Posts Tagged ‘Henry Clay’

The Election of 1852

July 8, 2016

The election of 1852 was the calm before the storm. The issue of slavery, which had been inflamed over the issue of extending slavery to the territories won from Mexico, had been temporarily calmed by the Compromise of 1850. This compromise, like any good compromise had failed to satisfy either side and would eventually contribute to the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War. At the time, however, it seemed reasonable enough and probably did delay the Secession Crisis and the War by a decade.

The slavery issue was still out there, however, and since both the Democratic and the Whig parties required a broad, national coalition of North and South to win, neither major party was willing to nominate a candidate who had expressed a strong view on the slavery, or any other sectional, issue. This meant that both parties turned to candidates who had not played much of a role in national politics or had shown strong leadership in the civil government. Neither party was willing to take any real stand on the issues of the day and the Whig and Democratic party platforms were virtually identical. The election of 1852 was to be fought over personalities rather than issues.

The Democratic national convention met first, from June 1-5, at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in Baltimore, Maryland. The party was bitterly divided between the supporters of the four major candidates, Lewis Cass of Michigan who had been the nominee in 1848, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania who would be the nominee in 1856, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and William L. Marcy of New York. Aside from these, there were various dark horse and favorite son candidates put in the ballots. None of the major candidates were able to obtain a majority of the delegates’ votes and none of them had a consistent lead or momentum over the others. On the thirty-fifth ballot, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was on the ballot. Pierce slowly gained votes as the balloting continued and by the forty-ninth ballot he was nominated.

Franklin Pierce had been a relatively obscure New Hampshire politician who had served as a Congressman from 1833 to 1837 and as a Senator from 1837 to 1842. He had fought in the Mexican War in command of volunteers from New England and had risen to the rank of Brigadier General. Pierce was personally opposed to slavery but considered the abolitionist the greatest threat to the Union. As a northern with sympathy for the south, Pierce seemed to be a perfect candidate. The Democrats went on to nominate Alabama Senator William R. King as Pierce;s running mate. King was a Unionist who opposed both the abolitionists and the more radical pro-slavery “fire eaters“. As it turned out, King was already very ill with tuberculosis and would die soon after becoming Vice-President.

The Whig Party’s convention also met at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore from June 17-20. Like the Democrats, the Whigs were divided. President Zachary Taylor had died after little more than a year in office to be succeeded by his Vice-president Millard Fillmore. Fillmore wanted to be nominated for another term but he was unpopular among some Whigs for his support of the Compromise of 1850 and many Whigs believed that he could not be elected for a term in his own right. They preferred to use the Whig standby of nominating a war hero, in this case, General Winfield Scott.

Winfield Scott was one of the most remarkable Americans of the nineteenth century and it is a pity that he is no longer so well known. Scott was a war hero who commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the Mexican-American War, and the Second Seminole War. He served as Commanding General of the United States Army from 1841-1861, longer than any other man who has served in that post and he holds the record as longest-serving active duty general in the US Army.  In his long tenure as Commanding General, Scott essentially created the army that was to fight in the Mexican War and the Civil War and he wrote the book on the tactics and drill used by the Army from 1840-1855. Scott was not only a brilliant general, but also a compassionate leader who because of his care for the men under his command and his adherence to military drill and discipline was known as “Old Fuss and Feathers. At 75, Winfield Scott was too old and ill to lead troops in the Civil War, nevertheless he did develop the Anaconda Plan of slowly dividing and squeezing the South into submission. This plan was ultimately used by the North, but at the beginning of the war it ran against the popular sentiment of “on to Richmond and end the war by Christmas” that prevailed in the North. Although Scott was proved right in his assessment that an quick and easy victory was impossible, he felt obliged to retire after the disastrous Battle of Bull Run, though Lincoln still consulted him throughout the war.Getting back to 1852, the Whigs nominated Winfield Scott for president after fifty-three ballots and selected former North Carolina Governor and Senator William Alexander Graham.

There were a number of third parties, most notably the Free Soil Party which nominated New Hampshire Senator John P Hale for President and Indiana Congressman George Washington Julian for Vice-President.

