expected Jackson to win if any of the opposing candidates could broker a cross-regional coalition that would unite either the West or the South with New England or the mid-Atlantic States.


Such a coalition was no easy task to achieve. After all, the 1824 election occurred in a day and age when a new political electorate composed of regionally focused voters had only recently been empowered with the franchise. Since 1820, the old political caucus method by which the congressional leaders nominated presidential candidates had fallen into disrepute. This was principally because the old caucus system failed to connect with the wishes of the new voters, the tens of thousands of males who had been enfranchised by the removal of property ownership as a criterion for white male suffrage. This new climate looked to regional endorsements of candidates by state conventions or state assemblies, which meant that regional popularity, rather than congressional intrigue, would drive the nomination process.


Although Adams was a centrist politician of sorts-a Jeffersonian-Federalist, to coin a new term-many Americans still identified him as a New Englander and as the son of the old Federalist leader John Adams. Additionally, many staunch Democratic-Republicans blamed Adams and his supporters for having transformed the party of Jefferson into a disguised form of Federalism under the rubric of "National Republicans." Southerners, moreover, objected to Adams because of his moral opposition to slavery. They remembered his criticism of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 as a proslavery conspiracy, and they suspiciously recalled Adams's efforts to include language opposed to the international slave trade in the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.


Four Democratic-Republican Candidates


In the summer of 1824, an unofficial caucus of less than a third of the congressmen eligible to attend nominated Crawford for President. Supporters for Adams denounced the caucus bid, and the Massachusetts legislature nominated Adams as their favorite-son candidate. The Kentucky legislature did the same for Clay. Both nominations followed the pattern set by the Tennessee legislature, which had nominated Andrew Jackson in 1822. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina dropped out of the presidential race by announcing his bid for the vice presidency, a move that both Adams and Crawford endorsed. Because all four candidates were nominal Democratic-Republicans-the Federalist Party had disintegrated by this point-the election would be decided without reference to party affiliation.


As the campaign progressed, Jackson emerged as the man to beat. The size of his rallies in key swing states-Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, New York, and New Jersey-far surpassed or rivaled those for Clay and Adams. In this first election in American history in which the popular vote mattered-because eighteen states chose presidential electors by popular vote in 1824 (six states still left the choice up to their state legislatures) -Jackson's popularity foretold a new era in the making. When the final votes were tallied in those eighteen states, Jackson polled 152,901 popular votes to Adams's 114,023; Clay won 47,217, and Crawford won 46,979. The electoral college returns, however, gave Jackson only 99 votes, 32 fewer than he needed for a majority of the total votes cast. Adams won 84 electoral votes followed by 41 for Crawford and 37 for Clay.




Jackson was the only candidate to attract significant support beyond his regional base. He carried the majority of electoral votes in eleven states: Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Adams won all six of the New England states plus New York. Crawford and Clay carried only three states each-Delaware, Georgia, and Virginia for Crawford and Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio for Clay.


Acting under the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution, the House of Representatives met to select the President from among the top three candidates. Henry Clay, as the candidate with the fewest electoral votes, was eliminated from the deliberation. As Speaker of the House, however, Clay was still the most important player in determining the outcome of the election. The election in the House took place in February 1825. With each state having one vote, as determined by the wishes of the majority of each state's congressional representatives, Adams emerged as the winner with a one-vote margin of victory. Most of Clay's supporters, joined by several old Federalists, switched their votes to Adams in enough states to give him the election. Soon after his inauguration as President, Adams appointed Henry Clay as his secretary of state.


A "Corrupt Bargain"?


Jackson could barely contain his fury at having lost the election in what he claimed was a "corrupt bargain" between Adams and Clay to overturn the will of the people. To most Jackson supporters, it looked as if congressional leaders had conspired to revive the caucus system, whereby Congress greatly influenced-if not determined-the selection of the President. Jackson laid the blame on Clay, telling anyone who would listen that the Speaker had approached him with the offer of a deal: Clay would support Jackson in return for Jackson's appointment of Clay as secretary of state. When Jackson refused, Clay purportedly made the deal with Adams instead. In Jackson's words, Clay had sold his influence in a "corrupt bargain."


Clay denied the charges, and while there certainly had been some behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Clay to push the vote to Adams, it most likely reflected Clay's genuine doubts about Jackson's qualifications for the office. In assessing the odds of successfully forwarding his own political agenda, Clay questioned Jackson's commitment to the "American System" of internal improvements. On the other hand, Clay knew that Adams had supported it consistently over the years. Also, the loss of three states that Jackson had won in the popular vote-Illinois, Maryland, and Louisiana-due to the defection of congressmen who supported Adams suggests that more was involved in the outcome than the political maneuvering of one man. Enraged, Jackson resigned his seat in the Senate and vowed to win the presidency in 1828 as an outsider to Washington politics.


