U.S. Election of 1824 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The fierce competition in this election among four Republicans split the Republican Party into National Republicans and Democratic Republicans.

Summary of Event

By the 1820’s, the Federalist Party Federalist Party;demise of had ceased to exist, and the dubiously named Era of Good Feelings Era of Good Feelings was coming to a close. Five men in the Republican Party wanted to succeed the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe. At issue in the minds of some was an impending conflict over slavery that seemed closer as a result of the Missouri Compromise Missouri Compromise (1820);and slavery[Slavery] Slavery;and Missouri Compromise[Missouri Compromise] of 1820, which “locked in” the states of the slave South to minority status—in the Senate in the short term, and in the House in the longer term. The Missouri Compromise had mandated that all territories becoming states above the 36°30′ parallel had to be free states, but that those below the line could be free or slave. Martin Van Buren Van Buren, Martin [p]Van Buren, Martin;election of 1824 of New York and William H. Crawford of Georgia had formulated a plan to create a new political party, in which loyalty to the party would be rewarded with political jobs—a practice that became known as the spoils system. A key test of party allegiance would be the willingness of candidates to avoid discussions of slavery, thus instituting a “gag” on all debate of slavery at the national level. Presidency, U.S.;election of 1824 Adams, John Quincy [p]Adams, John Quincy;election of 1824 Jackson, Andrew [p]Jackson, Andrew;election of 1824 Presidency, U.S.;John Quincy Adams[Adams] Republican Party (old);election of 1824 Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;election of 1824 Crawford, William Harris [kw]U.S. Election of 1824 (Dec. 1, 1824-Feb. 9, 1825) [kw]Election of 1824, U.S. (Dec. 1, 1824-Feb. 9, 1825) [kw]1824, U.S. Election of (Dec. 1, 1824-Feb. 9, 1825) Presidency, U.S.;election of 1824 Adams, John Quincy [p]Adams, John Quincy;election of 1824 Jackson, Andrew [p]Jackson, Andrew;election of 1824 Presidency, U.S.;John Quincy Adams[Adams] Republican Party (old);election of 1824 Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;election of 1824 Crawford, William Harris [g]United States;Dec. 1, 1824-Feb. 9, 1825: U.S. Election of 1824[1310] [c]Government and politics;Dec. 1, 1824-Feb. 9,1825: U.S. Election of 1824[1310] Calhoun, John C. [p]Calhoun, John C.;election of 1824 Van Buren, Martin [p]Van Buren, Martin;election of 1824

Crawford was the selection of a rump congressional caucus; his candidacy ended, however, when he suffered a stroke in mid-campaign, temporarily derailing Van Buren’s plans for a political party and removing its most logical leader. Crawford had been supported by Monroe and Thomas Jefferson, and claimed to be the only true heir of the Jeffersonian tradition in the race. Born in Virginia and a resident of Georgia, Crawford represented the large plantation interests. He advocated the strict construction of the Constitution and emphasized states’ rights.

John Quincy Adams.

(White House Historical Society)

Of the other four men running for president, Henry Clay of Kentucky put forth the most positive program. With his American System Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;American System , which involved high protective tariffs Tariffs;protective and federally supported internal improvements, Clay sought to consolidate the different sections of the country behind him. At the time, Clay had no appreciation of the potential for a mass party such as that entertained by Crawford and Van Buren. Van Buren, Martin [p]Van Buren, Martin;election of 1824

Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was the most popular choice and the nation’s premier military hero. He was also the only candidate supported outside his own section, appealing not only to citizens in the West but also to small farmers in the South and laborers in the East. Much of his popularity came from his reputation as a fighting general—the first general since George Washington to seek the presidency. John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, secretary of state in the Monroe administration, was the choice of conservative New Englanders. Although his statesmanship and personal honesty were admitted by all, his lack of tact and charm and his unwillingness to become involved in the rough-and-tumble of politics prevented him from gaining a popular following. John C. Calhoun Calhoun, John C. [p]Calhoun, John C.;election of 1824 of South Carolina soon withdrew rather than face such formidable opposition for the presidency and became the sole vice presidential candidate.

Without a true modern party structure, complete with primaries and other nominating apparatus, candidates were nominated by the congressional caucuses. The caucus system had picked all presidential candidates prior to 1824, by which time it came under attack for its undemocratic features and for giving Congress too much power. Crawford was the last candidate nominated by the caucus: State legislatures nominated the other candidates, and this new device continued in use until the nominating convention was generally adopted within the next decade.

The greatest difficulty for the nominees was a lack of clear issues. Even before his stroke, Crawford could not state clearly that the goal of his campaign was to create institutional barriers to stifle debate about a moral issue. All the candidates were for tariff reform, although Adams termed his tariff Tariffs;protective policy cautious and Jackson called his judicious. Both Adams and Clay, neo-Federalists, supported the American System Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;American System , although Adams outstripped Clay in his support of internal improvements. To those issues, Jackson added an attack on the caucus system and supported the right of the people to choose their presidential electors directly.

As there were no real political differences among the candidates, the contest quickly became one of personalities. There was little campaigning, and most of the excitement was provided by the press. With Crawford’s physical infirmity virtually eliminating him, Adams assumed the favorite’s position. He was expected to gain from the split in the South and West between Clay and Jackson.

