The Election of 1824 gives students a tremendous opportunity to analyze the problems sectionalism caused. Four men ran for president. Amazingly all four were Republicans and all were favorite sons of their region. That’s where the similarities end.
Candidate number one, John Quincy Adams, hailed from Massachusetts and was the son of our second president, John Adams. It would be extremely safe to say that John Quincy was an extremely intelligent man. He was one of those poor souls who had a hard time relating to others because he was so intelligent. It was said that Adams was as “hard as a piece of granite and cold as a lump of ice.” He was not likable and did not bargain well. He had served as President Monroe’s Secretary of State and was pushing for internal improvements to the American infrastructure.
Henry Clay was candidate number two. He was from Kentucky which was then considered the “west”. Clay was the Speaker of the House and favored the American System which included the national bank, a protective tariff, and nationwide internal improvements.
Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was candidate number three and competed with Clay for western votes. He danced around issues and focused on his war hero status at the Battle of New Orleans when campaigning.
The fourth and final candidate was William Crawford, a firm supporter of states’ rights, was from Georgia by way of Virginia, and was a favorite son of the South. He constantly spoke out for large planters against the rights of yeoman farmers. He was a strict interpreter of the Constitution. He had served in the Senate, been minister to France, and had served as Monroe’s Secretary of the Treasury. It was said that he was a great storyteller and was a real people person. He received the endorsement of Martin Van Buren as well as Jefferson and Madison though they did not make a public endorsement. Crawford was one of the first politicians to understand the importance of a “political machine”. He began this in 1820 with the passage of a bill that limited the terms of minor federal appointees to four years. He realized that a handful of properly distributed petty offices could win thousands of votes. Unfortunately he was unable to campaign much because he had suffered from paralytic strokes.
People in the west wanted cheap land. The north feared cheap land in the west would drain off surplus labor and force wages up. The South feared competition if the southwestern lands were developed for large scale farming. Though these were real concerns to the American citizens the four candidates did not make the issues the real focus. No candidate took a position either way on any issue. They were too scared they would alienate the other regions. Instead the election of 1824 was waged on a personal level rather than real issues, and only one quarter of the registered voters showed up at the polls.
Jackson won the popular vote, but no candidate won the majority of the electoral college. Therefore the election would be decided by the House of Representatives. They would choose from the top three. Clay was eliminated, but amazingly was still involved since he was Speaker of the House.
Clay and Jackson disliked each other, so Clay threw his support behind Adams. Adams ended up winning the election with 13 votes, Jackson received 7, and Crawford received 4 votes.
The election of 1828, started almost immediately as Adams appointed Clay as his Secretary of State. Jackson’s supporters called this action the “Corrupt Bargain” and accused Clay of arranging a deal where votes would be exchanged for cabinet positions. No proof of this was ever given, however, the Adams’ presidency was off to a rocky start.
Jackson and his supporters were outraged. They broke from the party and called their new faction the Democratic Republicans. Eventually they shortened their name to simply “Democrats”. Adam’s supporters and their faction of the party would be known as National Republicans.
Adams’ presidency was tainted from the beginning because of the Clay appointment. He never got the support from Congress that he needed.
During his time in office Adams called for government money to be spent on scientific research, a national university, and astronomical observatories. As he attempted to garner support for his road building program John Quincy cited the rulers of Europe. These high reaching goals resulted in fears that Adams was returning to his father’s Federalists policies. Critics compared Adams to a Royalist. People protested that his proposals would be wasting the taxpayers’ money. He did eventually receive money for a national road, but that’s about it.
Looking back on it now many of Adams’ goals were very progressive and worthwhile, however, he remained out of step with common Americans at the time. For example, when he wanted to gain wide support for a Federal bankruptcy law, rather than process his support in language most Americans could understand, John Quincy called for the “amelioration” of the “often oppressive codes relating to insolvency”. Most Americans said, “Huh?”
Even students as young as ten and eleven can review these events and see the waste. The brilliance of John Quincy Adams was misused, four intelligent and powerful men misused the issues in their attempt to become president, and the American people were still too immature in their liberty to demand more from their politicians and ultimately from themselves.
In the end I fear we are still too immature in our liberty.