The Campaign and Election of 1828


Within months of Adams's inauguration in 1825, the Tennessee legislature nominated Andrew Jackson for President. Over the next three years, Jackson put together a highly disciplined grassroots campaign with one goal: to defeat John Quincy Adams in a rematch that would pit "the people" against Adams. Jackson issued so-called memorandums (a misuse of the word that endeared him to his growing western constituency) in which he outlined the erosion of representative power over the last decades at the hands of "gamesters" like Clay and Adams. In Jackson's mind, the "corrupt bargain" was just one of a number of such schemes. Jackson claimed that the Panic of 1819, a devastating economic collapse, had resulted from (1) a conspiracy of disreputable creditors and the Bank of the United States, (2) the unpaid national debt, (3) the political swindlers in office from Madison through Adams-schemers who would be turned out with a Jackson victory-and (4) the backstairs dealings of "King Caucus" to select a President in defiance of popular opinion.


While Jackson issued his statements and traveled the nation rounding up support, his most brilliant lieutenant, Martin Van Buren of New York, assumed the duties of a campaign manager. Van Buren had switched allegiance from Crawford to Jackson shortly after the election of 1824. His efforts thereafter were focused on securing a victory for Jackson in the popular vote. Van Buren's strategy was to portray Jackson as the head of a disciplined and issue-oriented party that was committed to states' rights and the limited-government ideology of the old Jeffersonian Republicans.


In the year before the 1828 election, Van Buren's organizational efforts began to create a new political entity that would come to fruition in the 1830s. For the 1828 election, Van Buren focused on linking the opponents of federalism in the North and South into a coalition that he envisioned as the heir to the old Jeffersonian Republican Party. In his mind, victory for this new movement would protect slavery in the South, ensure the legitimacy of majority rule based upon direct voting for candidates by the electorate, and guarantee preservation of the Union, with states' rights as the fundamental basis of American liberty. When he won the support of Vice President John C. Calhoun and powerful Virginia political leaders, Van Buren effectively laid the basis for a party system that would endure until the Civil War. (Calhoun was moving away from his postwar ideology of nationalism to a states' rights conservatism that was more reflective of his region's fear of abolitionism, costly internal improvements, and high protective tariffs.) While Jackson and Van Buren organized, Adams diligently carried out the duties of the presidency, refusing to prepare himself or his supporters for the coming contest. Adams did not remove even his loudest opponents from appointive office and hewed to the old-fashioned notion that a candidate should "stand" for office, not "run." When the election campaign officially began, Adams's supporters formally adopted the name National Republicans in contrast to Democrats, trying thereby to identify themselves accurately with the link between old-style federalism and a new nationalistic republicanism. Jacksonians, on the other hand, argued for a new revolutionary movement that rested on a firm faith in majoritarian democracy and states' rights-ideas that were not always compatible.


Personal Campaign Battles


Although issues clearly separated the candidates along lines more distinct than any since the election of 1800, the campaign itself was highly personal. Indeed, it was the first campaign in history to use election materials such as campaign buttons, slogans, posters, tokens, flasks, snuffboxes, medallions, thread boxes, matchboxes, mugs, and fabric images so extensively. Almost all of these campaign trinkets depicted some aspect of the candidate's popular image. Jackson's status as a war hero and frontiersman played far better with the public than Adams's stiff-looking elder statesman stance.


Neither candidate personally campaigned in 1828, but their political followers organized rallies, parades, and demonstrations. In the popular press, the rhetorical attacks reached a level of cruelty and misrepresentation not seen since the election of 1800. Jackson was accused of multiple murders, of extreme personal violence, and of having lived in sin with his wife, Rachel, who herself was attacked as a bigamist. Adams, on the other hand, was attacked for his legalistic attitudes, for his foreign-born wife, and for reportedly having procured young American virgins for the Russian czar as the primary achievement of his diplomatic career. Adams's critics referred to him as "His Excellency" while Jackson came under attack as an ill-mannered, barely civilized, backwoods killer of Indians.


In a masterstroke of popular politics, the Jacksonians made good use of the general's nickname, Old Hickory. He had earned the name because he was reputed to be as tough as hickory wood. To publicize his image, Jackson supporters put hickory poles all over the country, distributed hickory toothpicks and canes, and served up barbecues fired by hickory chips.