There is not much to be said about the general election. Despite Scott’s skills as a military leader, he was no politician and Old Fuss and Feathers somehow didn’t seem as appealing as Zachary Taylor’s  Old Rough and Ready. Scott seemed to be rather too military to be the civilian Commander-in-Chief. The Democrats warned of a “Reign of Epaulets”, contrasting the uniformed, rank conscious, professional Scott with the humble citizen-soldier Franklin Pierce who, like Cincinnatus, left to fight for his country and then returned to civilian life. Scott’s anti-slavery views also did not help him in the South.

The Whigs, in their turn, ridiculed Franklin Pierce for his obscurity. They also made use of an incident during the Mexican War in which Pierce fell off his startled horse and wounded himself in his groin and knee. While Pierce’s enemies claimed that he had fainted through cowardice or drunkenness, the truth is that Pierce fought with courage in the Mexican-American War, insisting on leading his brigade after the accident, even though he was in terrible pain. This didn’t stop the Whigs from deriding him as the fainting general and the “hero of many a well-fought bottle”.

In the end Pierce and the Democrats won by a landslide. Pierce got 1,607, 510 (50.8%) of the popular vote to Scott’s 1,386,492 (43.9%). Winfield Scott only won four states; Vermont, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee so the electoral vote was 254 to 42. The election of 1852 was to be the last presidential election in which the Whigs participated. The devastating loss in 1852, the deaths of party leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster that year, and increasing sectional tensions over slavery destroyed the Whigs over the next two years.

John Hale of the Free Soil Party got 155,210 (4.9%) popular votes, less than half of their 1848 showing, and no electoral votes. The lessened tensions over slavery in 1852 had caused many of the barnburners to return to the Democratic Party, but by 1856 the Free Soil Party would merge with anti-slavery former Whigs to create the Republican Party.

The Election of 1852

The Election of 1852

As for Franklin Pierce, he turned out to be somewhat over his head as president. He would have made a decent enough leader in peaceful times but he proved incapable of dealing with rising tensions over extending slavery in the territories and his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act only made the polarization between North and South worse.

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The Election of 1844

October 5, 2015

Slavery was once again the issue that no one wanted to talk about during the presidential campaign of 1844. What people did want to talk about was the territorial expansion of the United States all the way to the West Coast. Manifest Destiny were the words on everyone’s lips, the destiny, nay duty, of the United States to take in as much of the North American continent as allowed by Divine Providence. This expansion could be accomplished in two areas. In the South, the expansionists wanted to annex the Republic of Texas, which had gained its independence from Mexico only a decade earlier and was eager to become a state of the Union. In the  North, there was the Oregon Territory with its disputed border with Great Britain’s Canadian territory. The more ardent expansionists wanted the United States to gain all of the Oregon territory under the slogan “54-40 or fight” referring to the latitude of the northernmost boundary of the territory and Russian Alaska.

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Although no one wanted to mention slavery in connection with the territorial expansion of the United States, in fact much of the impetus for expansion was due to the desire of the slave holding South to expand the territories open to slavery. The Missouri Compromise had restricted slavery to territories south of the latitude 36º 30′with the exception of the state of Missouri. Since most of the states that could be carved out of the territory gained with the Louisiana Purchase were North of this line, eventually the free states would outnumber the slave states, upsetting the careful balance that had been maintained between the number of free and slave states. Already the northern states with their greater population had more seats than the slave states in the House of Representatives. An imbalance in the Senate would give the North control of both houses of Congress. President John Tyler had submitted a treaty for the annexation of Texas in April 1844 but he was unable to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate that was needed for ratification, largely because because of opposition from anti-slavery Whigs. Tyler simply resubmitted the treaty as a joint resolution of Congress requiring a simply majority in both Houses, making annexation the major campaign in the election of 1844

There was no question of either party nominating the incumbent John Tyler for a second term. Although he had been a Whig as William Henry Harrison‘s running mate in the previous election, Tyler had been a Democrat before breaking with Andrew Jackson back in the 1830’s. Tyler had never really been a strict party man and while president he had managed to offend the leaders of both political parties. Tyler did make some effort towards building a third party of his supporters, but nothing came of it and he eventually agreed to drop out in favor of the Democratic nominee.

