The Election of 1824

William Harris Crawford.

Not long after the election of 1820, an essentially uncontested election seeing the re-election of President James Monroe, the campaigning for the election of 1824 began. President Monroe had indicated that he would not seek an unprecedented third term as president, but that did not stop others from posturing for the election. As a journalist observed in the spring of 1822, “electioneering begins to wax hot.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 203 quoting James F. Hopkins, “Election of 1824,” in History of American Presidential Elections, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (New York, 1985), 363.

All of the candidates identified as Republicans, claiming to be the rightful heir of the Jeffersonian branch of Republicanism. Three of the five leading candidates were part of President Monroe’s cabinet, including William Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury under both President James Madison and President Monroe. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 203. John C. Calhoun, the Secretary of War, offered a more nationalistic, educated candidacy. John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, enjoyed widespread support in New England, despite starting his political career as a Federalist, like his father, President John Adams. Id. at 204.

The other two main candidates were Speaker of the House of Representatives, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and General Andrew Jackson, famous for his bravery in the War of 1812 and who would be elected senator from Tennessee in 1823. Id. at 204-05.

The election of 1824 also was occurring amidst a change in the way that elections would be conducted. In the earliest days of the Republic, state legislatures chose presidential electors, however, in the course of the election 1824, “public opinion throughout the country was shifting in favor of having the electors chosen by the voters, and since the last presidential contest in 1816, several more states, including all the newly admitted ones, had adopted a popular vote for presidential electors.” Id. at 207.

General Jackson received a plurality of both popular and electoral votes, but no candidate had a majority in the electoral college sufficient to clinch the presidency. Id. at 208. Andrew Jackson held 42.5% of the popular vote with John Quincy Adams receiving 31.5% of the popular vote. Id.

Using the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, the House of Representatives had to choose a president “from among the three top contenders, with the delegation from each state casting one vote.” Id.

Unfortunately for Jackson, John Quincy Adams had an established network in the House of Representatives, which quickly won him three more states’ delegations, on top of the seven he secured in the general election. Id. Henry Clay, a long-shot for the presidency, threw his support behind John Quincy Adams, which would bring Adams another three states: Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri. Id. at 209. This brought Adams’ total states to thirteen. Id. This came despite Congressman James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, then a supporter of Jackson, trying to secure Clay’s support for Jackson in exchange for a position as secretary of state in a Jackson administration. Id.

With Adams’ thirteen states, he obtained a majority of the 24 states, securing the presidency for him. His father, then 89-years old, in Quincy, Massachusetts, “felt overwhelmed with emotion when the news arrived.” John Adams to John Quincy Adams, Feb. 18, 1825, Memoirs of JQA, VI, 504.

Since this election, the House of Representatives has not chosen a president. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 210. This election also represented the end of nonparty politics, as it laid the foundations for the political parties to come. Adams and Clay would be the start of an alliance that would be the National Republicans and later the Whig Party. Jackson and Crawford ideologues would later form the Democratic Republicans, which would be called the Democratic Party. Id.

The lines were being drawn in the sand for the separation of the Republican Party. John Quincy Adams’ battle for the White House was a resounding success, which perhaps most speaks volumes about the importance of having an established network in the House of Representatives. The contrast between the elections of 1820 and 1824 could not be more pronounced, as Americans went from hardly having a choice of who to vote for to having a slate of five capable, experienced candidates. Perhaps this is just one illustration of how fluid and dynamic the American populace is, as elections can vary in nature and scope tremendously in just a matter of a few years.


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