The branding of Jackson's wife as an "American Jezebel" and convicted adulteress-because she had married Jackson before her divorce from an earlier marriage had been finalized-surprisingly backfired as an election strategy. It unleashed a backlash against Adams for humiliating a woman who had lived for 40 years as the devoted wife of General Jackson, for grossly violating the general's privacy and honor, and for applying narrowly legalistic pronouncements in place of common sense. To countless Americans, Jackson's duels, brawls, executions, and unauthorized ventures represented the victory of what was right and good over the application of stiff-minded and narrowly construed principles. The attacks simply enhanced Jackson's image as an authentic American hero who had drawn upon his natural nobility and powerful will to prevail against unscrupulous political foes, educated elitists, the pride of the British army, and "heathen savages"-often at the same time.


The campaign turned out more than twice the number of voters who had cast ballots in 1824-approximately 57 percent of the electorate. Jackson won the election in a landslide, and by a wide margin of 95 electoral votes. Adams carried New England, Delaware, part of Maryland, New Jersey, and sixteen of New York's electoral votes-nine states in all. Jackson carried the remaining fifteen states of the South, Northwest, mid-Atlantic, and West. Incumbent Vice President John C. Calhoun won 171 electoral votes to 83 for Richard Rush of Pennsylvania, Adams's running mate."


From the Miller Center



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10 Responses to The election of 1824 – provided by Richard Sale

  1. Jake G. says:

    Col. Lang,
    Lt. General Hal Moore has died.
    Here are some amazing words from Moore in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor:
    LT. GEN. HAL MOORE: I pray that my men who were killed in action under my command have eternal life in Jesus Christ. That’s the best I can do.
    When I go to the cemetery at Fort Benning, Georgia, a one-hour drive from my home here in Alabama, I visit the graves of my men who died in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. My wife is buried next to Sgt. Jack Gell, whom I held in my arms just after he died. He left a wife and three children. When I go out, I will be buried in the same grave with my wife.
    OUR SUNDAY VISITOR: What advice would you offer to someone who is just beginning his or her spiritual journey?
    MOORE: Life on this planet is temporary. It’s like a snap of the fingers compared to eternal life. You’re only given one shot, your lifetime on earth, to quality for eternal life.
    I often think of a prayer by Pope Clement XI: “Discover to me, O my God, the nothingness of this world, the greatness of heaven, the shortness of time, and the length of eternity.”
    I can hardly wait to enjoy life eternal with God and his saints, my late wife Julie, relatives, all my troops who died in battle, all the men and women of history. When I think of what awaits me if I qualify, I can hardly wait to get there.

  2. ann says:

    What a great read. Thank you very much.

  3. Eliot says:

    Please excuse the tangent, but it appears Yale has renamed Calhoun College. His 19th century views ran afoul of their 21st century values.
    – Eliot

  4. Fred says:

    The past must be condemned for not being like the present because the current leaders of Academia, who came of age in the ’60s, are morally superior beings and are obligated to condemn those who came before them. “If one controls people’s memory, one controls their dynamism ….It is vital to have possession of this memory, to control it, to administer it, tell it what it must contain…” The left has been waging war against America for a long, long time.

  5. trinlae says:

    With all due respect, historical revisionism and academic public facing to please favored cronies are equal opportunity employers, and do not discriminate on the basis of partisan ideologies, but rather favor perceived founts of almighty dollars. But if it pleases some to eat the bait of divide and conquer, so be it. There is no shortage of funds for bread and circuses performed by the nibblers.

  6. Sam Peralta says:

    Thanks for this very nice vignette of our political history. More Americans need to be aware of the twists and turns and the human frailties that have influenced our politics.

  7. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Might be nice to give the link to the full article from which the above is an excerpt:

  8. turcopolier says:

