U.S. Election of 1828 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The election of Andrew Jackson, in his second campaign against John Quincy Adams, coincided with the birth of a new political party system and introduced the trappings of modern political campaigns.

Summary of Event

The political campaign that culminated in the December 3, 1828, presidential election was among the bitterest in U.S. history. It is also one of the most discussed and analyzed, in part because it symbolized a number of practices and trends that were developing in American society. The 1828 contest followed on the heels of the famous election of 1824 and matched the same two major candidates—John Quincy Adams, who was now the incumbent president, and Andrew Jackson. The contest in 1824 also had included William H. Crawford Crawford, William Harris , then secretary of war, and Henry Clay Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;election of 1824 , a congressman from Kentucky. When no candidate in that election received a majority in the electoral college, the selection went to the House of Representatives. There, Clay threw his support and electors behind Adams, who named him secretary of state immediately after taking office. Jackson and his supporters complained about the “corrupt bargain” that cost Jackson the election and vowed to return in 1828. Presidency, U.S.;election of 1828 Jackson, Andrew [p]Jackson, Andrew;election of 1828 Adams, John Quincy [p]Adams, John Quincy;election of 1828 Presidency, U.S.;Andrew Jackson[Jackson] Van Buren, Martin [p]Van Buren, Martin;election of 1828 [kw]U.S. Election of 1828 (Dec. 3, 1828) [kw]Election of 1828, U.S. (Dec. 3, 1828) [kw]1828, U.S. Election of (Dec. 3, 1828) Presidency, U.S.;election of 1828 Jackson, Andrew [p]Jackson, Andrew;election of 1828 Adams, John Quincy [p]Adams, John Quincy;election of 1828 Presidency, U.S.;Andrew Jackson[Jackson] Van Buren, Martin [p]Van Buren, Martin;election of 1828 [g]United States;Dec. 3, 1828: U.S. Election of 1828[1440] [c]Government and politics;Dec. 3, 1828: U.S. Election of 1828[1440] Crawford, William Harris Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;election of 1828

More important than the so-called corrupt bargain, however, was the formation of a new political party system, first conceived in the wake of the Missouri Compromise by the Georgian Crawford and the New York politician Martin Van Buren as a way to stifle further political debate over slavery. The Missouri Compromise had built into the process by which territories became states a permanent disadvantage for the slave-holding South: Every northern territory that became a state had to be free, but territories below 36°30′ could choose to be free or slave. Therefore, the South soon would be outvoted in both houses of Congress. Crawford Crawford, William Harris and Van Buren thought they had found a way to demand neutrality of politicians on the issue of slavery through the discipline of a new party system based on political jobs or other party rewards, called spoils. Individual politicians, from presidential candidates down to local candidates, had an incentive to refrain from taking a position on slavery in return for party support, money, and coverage from the numerous party newspapers.

Crawford’s sudden ill health removed him from the 1824 contest too late for Van Buren to find another acceptable candidate to head the new organization. Jackson’s popularity made him the perfect vehicle for the Little Magician—as Van Buren was known—and the 1828 election was the appropriate time to introduce the new party system. Henry Clay’s Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;election of 1828 Clay, Henry [p]Clay, Henry;American System so-called American System differed little from the policies of the sitting president, Adams. Jackson’s campaign focused on the personality of the general, and Adams contrasted Jackson’s low-brow, commoner image to his own well-bred, educated, and experienced persona.

The campaign developed into one of the greatest contests of mudslinging in U.S. political history. No charge, however inaccurate or unfounded, seemed too extreme for the zealous campaigners. Each candidate was the target of vicious slander, as charges of murder, adultery, and pandering were slung back and forth. Adams was portrayed as a monarchist, the darling of the old Federalists, and a profligate spender who presided over a corrupt squadron of insiders and officeholders who lived in undemocratic luxury at the voters’ expense. The hoary details of the corrupt bargain—that marriage between “the Puritan and the black-leg”—were dredged up repeatedly by the Jacksonians. Meanwhile, Jackson himself fared no better. His enemies portrayed him as a hot-tempered, overly ambitious, would-be tyrant, who had lived in sin with his beloved Rachel, and who appealed to the basest emotions of King Mob.