The Whigs met in Baltimore on May 1 and nominated their long time party leader and 1824 presidential candidate Henry Clay. Clay had initially opposed the annexation of Texas as he believed that any such action without an agreement with Mexico would surely provoke a war between the United States and Mexico. Clay also understood that the annexation of Texas would only increase the sectional tensions between the North and South and might well split the Whig Part and the nation. This stand was not particularly popular in the South and Clay almost immediately began to backtrack, stating that he would support the annexation of Texas, even in the absence of an agreement with Mexico provided both North and South supported it. Then, he changed his mind again, and finally stopped talking about annexation altogether, campaigning on domestic issues. It didn’t work.

For Clay’s running mate, the Whigs nominated Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Senator from New Jersey. The Whigs felt that the devout, Northern Frelinghuysen would provide a nice balance with Henry Clay, the Kentuckian who had become notorious for his drinking, gambling, and dueling. Frelinghuysen was perhaps too devout as his Evangelical Christian faith led him to oppose slavery, he wanted to send them all back to Africa, and Indian removal. Neither position was apt to win him support in the South and West. Frelinghuysen also happened to believe that Catholics should be encouraged to convert to Protestantism, which cost the ticket votes among the small but growing Catholic population in the North.

Martin Van Buren was, at first, the prospective nominee of the Democrats, who met at the Odd Fellows Hall in Baltimore late in May. Van Buren lost his support because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas. There was no other front runner for the Democratic nomination until the little known James Knox Polk was introduced on the eighth ballot. Polk had been Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841. He had acquired a reputation for being quietly competent and had made few enemies and this along with his strong support of the annexation of Texas caused Polk to be nominated on the ninth ballot. The Democrats, at first, had wanted Silas Wright from New York as Polk’s running mate, but Wright was a supporter of Van Buren’s and declined the honor. Instead, the Democrats nominated Senator George M. Dallas from Pennsylvania.

The election of 1844 had the usual amount of personal abuse which was becoming common in American presidential politics. The Democrats had ample material to denounce Clay for his loose morals, declaring him unfit to lead a Christian nation like America. The Whigs found it difficult to reply in kind, since Polk had apparently done nothing fun in his entire life. Instead, the Whigs emphasized Polk’s lack of prominence in national politics, implying that he lacked the experience to be president. The Northern Whigs tried to portray Polk as slave trader and a creature of the Southern Slavocracy. For his part, Polk cleverly linked the annexation of Texas with the Oregon Territory dispute, making the question one of national expansion rather than the expansion of slavery. In the end Polk won by a fairly narrow margin. The Democratic ticket gained 1,339, 494,  popular votes, or 49.5%, against the Whig’s 1,300,004 votes or 48.1%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty party got 62,103 votes or 2.3% of the popular vote, enough to have made a difference in some Northern states. In the Electoral College, Polk got 170 electoral votes, winning states both in the North and South. Manifest Destiny proved to be a popular platform. Clay won 105 Electoral Votes, winning his home state, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and a few Eastern states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The Election of 1844

The Election of 1844

The United States formally annexed Texas in March 1845, just before Polk took office. As expected, The Mexican War broke out the following year. Despite the bluster of the expansionists with their cry of 54-40 or fight, Polk was not so foolish as to fight both Mexico and Great Britain at the same time and negotiated a compromise with the British over the Oregon Territory extending the border at the 49th parallel to the Pacific Coast. As for Polk, he served one term, during which he worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion. He declined to run for a second term and died within three months of the end of his administration.

The Election of 1832

January 26, 2015

There were essentially two issues on which the election of 1832 was decided. One was the fate of the Second Bank of the United States. The First Bank of the United States was chartered by Congress for a twenty year term in 1791 at the proposal of Alexander Hamilton, who believed that a national bank like the Bank of England was essential for the economic development of the new nation. Hamilton hoped that the Bank of the United States would improve America’s credit and foster economic growth, particularly in manufacturing. Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans loathed the idea of a national bank, believing it to be an unconstitutional expansion of the federal government. They were also suspicious of banks and the financial industry as being the creation of a moneyed elite who cheated the common people out of their hard earned money. The only honest money was that which was earned through the labor of your own hands (or that of your slaves). When the charter of the First Bank of the United States terminated in 1811, President Madison and the Democratic-Republican Congress declined to renew it.
As a result, President Madison found it extraordinarily difficult to pay for the War of 1812, which broke out the following year. The Democratic-Republicans became converted to Hamiltonian economics and in 1816 chartered the Second Bank of the United States with a twenty year term.

