The Election of 1828 Was Marked By Dirty Tactics The Campaign That Elected Andrew Jackson President Was Brutal



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The Election of 1828 Was Marked By Dirty Tactics

The Campaign That Elected Andrew Jackson President Was Brutal

By Robert McNamara

The election of 1828 was significant as it heralded a profound change with the election of a man widely viewed as a champion of the common people. But that year's campaigning was also noteworthy for the intense personal attacks widely employed by the supporters of both candidates.

The incumbent John Quincy Adams and the challenger Andrew Jackson, could not have been more different. And perhaps the one thing they had in common was that they both had long careers of public service, one diplomatic and one military.

By the time the votes were cast, both men would have wild stories circulated about their pasts, with lurid charges of murder, adultery, and procuring of women being plastered across the pages of partisan newspapers.

Background to the Election of 1828

The two opponents in the election of 1828 had faced each other before, in the election of 1824, a peculiar affair which became known as “The Corrupt Bargain.” The 1824 race had to be decided in the House of Representatives, and it was widely believed that Speaker of the House Henry Clay had used his considerable influence to give the victory to John Quincy Adams.

Jackson's furious campaign against Adams essentially resumed as soon as Adams took office in 1825, as "Old Hickory" and his supporters worked diligently to line up support around the country. While Jackson’s natural power base was in the south and among rural voters, he managed to align himself with the New York political power broker Martin Van Buren. With Van Buren’s guidance, Jackson was able to appeal to working people in the north.

The 1828 Campaign Was Shaped By Party Conflict

In 1827 supporters in both the Adams and Jackson camps began concerted efforts to undermine the character of the opponent. Even though the two candidates had strong differences on substantial issues, the resulting campaign turned out to be based on personalities and tactics which were outrageously underhanded.

The 1824 election had not been marked with strong party affiliations. But during the Adams administration the defenders of the status quo began calling themselves "National Republicans." Their opponents began calling themselves "Democratic Republicans," which was soon shortened to Democrats.

The 1828 election was thus a return to a two-party system, and was the precursor of the familiar two-party system we know today. The Democratic loyalists of Jackson were organized by New York's Martin Van Buren, who was known for his sharp political skills.



Careers of Candidates Became Fodder for Attacks

For those who detested Andrew Jackson, there was a goldmine of material, as Jackson was famed for his incendiary temper and had led a life filled with violence and controversy. He had taken part in several duels, killing a man in a notorious one in 1806. When commanding troops in 1815, he had ordered the execution of militia members accused of desertion. Even Jackson’s marriage became fodder for campaign attacks.

Those opposed to John Quincy Adams mocked him as an elitist. The refinement and intelligence of Adams were turned against him. And he was even derided as a “Yankee,” at a time when that connoted shopkeepers reputed to take advantage of consumers.
Coffin Handbills and Adultery Rumors

Andrew Jackson’s reputation as a national hero was based on his military career, as he had been the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, the final action of the War of 1812. His military glory was turned against him when a Philadelphia printer named John Binns published the notorious “coffin handbill,” a poster showing six black coffins and claiming the militiamen Jackson had ordered executed had essentially been murdered.

Jackson's wife Rachel had been married to another man before Jackson, and a question arose about when her first husband had divorced her and when she began living with Jackson. The explanation was that Jackson and his wife believed she had been divorced when they first married, but there was (and still is) some legitimate doubt about the timing.

Jackson’s marriage on the frontier nearly 40 years earlier became a major issue in the 1828 campaign. He was accused of adultery and vilified for running off with another man’s wife. And his wife was accused of bigamy.



Attacks on John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, the son of founding father and second president John Adams, began his career in public service by working as the secretary to the American envoy to Russia when he was still a teenager. He had an illustrious career as a diplomat, which formed the basis for his later career in politics.

The supporters of Andrew Jackson began spreading a rumor that Adams, while serving as American ambassador to Russia, had procured an American girl for the sexual services of the Russian czar. The attack was no doubt baseless, but the Jacksonians delighted in it, even calling Adams a “pimp” and claiming that procuring women explained his great success as a diplomat.

Adams was also attacked for having a billiard table in the White House and allegedly charging the government for it. It was true that Adams played billiards in the White House, but he paid for the table with his own funds.



Adams Recoiled, Jackson Participated

As these scurrilous charges appeared in the pages of partisan newspapers, John Quincy Adams reacted by refusing to get involved with the campaign tactics. He was so offended by what was happening that he even refused to write in the pages of his diary from August 1828 until after the election.

Jackson, on the other hand, was so furious about the attacks on himself and his wife that he got more involved. He wrote to newspaper editors giving them guidelines on how attacks should be countered and how their own attacks should proceed.

Jackson Won the Election of 1828

Jackson's appeal to the "common folk" served him well and he handily won the popular vote and the electoral vote. It came at a price, however. His wife Rachel suffered a heart attack and died before the inauguration, and Jackson always blamed his political enemies for her death.

When Jackson arrived in Washington for his inauguration he refused to pay the customary courtesy call on the outgoing president. And John Quincy Adams reciprocated by refusing to attend the inauguration of Jackson. Indeed, the bitterness of the election of 1828 resonated for years.
The Election of 1824 Was Decided in the House of Representatives

The Controversial Election was Denounced as "The Corrupt Bargain"

By Robert McNamara

The election of 1824 involved three major figures in American history, and was decided in the House of Representatives. One man won, one helped him win, and one stormed out of Washington denouncing the entire affair as “the corrupt bargain.” Until the disputed election of 2000, the dubious election of 1824 was the most controversial election in American history.