    Very cool. Thanks. pl

  9. Tidewater says:

    Tidewater to Richard Sale, Eliot, Fred, Trinlae, and All,
    Thank you very much for this essay, Richard S. Your work has encouraged me to go back into some of my books about that era. I think both Jackson and Calhoun are titans who ought to be studied together, side by side. I can guess what John C. Calhoun might think about his name being removed from a Yale dormitory, bearing in mind that he suffered socially at Yale as a very serious minded grind from the southern backcountry. He had one friend there, also from South Carolina, John M. Felder. He wrote to the lady who became his mother-in-law: “This place is much agitated by party feelings, that both Mr. Felder and myself find it prudent to form few connections in town…This is rather a solitary place; and unless, it is now and then a southerner from college, we rarely see anyone from our end of the Union…” I think he might wonder how his name got on the dorm to begin with. (Was the naming stipulated under the terms of someone’s gift to the university?)
    There are ironies. He learned Nullification in Connecticut. Both at Timothy Dwight’s Yale and at nearby Litchfield Law School. From “John C. Calhoun: Opportunist/ a reappraisal” by Gerald M. Capers (pages 14-15): “The Litchfield Law School, one of the very few in the nation at the time, consisted of one small building, two instructors, and about forty students. It conferred a diploma upon candidates, after the satisfactory completion of fourteen to eighteen months’ work, and its high reputation resulted from the ability of its faculty–Judge Tapping Reeve and his assistant, James Gould. Students attended lectures, studied cases from English reports, and held moot courts once a week. The major emphasis of the curriculum was upon Blackstone and the common law, but the chief benefit derived came rather from training in moot court sessions and exposure to Gould’s method of lucid analysis. It was here that Calhoun developed the art of extemporaneous speaking, later so useful to him in Congress, and it may have been from Gould that he acquired the logical method which was to make him cogent in debate.
    “Reeve at this time was a staunch advocate of the secession of New England, and Gould, son-in-law of Uriah Tracy, another prominent New England irreconcilable, probably concurred in this view. Such a conviction was bound to have colored their teaching of constitutional law and American government. This open disunion sentiment in high places, from Dwight of Yale and Reeve of Litchfield, must have whetted Calhoun’s already ardent Republicanism, smarting as he was from the social ostracism forced upon him in New Haven and Litchfield. Certainly it made him apprehensive for the future of the republic.”
    I remember being surprised when I first read this. The young Calhoun was a Hamiltonian! It is on the record. He was a “statesman who believed that the federal government had the power to draft citizens into the army, to charter a national bank, and to build national roads where it willed,” who “necessarily placed a broad constitution upon the Constitution. In his interpretation of the basic law Calhoun was in complete accord in 1816 with Hamilton and Marshall. It is almost unbelievable that the outstanding strict constructionist in all American history could have written in 1823 that “the Supreme Court of the Union performs the highest functions under our system. It is the mediator between SOVEREIGNS, the State and General Governments, and the actual line, which separates their authority, must be drawn by this high tribunal.”” (Capers, page 55.)
    Why would there have been a movement in New England to leave the Union? The “Peculiar Institution” (slavery) must have been one reason. But it is interesting to me how jealous the states were of one another and how unwilling to look to the common good. New York state had brilliantly financed the Erie Canal with its own money, but one result of this advantage, as the canal began to bring western agricultural products into port of New York harbor warehouses for export, was that the Empire State did not want to contribute to building the Keystone State’s (Pennsylvia) road system.
    And as for the New England shipping magnates, who were heavily into the slave trade (look into the history of Brown University), and who lobbied hard to keep the south a slave region, helping to defeat the southern home-grown antislavery movement, one can see how the whole question of the opening up of the western lands was on so many minds.
    Again, Capers: “But New England and the Southeast–the first thinking of her shipping which still represented a larger investment than manufacturing, and the second of her cotton and rice–both wanted an increased rather than a decreased trade with England. To both a tariff meant an increased cost of production; they regarded it as a tax which would fall heavily on them for the disproportionate benefit of the other sections. By the encouragement of internal improvements to the already alarming westward migration, land values in these older sections would be further depressed and their political power in the House further reduced by loss of population. It was already becoming apparent that New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, and not the proud old colonial ports of Boston and Charleston, would largely monopolize western trade.” (Pages 92-93.) And Calhoun was all for internal improvements.
    Migration out of the south? Meaning people voting with their feet against slavery? Yes, that, but also there was a very poor understanding of proper agricultural methods. As for example with tobacco. Tobacco would deplete and ultimately ruin the land it was planted on; and when that happened, people just went west. It was very hard for farmers in the original colonies to compete with the rich lands of the West. (Capers, page 92.)
    Later, even the production of rice, a tremendously lucrative business (if risky, due to West Indian cyclones, as hurricanes were called) that had thrived in parts of the South Carolina low-country for more than a century, was stolen away by Arkansas by the latter part of the Nineteenth Century.
    A very fine book about the rice business and the life of this very unusual riverine society on the Carolina coast in the Combahee River region is ‘Seed From Madagascar’ by Duncan Clinch Hayward.

  10. Thanks Richard! My undergrad thesis on “Jacksonian Democracy in Western Pennsylvania”!

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