Andrew Jackson hated the Second Bank of the United States as much as Jefferson disliked the first, and for much the same reason. Jackson presented himself as a Westerner and a man of the people fighting against the moneyed interests back East. If re-elected, Jackson promised to veto any renewal of the Bank’s charter and in the meantime, he would work to reduce the Bank’s influence. This dislike and distrust of a moneyed elite would be a feature of populist politics in future elections.
The second great issue of the election of 1832 was Andrew Jackson himself. President Jackson had played a far more active role in governing than any of his predecessors who had generally deferred to Congress. Jackson believed that while a Congressman was elected by his district and a Senator by his state, the President was elected by the whole people and should act as a Tribune protecting the people against particular interests. His opponents didn’t see matters in quite that way and accused Jackson of plotting to make himself a king or a dictator.

The campaign for the presidency began in September 1831 with the first nominating convention in American history, held the Anti-Masonic Party, the first of many “third parties”in American politics which would be organized around a single issue, gain temporary popularity and then fade away. The Anti-Masonic Party was, obviously, against the Freemasons and other secret organizations out of the fear that their membership were involved in a secret cabal to overturn republican government and substitute the rule of an elite. This seems rather paranoid, but it was something that many people were worried about. In any case, the Anti-Masonic Party held their convention in Baltimore Maryland and nominated former Attorney General William Wirt for President and Amos Ellmaker for Vice-President.

Jackson’s opponents, the National Republicans, also met in Baltimore in December 1831. They nominated Kentucky Senator Henry Clay for President and Clay’s friend John Sergeant from Pennsylvania for Vice-President.

The Democratic-Republicans, or Democrats as they can now be called, met in Baltimore in May, 1832 and to no one’s surprise, nominated Andrew Jackson for a second term. Jackson’s Vice-President, John C. Calhoun was not selected as his running mate. Jackson and Calhoun did not see eye to eye on a number of issues, particularly on the issue of state’s rights. Calhoun believed that the states had the right to nullify federal laws that were not to their liking, especially the tariffs which were unpopular in his home state, South Caroline. Jackson was a strong nationalist and threatened to send the army into South Carolina if they resisted or nullified any federal tariff. Jackson selected New York Senator, Governor, and his Secretary of State, Martin van Buren.

It was a nasty campaign, like the one before it, fought over personalities and the Bank. It was actually Henry Clay who brought the Bank into the campaign by persuading Nicholas Biddle, the President of the Bank to apply for a renewal of its charter four years early, in 1832. Clay hoped that Jackson would veto the renewal, dividing the Democrats, some of whom were actually for the Bank and winning Pennsylvania, where the Bank was located in Philadelphia. Biddle applied for the renewal of the charter and President Jackson promptly vetoed it. Events didn’t work out quite as Clay hoped, however. Jackson’s veto thrilled his supporters and burnished his populist credentials and made the contest one between the people and the elite. It didn’t help that Biddle and the Bank spent thousands of dollars funding anti-Jackson newspapers, pamphlets and other political activities.

Clay and his supporters made good use of these funds, accusing Jackson of arbitrary rule and dictatorship in cartoons and speeches, but the Jacksonians proved to be far more organized with meetings, parades, and Old Hickory clubs exhorting the voters to support their champion. In the end, Jackson won reelection easily.
Jackson got 701,780 votes, giving him 54.7% of the popular votes. Clay and the National Republicans got 484,205 votes with 36.9% of the popular vote. The Anti-Masonic party managed to get 100,715 votes with 7.8% of the popular vote.

Jackson won sixteen states all over the country for a total of  219 electoral votes. Clay only won his home state, Kentucky, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island with 49 electoral votes. Wirt and the Anti-Masons won Vermont with its 7 votes. John Floyd, a supporter of Calhoun’s got South Carolina’s 11 votes. South Carolina was the last state to have its electors chosen by the state legislature rather than by popular vote. Maryland’s 10 electoral votes were divided with 3 votes for Jackson, 5 for Clay and two electors not voting.

The Election of 1832

The Election of 1832

 

With these results, President Jackson could claim a popular mandate for his policies and he began to withdraw government assets from the Second Bank of the United States. The new era of popular, Jacksonian, democracy had begun.

