Election of 1824

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The election of 1824 saw the breakup of the Democratic Republican Party, a party that had dominated American politics since 1800. Although Thomas Jefferson's party had previously always agreed to support either the incumbent president or the nominee of the party's congressional caucus, in 1824 four Democratic Republicans insisted on carrying their candidacy right through to the electoral college. When the Virginian supporters of William Harris Crawford of Georgia organized a congressional caucus for 14 February 1824, in the hope of pulling party loyalists behind him, only 66 Democratic-Republicans (out of 187) attended, and the supporters of other candidates denounced it as an attempt to dictate to the electorate. The popular appeal of these protests ensured that never again would a congressional caucus be used to nominate a presidential candidate.

Though most historians see the election of 1824 as a contest among ambitious personalities, each candidate represented a clear regional outlook and constituency. The main objection to Crawford was that he represented the so-called radicals of the South Atlantic states, who were eager both to protect slavery and to prevent the federal government from adopting tax-and-spend policies hostile to the interests of the exporting states. Their considerable political influence met opposition even in their own states: western counties in these states wanted federal assistance for "internal improvements" (improvements in transportation infrastructure) and initially regarded John C. Calhoun of South Carolina as their candidate, who looked strong in Pennsylvania as well. In the southwestern states, a similar demand for roads and canals produced early support for Henry Clay of Kentucky, the most public advocate of the American System of high tariffs and federal appropriations for internal improvements. Clay had criticized General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee for leading U.S. forces into Spanish Florida in pursuit of hostile Creeks in

1818 and risking war with both Spain and Britain. But Jackson's actions, which hastened the acquisition of Florida in 1819, were widely popular in Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, especially among those who wished to expel the surviving native tribes, and the general soon overwhelmed Clay's candidacy in the Old Southwest, outside sugar-growing Louisiana.

A series of events made Jackson more than merely a regional candidate. A grassroots movement on his behalf among the Scotch-Irish of western Pennsylvania made it politically difficult for the various Republican factions in the state to back anyone else. In March 1824 a Republican state convention overwhelmingly named him, rather than Calhoun, as the state's favorite. At that point Calhoun withdrew and became the sole candidate for vice president, and Jackson inherited Calhoun's strength in the Southeast and Middle states. Jackson won Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and South Carolina, and in North Carolina he directly benefited when a coalition of Jackson and Adams supporters calling themselves the People's Ticket carried the state against Crawford.

In New England, Southern candidates suffered from the almost universal revulsion (in the wake of the Missouri Compromise) against Southern dominance in national politics. John Quincy Adams was the only viable candidate free of the stain of slave-holding, and he proved almost unstoppable not only in New England but also in the areas to the west that Yankees had settled during the previous quarter century. In New York, a coalition of groups calling themselves the People's Party rebelled against the attempt of old Republicans led by Martin Van Buren to give that state's votes to Crawford. Though this coalition failed to wrest the right to choose the electors from the state legislature, its success in the assembly elections ensured that Adams won the lion's share of the state's electoral votes.

In the Middle Atlantic and Border states, both Adams and Crawford were unpopular because they were commonly identified with areas in the old Atlantic economy that opposed protecting American industries. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, Jackson benefited from being portrayed as a supporter of the American System. In the Ohio Valley, where there was strong demand for internal improvements, Clay was the front runner, but he was opposed by both New England settlers and those who resented his pursuit of debtors as attorney of the Bank of the United States following the Panic of 1819. Challenged by Jackson, who was portrayed as the people's champion, Clay lost Indiana and Illinois to him but carried Ohio and the slave states of Kentucky and Missouri. Through intrigue Clay lost important electoral votes in New York and Louisiana, where the choice of electors was made by the state legislature.

The consequence of this confusing election was that no candidate won a majority of electoral college votes and so, according to the Constitution, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, with each of the twenty-four state delegations casting one vote. Only the top three candidates—Jackson with 99 electoral votes, Adams with 84, and Crawford with 41—could be considered, but as Speaker of the House, Clay (missing out with 37 votes) could act as kingmaker. The House that made the decision on 9 February 1825 had been elected in 1822–1823 and so did not reflect the recent popular election. This fact worked against the outsider Jackson, who had done surprisingly well in the electoral college, though it is a myth to say that he won more of the popular vote than any other candidate. At a critical moment in the session, New England representatives in Congress threw their support behind internal-improvement measures, which enabled Clay and his friends to claim that Adams was the most likely to back the american system as president. That gave Adams the three states Clay had won, plus Illinois and Louisiana, to add to the six New England states. In addition, Adams's private assurance that he was not opposed to appointing Federalists to office gave him Maryland and swung the divided New York delegation his way, to give him the necessary thirteen states.

These bargains, though necessary, were denounced as corrupt by the disappointed candidates, especially when Adams appointed Clay as secretary of state. These opponents united to obstruct Adams's presidency and worked to replace him with Jackson in 1828. Thus the election of 1824 started the process from which the national Republican and Democratic Parties would emerge.

See alsoAdams, John Quincy; Democratic Republicans; Jackson, Andrew; Presidency, The: John Quincy Adams .


Hopkins, James F. "The Election of 1824." In The History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–1968. Edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Fred J. Israel. Vol. 1. New York: Chelsea House, 1971.

Livermore, Shaw, Jr. The Twilight of Federalism: The Disintegration of the Federalist Party, 1815–1830. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Ratcliffe, Donald J. The Politics of Long Division: The Birth of the Second Party System in Ohio, 1818–1828. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2000.

Risjord, Norman K. The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965.

Donald J. Ratcliffe