Changes in the organization of political parties and Van Buren’s emphasis on getting out the vote made the outcome a foregone conclusion. Adams’s supporters still operated under the assumption that small groups of elites selected the president. However, Van Buren’s machine understood, and even directed, the new mass politics that had evolved. Several developments made new mass parties practical: Requirements that voters own property had been lifted in most states, allowing far more men to vote than ever before. Newspapers, which were little more than political propaganda organs, had expanded greatly in number and influence, and the caucus system of selecting candidates or other spokespersons for the parties gave way to nominating conventions. With a popular candidate, such as Jackson, who appealed to the newly enfranchised voters at the top of the ticket, debates over issues were relatively unimportant. The only question was who would get out the vote. To that end, Van Buren’s machine—which was divided into state, county, city, and precinct suborganizations—easily outclassed the stodgy Adams’s campaign apparatus.

Jackson won 647,286 popular and 178 electoral votes to the 508,064 popular and 83 electoral votes of Adams. Adams carried only the New England section plus New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware Delaware . It was a resounding victory for the general, but it was neither a triumph of democracy over aristocracy nor an economic revolution. Van Buren’s spoils system merely replaced Adams’s elites with a new group named by Jackson. With the expansion of the size of government ensured by every election (since it was necessary always to get out more of the vote than one’s opponent did), those in power had more power and privilege than ever before. As for an economic revolution, economic gulfs continued to widen during the Jacksonian era.

Significance

Van Buren—and to a lesser extent Jackson—saw the election as ensuring the continuation of the union by removing the threat of a civil war over slavery. It seemed that voters and candidates could be persuaded to put party loyalty over personal opinions on slavery. That attitude was especially critical in the North, where antislavery sentiments ran high. The new party, called the Democratic Republicans Democratic Republican Party (or simply, Democrats), appeared to be able to contain the debate over slavery by electing candidates who would refuse to deal with it. As one author concluded, the system could survive as long as it could elect “northern men with southern principles.” In the process, however, neither Van Buren nor Jackson appreciated the twofold dynamic inherent in the new system, one that increased the scope and authority of the federal government and a second that increased the power of the presidency within that government. In fact, Jackson’s presidency produced more vetoes than all six previous administrations put together. The party discipline over slavery could not survive either an antislave president or a Congress dominated by northern men of northern principles, which was exactly what it got in the election of 1860.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Richard. “The Missouri Crisis, Slavery, and the Politics of Jacksonianism.” South Atlantic Quarterly 65, no. 1 (Winter, 1966): 55-72. Shows that the second political party system was conceived as a response to the Missouri Compromise. Maintains that Van Buren and Crawford designed a political organization that would reward party loyalty with jobs, requiring the party faithful to limit or avoid discussion of slavery.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

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

    xlink:type="simple">Formisano, Ronald P. The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790’s-1840’s. New York. Oxford University Press, 1983. Uses Massachusetts as a test case to examine the changes in party organization and structure that led to the evolution of national parties.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McCormick, Richard P. “New Perspectives on Jacksonian Politics.” American Historical Review 65, no. 2 (January, 1960): 288-301. Uses voter participation statistics to show that the election of 1828 was not a popular revolution and that the true revolution did not occur until 1840, when a Whig was elected.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marshall, Lynn L. “The Strange Stillbirth of the Whig Party.” American Historical Review 72, no. 2 (January, 1967): 445-468. A classic study of party organization by the Jacksonians and of the Whigs’ ill-fated response. Explains the centralizing tendencies of the spoils system and the nationalization of elections.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Niven, John. Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. A thorough account of the life of the Little Magician, offering a detailed look at Van Buren’s political life in New York, although appreciating the role slavery played in national politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson. 3 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. New edition of Remini’s nearly definitive biography of Jackson, whose election campaigns are covered in the second and third volumes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Election of Andrew Jackson. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1963. This concise treatment of the election by a historian sympathetic to Jackson emphasizes the rise of democratic forces and the “common man” over traditional elites.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. John Quincy Adams. New York: Times Books, 2002. Brief study of Adams’s long public career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Age of Jackson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1945. A Pulitzer Prize-winning study that views Jackson as a hero. Portrays the election in terms of democratic reaction to elites; more economic in its analysis than Remini’s book.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schweikart, Larry. “Jacksonian Ideology, Currency Control, and ’Central Banking’: A Reappraisal.” The Historian 51, no. 1 (November, 1988): 78-102. Uses Jackson’s war on the Bank of the United States to show the effect of the spoils system and the new party organization on the growth of government. Argues that the policies and organizational dynamic of the Jacksonians, regardless of their rhetoric, resulted in greater power accruing to the federal government and to the president in particular.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sibley, Joel H. Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Study of the growing popular participation in political parties after the War of 1812 that focuses on Van Buren’s role in this development.

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