 

The Election of 1824

October 1, 2014

I am going to make a prediction about the next presidential election. I do not know who is going to be the next president. I don’t even know who is going to run. I can tell that the winner of the next election will be either a Republican or a Democrat. I grant that this isn’t a particularly useful prediction considering that every presidential election since 1852 has been won by a member of those two parties. Our present two party system has proven to be so long lived and stable that it is almost unthinkable that any third party could possibly make any headway against the domination of the two major parties. Although political parties are not mentioned in the constitution, the Democratic and Republican parties are as much an institution of government as Congress or the Supreme Court.

This was not always the case. Before 1850, American politics was considerably more fluid than it has been since. Under the first party system, from 1796 until 1816, the two parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. After 1816, the Federalist party was effectively dead and in 1820 President James Monroe had been unopposed when he ran for re-election. This period of one party rule was known as the Era of Good Feelings. Many observers believed that the period of partisan politics had ended. Events proved them to be wrong. The United States had begun a transition from the first party system to the second party system and the Era of Good Feelings was only the calm before the storm. There was to be one more single party election, the election of 1824, but tensions were already developing in the ruling Democratic-Republican party and there were to be a number of candidates.

Much of this tension was regional. The United States was still not very united and different sections of the country, north and south, east and west, had different economic interests and cultures and favored different types of men for the presidency. Another source of trouble was the method the parties had been selecting their candidates. Up until then, each party had held of caucus of its leading men, usually in Congress, to select the candidates. This method seemed undemocratic in an age in which property qualifications for the franchise were being dropped and universal suffrage for white males was becoming the norm. Many people loudly denounced “King Caucus“, and believed candidates should be selected by state legislatures or conventions.

In February 1824, the Congressional Caucus Selected William Crawford of Georgia as the Democratic-Republican candidate. He had served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Monroe, and was Monroe’s favored choice as his successor. Unfortunately King Caucus had become so unpopular that this nomination did Crawford more harm than good. He had suffered a stroke back in September 1823 while seeking the nomination and had never really recovered

William Crawford

Then there was John Quincy Adams from Massachusetts. He was the son of President John Adams, and had served as M0nroe’s Secretary of State. At the time, the the position of Secretary of State was seen as the natural stepping stone to the Presidency, and Adams believed himself to be the natural heir. He was a talented man and had served his country with distinction. Several state legislatures in New England nominated him as the Democratic-Republican candidate. He was too much of a New Englander to be popular in the South and West

John Quincy Adams

Henry Clay was another obvious and popular candidate. From Kentucky, he was a noted lawyer and orator, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives. He transformed the Speakership from a relatively minor position to one nearly equal to the President in power. He favored a policy of internal improvements like railroads and canals to help develop the West. He played a key role in crafting the Missouri Compromise of 1820. He was naturally popular in the South and West and he might have been the choice of the Caucus if he had been foolish enough to seek it.

Henry Clay

Finally, there was Andrew Jackson. He was from Tennessee and indeed had helped to found the state. He had served as Congressman and Senator from Tennessee and had served as the military governor of Florida after the United States acquired it from Spain in 1821. Jackson was also a war hero with distinguished service in the War of 1812, the Creek War and the Seminole Wars. Jackson had commanded the American Army that defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans, and if the battle took place two weeks after the war ended, it still counted as the greatest victory the United States had won in that war. Although Andrew Jackson was very wealthy, owning plantations and hundreds of slaves, he liked to pose as a humble man of the people and supported what came to be known as Jacksonian Democracy. He was also popular in the South and West and was a bitter rival to Clay.

Andrew Jackson

There was also John C. Calhoun from South Carolina. He had served as Secretary of War under Monroe and wanted to run for President but lacked decided the competition would be too fierce. He was popular in the South and effectively ran for vice-president seeking support from Adams and Jackson.

John C. Calhoun

 

With four candidates, all from the same party, and generally favoring the same policies, the Presidential contest became a matter of personalities and regionalism. It was considered undignified for presidential candidates to actively campaign but their supporters eagerly campaigned on their behalf and the campaign of 1824 quickly became enthusiastic, personal and negative, with each candidate’s advocates praising their man and condemning the others. Adams had an English wife. Clay was a drunk and Crawford a thief. Jackson was a wild man who liked to kill people. Irregularities in Jackson’s marriage to his wife Rachel were also brought up. She had been married before, but her husband had left her, presumably seeking a divorce. When Andrew Jackson and Rachel married, it turned out that he not not gotten the divorce and the marriage was invalid. The matter was quickly corrected but Jackson’s enemies could accuse his wife of being a bigamist.