The Background to the 1824 Election

In the 1820s the United States was in a relatively settled period. The War of 1812 was fading into the past, and the Missouri Compromise in 1821 had put the contentious issue of slavery aside, where it would essentially remain until the 1850s.

A pattern of two-term presidents had developed in the early 1800s:


  • Thomas Jefferson: elected in 1800 and 1804

  • James Madison: elected in 1808 and 1812

  • James Monroe: elected in 1816 and 1820

As Monroe’s second term reached its final year, several major candidates were intent on running in 1824.

The Candidates in the Election of 1824

John Quincy Adams: In 1824, the son of the second president had served as the secretary of state in the administration of James Monroe since 1817. And secretary of state was considered the obvious path to the presidency, as Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe had all held the position.

Adams, by even his own admission, was considered to have an unexciting personality. But his long career of public service made him very well qualified for the job of chief executive.



Andrew Jackson: Following his victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 General Andrew Jackson became a larger than life American hero. He was elected as a senator from Tennessee in 1823, and immediately began positioning himself to run for president.

The main concerns people had about Jackson was that he was self-educated and possessed a fiery temperament. He had killed men in duels, and had been wounded by gunfire in various confrontations.



Henry Clay: As Speaker of the House, Henry Clay was a dominating political figure of the day. He had pushed the Missouri Compromise through Congress, and that landmark legislation had, at least for a time, settled the issue of slavery.

Clay had a potential advantage if several candidates ran and none of them received a majority of votes of the electoral college. If that happened, the election would be decided in the House of Representatives, where Clay wielded great power.

An election decided in the House of Representatives would be unlikely in the modern era. But Americans in the 1820s didn't consider it outlandish, as it had already happened: the election of 1800, which was won by Thomas Jefferson, had been decided in the House of Representatives.

William H. Crawford:Though mostly forgotten today, William H. Crawford of Georgia was a powerful political figure, having served as a senator, and as secretary of the treasury under James Madison. He was considered a strong candidate for president, but suffered a stroke in 1823 that rendered him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Despite that, some politicians still supported his candidacy.

Election Day 1824 Did Not Settle Things

In that era the candidates did not campaign themselves. The actual campaigning was left to managers and surrogates, and throughout the year various partisans spoke and wrote in favor of the candidates.

When the votes were tallied from across the nation, Andrew Jackson had won a plurality of the popular as well as the electoral vote. In the electoral college tabulations, John Quincy Adams came in second, Crawford third, and Henry Clay finished fourth.

Incidentally, while Jackson won the popular vote that was counted, some states at that time picked electors in the state legislature and thus did not tally a popular vote for president.



No One Met the Constitutional Requirement for Victory

The US Constitution dictates that a candidate needs to win a majority in the electoral college, and no one met that standard. So the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives.

In an odd twist, the one man who would have a huge advantage in that venue, the Speaker of the House Henry Clay, was automatically eliminated. The Constitution said only the top three candidates could be considered.

Henry Clay Supported John Quincy Adams, Became Secretary of State

In early January 1824 John Quincy Adams invited Henry Clay to visit him at his residence and the two men spoke for several hours. It is unknown whether they reached some sort of deal, but suspicions were widespread.

On February 9, 1825, the House of Representatives held its election, in which each state delegation would get one vote. Henry Clay had made it known that he was supporting Adams, and thanks to his influence, Adams won the vote and was thus elected president.

The Election of 1824 Was Known as "The Corrupt Bargain"

Andrew Jackson, already famous for his temper, was furious. And when John Quincy Adams named Henry Clay to be his secretary of state, Jackson denounced the election as "the corrupt bargain." Many assumed Clay sold his influence to Adams so he could be secretary of state and thus increase his own chance of being president someday.

Andrew Jackson was so wildly angry about what he considered manipulations in Washington that he resigned his senate seat. He returned to Tennessee and began planning the campaign that would make him president four years later. The 1828 campaign between Jackson and John Quincy Adams was perhaps the dirtiest campaign ever, as wild accusations were thrown about by each side.

Jackson would serve two terms as president, and would begin the era of strong political parties in America.

As for John Quincy Adams, he served four years as president before being defeated by Jackson when he ran for reelection in 1828. Adams then retired briefly to Massachusetts. He ran for the House of Representatives in 1830, won the election, and would ultimately serve 17 years in Congress, becoming a strong advocate against slavery.

Adams always said being a congressman was more gratifying than being president. And Adams actually died in the US Capitol, having suffered a stroke in the building in February 1848.



Henry Clay ran for president again, losing to Jackson in 1832 and to James Knox Polk in 1844. And while he never gained the nation's highest office, he remained a major figure in national politics until his death in 1852.

US History Name: _____________________



Election Analysis: 1824 and 1828

Directions: As a team read and annotate (highlight with notes in margin) the article provided for your assigned election. Complete the questions related to that article. You will then present your findings to classmates outlining the key events surrounding your election. Listen as your classmates present their findings and record notes for each of the questions below. Use the back of this paper and/or notebook paper if you need more room. (Be sure to keep your answers separated and labeled by Election dates.)
Election of 1824:

  1. Describe the US in the years leading up to the 1824 election.



  1. Name the main candidates and tell something about each one. (what is their “claim to fame”)



  1. Summarize what happened on Election day in 1824.



  1. What was the Constitutional issue in this election?



  1. Why was the election known as the “corrupt bargain”?


Election of 1828:

  1. Describe the relationship between the 2 main candidates in this election.



  1. Summarize the background of this election.



  1. How was this election shaped by political party conflict?



  1. Describe the types of “attacks” that were made against each candidate.


  1. Explain who won the election and what impact this type of election had on future elections.


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