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Contended Election of 1824

You think the last few election shave been contentious or too drama filled? Take out the media influence due to technological advancements over the course of America's life and they are child's play. In my lifetime, there have only been two elections that have been contentious to degrees that were felt years later. That's two in half a century. Over the course of countries history, there have only been five. Not near as many as you might think.

Here we will review the very first election that had some shady activity and questionable outcomes with results that we unknowingly feel today - the election of 1824.


The Candidates

In today's world, most elections some down to two main individuals. There might be some candidates running on small party tickets, but it generally comes to 2 viable candidates for president. That wasn't the case in the early years of America. Yes, the first election was mainly two with only one who seemed given to win. But by 1824, thirty-fixe years had gone by and quite a few men were trying to obtain that coveted prize of being President of the young country. Two main parties were present, but they didn't narrow them down to one person per party. It was whoever could get enough attention to get on the ballot.

While there were two main parties (Democratic-Republican and Republican-Federalists), there was only one party running this year for President. They didn't win automatically because there were four men who wanted the job, and not one of them was willing to step back for the party to let another man win. Each man was in it for himself.

  • William H. Grawford
  • Andrew Jackson
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Henry Clay

No one really knows who Crawford was so we won't go into detail with him. Hint: he didn't get many votes. But most of us know the others. Jackson was a major war hearo from the War of 1812. Adams was the son of a former president and had been active in politics. Clay was well know for many of this own political moves that impacted much of the development of American government.

The Election Results

Four candidates means a division of votes. The percentages aren't as high as they are today. They are having to share the votes, and their shares are small. Which means the competition is much tougher. In the last election of 220, Biden got 57% of the Electoral votes and 52 % of the popular vote while Trump got 43 % of the Electoral votes and 48% of the popular vote. Now look at the numbers of the 1824 election.

Crawford, who I mentioned didn't finish very well got 16% of the Electoral votes and 12% of the popular vote. Very small compared to the candidates of today. Well, Clay finished off worse with 14% of the Electoral votes and 13% of the popular votes. It all came down to the other two who had to have quite a bit better numbers.

War hero, Andrew Jackson, got 38% of the Electoral votes and 43% of the popular vote. Adams? He got 32% of the Electoral votes and 32% of the popular vote. So who won? AT first glance, we would say Jackson, but that is not how it works. The winner doesn't get the most votes or the higher percentage. The US Constitution requires that the winner has to take the majority of Electoral votes overall. No one got enough votes. The result can only be determined in the House of Representatives.

Before we go further, let's look at this. More people moved into Jackson's support circle than any other candidate. They happened to not live in the areas with higher electoral counts. In today's world, that would equate to him getting most of the country not many in California or New York. Adams was got fewer on both. It looks like Jackson should be the clear winner. Maybe....

Now on to the House.....

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Enemies in the Wrong Place - The House

In a very odd twist of this drama-filled story, it really gets interesting when America realizes that this election isn't done. The House has to decide. Who in the House casts the deciding vote? The Speaker of the House. Who was the Speaker of the House? Henry Clay. Do you see the problem here? He was a candidate who didn't come close to winning and he has to decide who wins. No conflict of interest at the very least.

A conflict of interest was the least of the concerns these candidates faced, or should I say Jackson would face. Clay hated Jackson. As states:

Clay had led some of the strongest attacks against Jackson. Rather than see the nation's top office go to a man he detested, the Kentuckian Clay forged an Ohio Valley-New England coalition that secured the White House for John Quincy Adams. In return Adams named Clay as his secretary of state, a position that had been the stepping-stone to the presidency for the previous four executives.

Clay hated Jackson. Clay chose Adams though Jackson won the majority popular vote by 11%. Adams won and put Clay into a position to be a more viable presidential candidate a few years later. No contentious foundations at all here - Not!

The Winner

John Quincy Adams followed his father's footsteps as the President of the United States of America. The announcement of his win was like an asteroid hitting North America at the time. You might think the election of President Donald Trump was shocking. That was nothing compared to this. Corruption was screamed from the tallest mountains.

Personal feels were the backbone of the start of this Presidency with plans already in place to unseat the man who stole the seat of power. And they did just hat in 1928 when Jackson snugly won.

The Ripple Effect We Feel Today

Elections were rather calm and....boring compared to today until this election. 1824 is the year when we see the shift to politics getting really dirty and a special kind of war of its own.

Instead of seeking allies, the stubborn Adams only incited the growing political combination against him by refusing to conciliate Crawford and his Radicals, pushing immediately for an aggressive program of public works that drove them into the Jackson camp. Calhoun and his followers likewise aligned themselves with Jackson. In a twinkling, Adams found himself surrounded by an increasingly well-organized political party determined to obstruct his policies and make him a one-term president. Clay would later rue his decision to accept the secretary of state’s office as political suicide, for he never again came within a sniff of the presidency.

John Quincy Adams’s victory in the election of 1824 would turn to bitter gall. Subject to savage political attacks and blocked at every turn by an obstructionist Congress and vindictive political enemies, he grew increasingly bitter as his presidency stagnated. He sought reelection in 1828 out of sheer stubbornness, but fully expected and even looked forward to losing to Jackson—which he did. Adams’s subsequent career as a Massachusetts delegate in the House of Representatives would be serene compared to the ordeal of the election of 1824 and its aftermath. (The Gilder Lehrman)

Elections were no longer "gentlemen" affairs. The soft, kid gloves were off. The gentlemen were now using canes to attack their appointments, and they meant to completely destroy the other. After this election, Jackson began a four-year campaign to ruin Adams and Clay. His decision to do that forever changed American Politics. "Jackson’s efforts started the tradition of personal campaigning for the Presidency. The election of 1828 forever changed the face of the American political landscape by adding the element of the campaign trail for elected officials and was a seed of the strong political parties system we see today. Andrew Jackson is said to have ushered in the modern presidential campaign." (The Bill of Rights Institute)

The bitter pill of defeat and the mud slung afterwards isn't something that the 21st century created. The election of 1824 set the stage and gave the first draft of the script. From looking back on it, they did a fine job of putting too much drama in our lives.


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 22, 2021:

Thanks for the history lesson.

I only hope that our leaders someday return to civility and work towards the common good. Sadly, it has not been that way for a while in our country. Fixing bridges and roads should be so simple. The majority of people want that to happen. We shall see what happens with the infrastructure proposals. Crossing fingers!

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