With four candidates, no one achieved a majority of electoral votes. Adams won the New England states and got 108, 740 popular votes with 84 electoral votes. Jackson was ahead of him, gaining most of the south, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, with 153,544 popular votes and 99 electoral votes. William Crawford was third with Virginia and Georgia and 40,856 popular votes and 41 electoral votes. Henry Clay was last. He got 47,531 popular votes and won Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri with 37 electoral votes.  New York, Delaware, Maryland, Louisiana, and Illinois split their votes.

The Election of 1824

Since no candidate won a majority of the Electoral College, the decision went to Congress, as stated under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment.

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

This meant that the House of Representatives would select the President from the top three candidates; Jackson, Adams, and Crawford, with each state delegation getting one vote, while the Senate would select the Vice President. Calhoun had easily won the Electoral Vote for Vice President, so that was already settled.

Clay, in fourth place, was out of the running for President, but, as Speaker of the House, he had considerable influence in the House of Representatives and would inevitably play an important role in the selection of the next President. Suddenly Henry Clay was the most popular man in Washington, with representatives from the Adams and Jackson campaign approached him with all kinds of offers for his support. Eventually, he threw his support to Adams and in the end Adams won thirteen states, Jackson nine, and Crawford four. Andrew Jackson was not at all happy with the results. He had gotten the most votes, both popular and electoral, and it seemed to him, quite reasonably, that he should have been president. His suspicions that there had been some sort of deal between Adams and Clay seemed to be confirmed when Adams named Clay as his Secretary of State, and he loudly denounced the “corrupt bargain”.  Adams was aware that his election, being so irregular, lacked a certain legitimacy, and he regretted that they could not simply hold the election over again.

Was there a corrupt bargain? It seems incredible that there weren’t some sort of negotiations between Clay and Adams. Yet, Clay had made no secret that he vastly preferred Adams to Jackson, whom he viewed with disdain. Adams and Clay both shared the idea that the federal government to improve the lives of the people. Clay was also a natural choice for Secretary of State and perhaps any President would have been happy to name him for a cabinet position. It didn’t matter, though. The deal was seen as corrupt, especially by Jackson’s supporters.

John Quincy Adams turned out to be a decent man and President. He wasn’t able to get much done, largely because of the way in which he became President, but also because he was not a natural politician and, like his father, disdained to play the usual partisan games. Jackson spent the next four years preparing for a rematch and easily defeated Adams in 1828, but that is getting ahead of the story.

The Election of 1824

October 30, 2012

I am going to make a prediction about the upcoming election. I predict that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will win. I admit that that is not much of an prediction, but given that they are the only two candidates, one of them has to get the majority of electoral votes and win. There are, to be sure, third party candidates, but it is exceedingly unlikely that any of them will get even one vote.

That is the way it has been in almost every American presidential election. Even in those few cases with a significant third party challenge, one candidate always gets a majority. In fact, there have been only two elections in which no candidate received a majority, the election of 1800 and the election of 1824. Both these elections were contentious. I wrote about the election of 1800 some time ago, so now I will take on the story of the election of 1824. That election was, if possible, even more contentious than the former, although there was no duel in the aftermath. This is remarkable, considering that one of the candidates was Andrew Jackson, a man who apparently enjoyed dueling.

By 1816 the first two-party system in the US had ended. The Federalist had slowly faded away after the election of 1800, and by 1820 President James Monroe had run unopposed for re-election. This period, the only time America has had a one-party political system, was known as the “Era of Good Feelings“. Domestic politics have never been quieter. It couldn’t last, of course. By 1824, there were already tensions forming in the ruling Democratic-Republican Party.

A lot of this tension was regional. Different sections of the country, north and south, east and west, had different interests and favored different types of men for the presidency. Another problem was the method the party selected its candidate. Up until then, each party had held a caucus of the Congressmen in the party to select their candidates. It seemed undemocratic that a few politicians in Washington should select the man who would likely be the next President. Many people loudly denounced “King Caucus” , and instead preferred candidates selected by state legislatures or conventions.