In the election held on December 1, 1824, Jackson received the greatest number of popular votes, but not a majority. The electoral vote count was ninety-nine votes for Jackson, eighty-four for Adams, forty-one for Crawford, and thirty-seven for Clay. As no candidate had received a majority, the choice of the president was passed to the House of Representatives, which would vote by states. Clay was eliminated from the race because of the constitutional stipulation that the House should choose from among only the three candidates receiving the highest electoral totals.

The real choice was between Adams and Jackson, but Clay was in a unique position. As Speaker of the House, he could control many of the votes there, and he was forced to choose between two men, both of whom he heartily disliked. There was only one logical choice for Clay, however, as he considered Jackson unfit for the presidency. On the other hand, Clay supported Adams’s nationalist public policies because he was a supporter of the American System Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;American System , which had arisen out of a need to rebuild the nation after the War of 1812. Under the American System, the federal government was to assume certain state debts incurred during the war, establish a uniform national money supply, and provide tariff protections for budding industries competing with established foreign (mainly British) imports.

Clay agreed to meet with Adams to discuss “public affairs.” Although both men later denied that any deal was made, Clay was able to deliver several states into the Adams camp, notably his own state of Kentucky, whose electors had been instructed to vote for Jackson. In the House election of February, 1825, Adams received thirteen votes to seven for Jackson and four for Crawford.

After the House vote, rumors of a “corrupt bargain,” or deal, between Clay and Adams became rampant. In January, an anonymous letter had appeared in the Philadelphia Columbian Observer charging that Clay had sold out to Adams in return for his appointment as secretary of state. Clay immediately denied the charge and published a card challenging his accuser to a duel. However, no duel was never fought and no proof of the bargain was ever provided. Nevertheless, one of Adams’s first acts as president was to appoint Clay as his secretary of state. Thus, according to the Jacksonians, was the “corrupt bargain” consummated. Jackson wrote to one of his supporters.

So you see the Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive his thirty pieces of silver. . . . Was there ever witnessed such barefaced corruption in any country before?

Jackson and his supporters believed that he had been cheated out of the presidency because he had refused to bargain with Clay. Jackson, they contended, was the obvious popular choice and should have been named president. Many believed that Congress had been morally bound to elect him. The election left both Adams and Clay discredited in the eyes of many. Jackson resigned his Senate seat and returned to Tennessee, where he was nominated as that state’s presidential candidate in 1828. By that time, Van Buren Van Buren, Martin [p]Van Buren, Martin;election of 1824 had refocused his party strategy around Jackson, whom he would support in 1828. The election of 1824 Presidency, U.S.;election of 1824 actually served to pair a vastly popular candidate with a formidable new political machine run out of Albany. Jackson and Van Buren recognized the power of the press and incorporated “news” papers into political propaganda.

Significance

The election of Adams in 1824 terminated the succession of the “Virginia dynasty” in the Republican Party. During Adams’s administration, the Jeffersonians split into two wings: the Adams-Clay wing, whose adherents went by the name of National Republicans; and the Jackson wing, whose membership became known as the Democratic Republicans, or simply Democrats. Adams was caught in the middle of this partisan strife, and, unwilling or unable to engage in personal politics, lost popular support and was eventually defeated by Jackson in the campaign of 1828.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baxter, Maurice G. Henry Clay and the American System. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995. Penetrating examination of Clay’s views on economic development and his impact upon American government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Richard H. “The Missouri Crisis, Slavery, and the Politics of Jacksonianism.” South Atlantic Quarterly 65, no. 1 (Winter, 1966): 55-72. A classic article, asserting that the Jacksonian Party was formed well before the “corrupt bargain” out of fear that the Missouri Compromise would undo the fragile truce that had kept the nation together.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Calhoun, John C. The Papers of John C. Calhoun. Edited by Frank M. Merriwether, et al. 28 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1959-2003. An ambitious project, consisting of Calhoun’s papers from 1801 to 1850, with skillful editorial comment integrated throughout.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eaton, Clement. Henry Clay and the Art of American Politics. Boston: Little, Brown, 1957. A short biography of Clay that analyzes Clay’s decision in 1824, arguing that there was no corrupt bargain.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ellis, Richard E. Andrew Jackson. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2003. Masterful study of Jackson’s life, career, policies, and the impact of his presidency.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCormick, Richard P. The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966. Uses statistical analysis of election returns to examine changes in the political party system during this era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Niven, John. Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. A detailed look at the “little magician,” focusing on his political machinations in New York and his contributions to the party structure.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Remini, Robert V. The Life of Andrew Jackson. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. A one-volume condensed version of Remini’s three-volume biography, against which all others are measured. Highly sympathetic toward “Old Hickory.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Watson, Harry L. Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay: Democracy and Development in Antebellum America. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998. Dual biography, describing the two men’s conflicting visions for the future of the United States. Includes reprints of twenty-five primary documents, including speeches and letters.

House of Representatives Elects Jefferson President

Twelfth Amendment Is Ratified

Missouri Compromise

U.S. Election of 1828

U.S. Election of 1840

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