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The Corrupt Bargain of 1824
by William P. Meyers

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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 The United States Election of 1824

Andrew Jackson, of the Presidential candidates in 1824, had received the most popular and Electoral College votes. He did not receive a majority, and so the election was sent to the United States House of Representatives for a final decision. Not only that, but each state delegation in the House got one vote, so that populous states like Virginia had the same vote as nearly empty states like Missouri. Most observers figured Jackson would have the 13 votes needed to win.

Speaker of the House Henry Clay was in the position to choose the President, if those who had supported his fourth-place campaign would vote as he indicated. Clay liked John Quincy Adams. Perhaps as important, old Thomas Jefferson expressed alarm at the thought of a Jackson Presidency, calling him "one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place" [James p. 421]. Clay wished to be appointed Secretary of State, and Adams was willing to make that appointment. Jackson was not. Crawford was not in favor of Adams; Clay's ability to swing Kentucky and perhaps other western states was crucial. Clay and Adams met on January 9, 1825 and made a deal.

But the race was not over. The Kentucky legislature directed that the state's vote go to Jackson. Clay managed to keep a majority of the Kentucky members in the House on his side. Adam men and Jackson men scrambled to line up votes. Jackson himself even called upon Crawford, and his man Sam Houston now promised Clay the post of Secretary of State. Adams, at Clay's urging, gained the support of Daniel Webster, who wanted to become Minister to England. Jackson's friends accused Clay of selling out the West and Democracy itself. In other words, it was politics as usual. The only surprise was that Jackson did not challenge Adams, or perhaps Clay, to a duel.

On February 9, 1825, the balloting in the House of Representatives to choose the next President began. Most people believed Adams would fall short on the first ballot, getting only 12 of the 13 votes he needed. On the second ballot the Crawford camp would be released and vote for Jackson, along with one or two of defectors from Adams. New York was evenly split, and so would cast no vote. Jackson would win on the third ballot.

First the Electoral Votes were formally counted, but that outcome had been known in advance. It was announced that John Calhoun had been elected Vice President, but that no one had won the Presidential contest. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, then ordered the state delegations to poll their members.

Just before the session began, Clay, with the help of Webster, had swung the vote of Stephen Van Rensselaer III of New York State. That state's vote now joined the others for Adams, who received the votes of thirteen states. Jackson won seven, and Crawford four.

Jackson men were angry; there had already been talk of armed rebellion if he lost. But Andrew Jackson took the result reasonably well. He had not even attended the vote, and urged his boosters to remain calm.

A few days later it was announced that Adams was, indeed, appointing Clay to be Secretary of State. Jackson now expressed his anger, calling Clay the "Judas of the West" and asking if "there was ever witnessed such bare faced corruption?" Apparently Jackson had forgotten his own past, of wheeling and dealing that had started with a political appointment to a land he had not yet set foot in. Around the nation Jackson supporters were already calling the Clay-Adams deal the "corrupt bargain."

Still a Senator, Jackson voted against confirming Clay's appointment to the Cabinet.

Among Jackson's followers, who had been attracted to his winning ways, a new note was added. He had lost the election because he was honorable, in contrast to the scheming politicians Henry Clay and President John Quincy Adams.

Many people still wanted Jackson to be President. They also wanted to punish congressmen who had voted against him. Looking to the congressional elections of 1826 and the Presidential election of 1828, a new level of organization was about to emerge. The Democratic Party was about to be born.

Next: Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party, 1825 to 1828

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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