The United States Election of 1824
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Andrew Jackson would grow up to be a President of the United States of America and the founder of the Democratic Party. Along the way he would murder many of his fellow men and live a life of depravity unmatched, so far as we know, by any other American President.
Continued from Andrew Jackson for President, Act I
The decision of Andrew Jackson's friends to run him for President, and his allowing that, if the public asked him to take the office, he would accept it, led to exaggerated expectations about the campaign of 1824. Perhaps General Jackson was the most popular man in the country, but other than his victory at the Battle of New Orleans most potential American voters knew little about him. Other formidable politicians were in the race. They had political organizations in place which became campaign organizations in an election year.
Who was allowed to vote would be an important factor. Each state decided who could vote. At the time of the ramming through of the U.S. Constitution, in most states only white males who could prove they owned a substantial amount of property, usually in land, could vote. But a trend had developed, notably in the State of Pennsylvania, to allow all adult white males to vote. This became the template for the western states of Tennessee, Ohio, and Kentucky, and by 1824 had become the basic rule for the franchise throughout the United States.
How people would vote for President was also changing. Given the wording of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the state legislatures had picked the members of the Electoral College. This had resulted in problematic elections. Direct election of the Electoral College members by the citizen voters was introduced state by state, with half the states having moved to that method by 1812. By the 1824 election 18 of 24 states were using the direct method, 6 still indirectly choose their electors through their legislatures. [See also Wikipedia, United States Electoral College]
Many powerful politicians had already signed up with the campaigns of other candidates. Over a dozen men had spoken of seeking the office in 1824, but the focus came to be on four other than Jackson: Vice President John Q. Adams, leading candidate and Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, John Calhoun, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky. Crawford originally favored the Jackson candidacy as a way of splitting up western state support for Clay and for Secretary of War John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
In early 1823, starting in Pittsburgh, the state of Pennsylvania showed Jackson how his campaign could be organized from the ground up. He had a couple of old friends there who formed a committee and went about the countryside promoting Jackson. Local Jackson committees sprang up, mostly staffed by (white) male farmers and workers. Mass meetings were held, which held straw (unofficial) votes, which were overwhelmingly for the General.
The caucus system, dominated by Crawford, who was backed by Thomas Jefferson, was about to break down. Crawford was truly popular only among the Southern, slave-holding gentlemen who were opposed to a tariff (which raised revenues and protected American manufacturers). Jackson was not very different on issues than Crawford, but his his fame as a war hero appealed to the newly enfranchised, middle and lower class voters.
John Quincy Adams, the son of former President John Adams, was the only northerner in the race, and had the prestige of being Monroe's Vice President. He was an experienced diplomat and was anti-slavery. His main disadvantage was his unwillingness to promise government appointments to potential supporters.
Jackson campaigned against these formidable men by avoiding issues. "Where did he stand on the tariff? He did not say and no one else attempted to say. Internal improvements? The same ..." [James p. 269]. The heroic General was above such trivial politics.
A Jackson fervor swept the masses of voters. Could the other candidates keep enough control of the situation to further their own causes? Prominent men, sensing the changing times, began to attach themselves to Jackson. Crawford became seriously ill: in the fall of 1823 he was confined to his bed, paralyzed. His supporters did their best to hide this, so his campaign continued.
Jackson had his weaknesses, even in Tennessee, where the selection of a new U.S. Senator by the legislature became a contest of strength. The opposition "had combed Tennessee for men who had felt the hard hand and harsh temper of old Jackson, not an inconsiderable company when the prospect of retaliation seemed sufficiently bright to bring them into the open" [James p. 377]. To win the contest John Henry Eaton substituted Jackson as a candidate for Senate, and swung enough votes to elect him. Andrew Jackson left immediately for Washington, D.C. There, by simply receiving people and acting civilized, he was able to accelerate his campaign. He even relented in his old promise to murder General Winfield Scott in a duel. In the Senate Jackson had to sit next to Thomas Hart Benton, whose brother had nearly killed Jackson in the brawl of 1813 [See Benton-Jackson shoot-out]. Jackson behaved civilly; Henry Clay said a "general amnesty" must have been declared. Jackson even dined with Clay and Calhoun, rivals for the Presidency.
Crawford, despite his illness, still controlled the Congressional caucus that traditionally selected the nominee of the Party. The other candidates were happy to popularize the slogan "Shall Congress or the People elect our President?" But except for Tennessee, Maryland, and Alabama, state legislatures refused to enact resolutions against the caucus system [James p. 388]. Despite opposition, and a boycott, the Congressional Caucus met on February 14, 1824 and nominated Crawford for President and Albert Gallatin for Vice President.
Calhoun had become almost everyone's second choice. On February 18 a key Calhoun supporter in Philadelphia turned to Jackson, assuring him the support of the entire state. Calhoun withdrew and began angling to be Vice President by delivering his supporters to Jackson. By this time Jackson supporters had started to call themselves Democrats, to distinguish themselves from the Democratic-Republican Party of Crawford and other candidates.
In the Senate Jackson voted consistently for federal expenditures on internal improvements, what today we would call infrastructure like roads and canals. He explained that good transportation was necessary for national defense. This would have been an unpopular position in the South for anyone but the Hero of New Orleans. Jackson also supported the tariff, which Clay called the "American System." He opposed the national bank and having a national debt.
Across the nation mass meetings and military musters began trying "straw" votes. Jackson almost always won. Politicians supporting other Presidential candidates found it tactful to say nothing negative about Jackson. The other candidates maneuvered. United they might still defeat Jackson, but each wanted to be the point of unity. In the last days before the election a whisper campaign against Mrs. Jackson made some headway, but women could not vote [See Andrew Jackson: Stealing Rachel].
In 1824 the national law required states to choose Electors between October 27 and December 1. Citizens of Ohio and Pennsylvania voted on October 29. The last Electors were chosen on November 22 by the legislatures of Louisiana and South Carolina.
The electoral results were as follows [Bailey p. xxii]:
Jackson had won the most votes. But under the rules of the game, without any candidate possessing a majority of electors, the House of Representatives would choose the next President.
Next: The Corrupt Bargain
Main source: The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James, Bobbs-Merrill company, 1938.
Learn more: President Andrew Jackson main page
U.S. Presidents main page
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