In 1824, the Congressional Caucus Selected, among many candidates, William Crawford of Georgia as the Democratic-Republican candidate. He had served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Monroe, and was Monroe’s favored choice as his successor. There were three other candidates, though.

William Crawford

There was John Quincy Adams from Massachusetts. He was the son of President John Adams, and had served as M0nroe’s Secretary of State. At the time, the the position of Secretary of State was seen as the natural stepping stone to the Presidency, and Adams believed himself to be the natural heir. He was a talented man and had served his country with distinction. Several state legislatures in New England nominated him as the Democratic-Republican candidate. He was not so popular in the West and South as others.

John Quincy Adams

Henry Clay was another obvious and popular candidate. From Kentucky, he was a noted lawyer and orator, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives. He transformed the Speakership from a relatively minor position to one nearly equal to the President in power. He played a key role in crafting the Missouri Compromise of 1820. He was naturally popular in the South and West.

Henry Clay

Finally, there was Andrew Jackson. He was from Tennessee, and was a hero of the War of 1812, the Creek war, and the Seminole War. He was noted for his victory at the Battle of New Orleans, even though the battle took place after the War of 1812 was actually over. Although Jackson was a wealthy landowner, he favored a more democratic political system. He was also popular in the South and West.

Andrew Jackson

There was also John C. Calhoun from South Carolina. He had served as Secretary of War under Monroe and wanted to run for President but lacked support. He was popular, though and settled for running for Vice President with the support of Jackson and Adams.

John C. Calhoun

 

With four candidates, all from the same party, and generally favoring the same policies, the Presidential contest became a matter of personalities and regionalism. It was considered undignified for presidential candidates to actively campaign but their supporters eagerly campaigned on their behalf and the campaign of 1824 quickly became enthusiastic, personal and negative, with each candidate’s advocates praising their man and condemning the others. Adams had an English wife. Clay was a drunk and Crawford a thief. Jackson was a wild man who liked to kill people.

With four candidates, no one achieved a majority of electoral votes. Adams won the New England states and got 108, 740 popular votes with 84 electoral votes. Jackson was ahead of him, gaining most of the south, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, with 153,544 popular votes and 99 electoral votes. William Crawford was third with Virginia and Georgia and 40,856 popular votes and 41 electoral votes. Henry Clay was last. He got 47,531 popular votes and won Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri with 37 electoral votes.  New York, Delaware, Maryland, Louisiana, and Illinois split their votes.

The Election of 1824

Since no candidate won a majority of the Electoral College, the decision went to Congress, as stated under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment.

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.[1]

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

This meant that the House of Representatives would select the President from the top three candidates; Jackson, Adams, and Crawford, with each state delegation getting one vote, while the Senate would select the Vice President. Calhoun had easily won the Electoral Vote for Vice President, so that was settled.

Clay, in fourth place, was out of the running for President, but he had considerable influence in the House and would inevitably play an important role in the selection of the next President. He eventually threw his support to Adams and in the end Adams won thirteen states, Jackson nine, and Crawford four. Andrew Jackson was not very happy with the results. He had gotten the most votes, both popular and electoral, and it seemed to him, quite reasonably, that he should have been selected. His suspicions that there had been some sort of deal between Adams and Clay seemed to be confirmed when Adams named Clay as his Secretary of State, and he loudly denounced the “corrupt bargain”.  Adams was aware that his election, being so irregular, lacked a certain legitimacy, and he regretted that they could not simply hold the election over again.

Was there a corrupt bargain? It seems incredible that there wasn’t some sort of negotiations between Clay and Adams. Yet, Clay had made no secret that he vastly preferred Adams to Jackson, who he viewed with disdain. Clay was also a natural choice for Secretary of State and perhaps any President would have been happy to name him for any cabinet position. It didn’t matter, though. The deal was seen as corrupt, especially by Jackson’s supporters.

John Quincy Adams turned out to be a decent man and President. He wasn’t able to get much done, largely because of the way in which he became President, but also because he was not a natural politician and, like his father, disdained to play the usual political party games. He was easily defeated by Andrew Jackson in 1828 and later went on to have a distinguished career in Congress. Andrew Jackson was one of the most noteworthy Presidents in American history, and served from 1829-1837. Henry Clay ran for President again in 1836 and Jackson won by a landslide. He continued to oppose Jackson and founded the Whig Party.


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