Election of 1828: The Changing Politics

Andrew Jackson Stump Speaking. By: George Caleb Bingham.

Over the course of President John Quincy Adams’ term from 1824 to 1828, defenders of his administration began calling themselves National Republicans while opponents called themselves Democratic Republicans. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 275. The Election of 1828 served as a culmination of the changing politics of the country.

Andrew Jackson was the de facto leader of the Democratic Republicans (later to be called simply the Democrats, as they are now), and they saw themselves as the rightful heirs to Jeffersonian Republicanism. Id. While the National Republicans were focused on nationalism, Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and John Calhoun were busy embracing the states’ rights values of Republicanism. Id.

While President Adams’ supporters “endorsed economic modernization and appealed for votes on the basis of their improvement program,” Jacksonians “emphasized their candidate rather than a program but developed a very modern political organization with attendant publicity and rallies.” Id. at 276.

Both campaigns published significant amounts of handbills, campaign biographies, and newspapers (through their reliably partisan newspapers). Id. Both candidates even published some campaign literature in German. Id. citing Arthur Schlesinger Jr., History of American Presidential Elections (New York, 1985), II, 437-91.

Jackson, and his team led by Van Buren, sought to fundamentally rebut the politics of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, that had come to define the Republican Party for the decades leading up to the Election of 1828. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 279. Van Buren sought to unite “the planters of the South and the plain Republicans of the North,” to effectively cut off any hope for President Adams creating a consensus throughout the country. Id.

After the election returns came in, Jackson had a resounding victory: 178 to 83 in the electoral college. Id. at 280. He had 56% of the popular vote, a record “not surpassed until the twentieth century.” Id. His followers also won a majority in both houses of Congress, giving him a massive advantage going into the White House. Id. at 280-81. Jackson carried just 50.3% of the vote in free states and 72.6% of the vote in slave states. Id. at 282.

One newspaper remarked that the Adams campaign “dealt with man as he should be,” while Jackson “appealed to him as he is.” Id. at 283. Jackson would change politics. Gone were the days of nonpartisan leadership, that Adams, Monroe, and George Washington had embraced. See id.

The Election of 1828 was the culmination of the factions that had developed as a result of the Election of 1824 in the Republican Party. Those disenchanted with the “corrupt bargain” of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay working together hoped that Jackson would usher in a new era in politics. Jackson, with Van Buren on his side, was a force to be reckoned with, as they were single-handedly changing the nature of presidential politics.

Jackson and Van Buren would continue to shape politics for the years to come, but the Election of 1828 represented perhaps a more modern election than those preceding it. The campaigns both targeted immigrants, as they were increasingly voting, and the election was the first between the Republicans and Democrats, although the modern Republican Party would not emerge until the 1850s. Nonetheless, Jackson had shown that he was going to make a significant impact on politics in America, given his broad mandate.

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