Election of 1828

views updated


The election of 1828 was one of the nastiest in American history. In some ways, the contest was an extension of the previous presidential election in 1824. On both occasions, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson vied for the highest office in the land. In 1824 a total of four candidates ran, with the electoral votes scattered among them. Jackson won the most popular and electoral votes, but lacked a majority in both categories. Thus, the election went to the House of Representatives, where Adams was chosen primarily because of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Henry Clay. Jackson cried foul when Clay was subsequently appointed secretary of state by Adams. The thunder of "corrupt bargain" rumbled throughout the nation, and as a result, campaigning for the election of 1828 began immediately.

The meanness of the campaign engendered charge and countercharge. Jackson's supporters declared that Adams, while acting as secretary to his father, then ambassador to Russia, had procured a young American girl for the tsar's pleasure. Adams's forces, in turn, announced that Jackson's mother was a prostitute and that he was the result of her liaison with a mulatto. Notwithstanding such tawdry accusations, the election actually involved important issues. Jackson's supporters argued that the will of the people had been cheated in the 1824 election because he had received the highest number of popular and electoral votes. On the election of 1828, insisted Jackson forces, teetered the very survival of constitutional, majoritarian democracy.

Such an argument was a rather new concept. The founding fathers had embraced democracy, but their emphasis was more on representative republicanism. They referred to the nation as a republic and believed firmly in deferential government. In other words the elite, educated men of the nation should lead, and the masses should defer to the elite's superior judgment. Jackson challenged and ultimately dismantled this system. He was not born into aristocracy. Rather, he was the first president reared in poverty. He struggled, fought, and worked his way to a position of respect and power. As a result, the people connected with him in a way they had never done with prior presidents. Even George Washington, revered as the nation's father, had not achieve such a status. Both the broadening right of suffrage throughout America and Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans (1815) played significant roles in the election. Ultimately, Jackson became a symbol of burgeoning democracy and was venerated as representative of the common man. He promised reform in government and the people believed him.

John Quincy Adams appeared in stark contrast to Jackson's humble origins. Born into an elite Massachusetts family and educated at Harvard, Adams was the son of the nation's second president and had held a plethora of offices, including secretary of state under President James Monroe. After winning the questionable election of 1824, he announced in his First Annual Address that government was "invested with power" and made continual comparisons between the progress of Europe and the backwardness of America. He insisted that the nation should not "slumber in indolence," nor should the legislature be "palsied by the will of our constituents." This and other statements of Adams had the tone of haughtiness and aristocracy about which Jackson and his supporters warned. Adams's more-or-less-rejection of the popular will as a guide for America's leaders paralleled that tone. Furthermore, the belief that the burgeoning United States was second to the decadence of centuries-old Europe angered Americans.

Jackson opposed that belief. His victory over the British at New Orleans, the crushing of an army that had defeated Napoleon's best by a ragtag group of yeoman militia, quickly became a symbol of America's greatness. As the commander of such a triumph, Jackson personified the nation's finest attributes. This, in fact, was the very reason that his popularity exploded following the battle and why the road to the executive office opened before him. Add the alleged corruption of 1824 and the inborn aristocracy of Adams, and Andrew Jackson's success in the election of 1828 was virtually assured.

Once presidential victory arrived, the nation witnessed an inauguration like no other. People flooded the streets in order to see "their" champion. Whereas in the past the ceremony to usher in a new leader had been an affair for Washington society only, this time the elite found itself surrounded by the members of the "rabble" who now felt they had license to partake in democratic government. America would never be the same.

See alsoAdams, John Quincy; Election of 1824; Jackson, Andrew .


Hargreaves, Mary W. M. The Presidency of John Quincy Adams. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1985.

Remini, Robert. The Election of Andrew Jackson. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1963.

——. Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.

Matthew Warshauer