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May 13th, 2019

Yet another instance of an incumbent president seeking re-election occurred in 1832 when President Andrew Jackson faced his arch-nemises Henry Clay, who ran as the candidate for the National Republican party. Clay would run for President three times (in 1824, 1832 and 1844), never capturing the big prize.


As the election of 1832 approached, President Jackson and his Vice President John C. Calhoun had a strained relationship for a number of reasons. Calhoun had previously served as Vice-President under John Quincy Adams, but he switched his support to Jackson in 1828. Calhoun had become a "nullifier" and believed that his state could "nullify" or refuse to follow any federal law that it disagreed with. In this case it was the high tariffs that resulted in retaliatory action in the form of corresponding high tariffs that made it more difficult to sell southern cotton. The final blow to the Jackson-Calhoun relationship came when the President nominated Martin Van Buren to serve as Minister to the United Kingdom and the vote in the Senate ended in a tie. Calhoun broke that tie by voting against confirmation on January 25, 1832. Jackson got mad, but he also got even. The 1832 Democratic National Convention, the first of the Democratic Party, was held in Baltimore from May 21, 1832, to May 23, 1832. No roll call vote was taken to nominate Jackson for a second term. Instead, the convention passed a resolution stating that "we most cordially concur in the repeated nominations which he has received in various parts of the union." When it came time to chose a running mate for Jackson, Calhoun was not in the running. Martin Van Buren was nominated for vice-president on the first ballot, receiving 208 votes to 49 for Philip Pendleton Barbour and 26 for Richard Mentor Johnson.

Earlier, the Anti-Masonic Party had held the first national nominating convention in American history. 111 delegates from 13 states (all from free states, except for Maryland and Delaware) assembled in the Athenaeum in Baltimore from September 26, 1831, to September 28, 1831. Ex-President John Quincy Adams had wanted to run as the Anti-Masonic candidate, but the party leaders did not want to risk running someone so unpopular. William Wirt, ironically a Mason, defeated Richard Rush and John McLean for the nomination. Amos Ellmaker was nominated for vice-president.

Soon after the Anti-Masonic Party held its national convention, supporters of Henry Clay called a national convention of the National Republican Party. The convention was held from December 12, 1831, to December 15, 1831, also in the Athenaeum in Baltimore. On the fourth day of the convention, the roll call ballot for president took place. Clay received 167 votes to one abstention. A similar procedure was used for the vice-presidential ballot. John Sergeant of Pennsylvania was nominated with 64 votes to six abstentions.

When Jackson won the election of 1828, Henry Clay's term as Secretary of State had ended. But even with Clay out of office, Jackson continued to see Clay as one of his major rivals. Jackson had even suspected Clay of being behind the Petticoat affair, a controversy involving the wives of his Cabinet members. Clay strongly opposed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which authorized the relocation of Native Americans to land west of the Mississippi River. Another key point of contention between Clay and Jackson was the proposed Maysville Road, which would connect Maysville, Kentucky to the National Road in Zanesville, Ohio. Clay had hoped that this road would eventually connect the National Road to New Orleans. In 1830, Jackson vetoed the project both because he felt that the road did not constitute interstate commerce, and also because he generally opposed using the federal government to promote economic modernization. Jackson's veto damaged his base of support in Clay's home state of Kentucky. In 1831 Clay returned to Washington D.C. by winning election to the Senate over Richard Mentor Johnson in a 73 to 64 vote of the Kentucky legislature.

The principal issue of the 1832 campaign was the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson, who disliked banks and paper money in general, vetoed the renewal of the Bank's charter and withdrew federal deposits from the bank. Clay hoped to divide Jackson's supporters and gain support in Pennsylvania, the bank's headquarters, by attacking Jackson. His supporters attacked Jackson's use of presidential veto power, portraying him as “King Andrew”. However, the attacks on Jackson generally failed, despite heavy funding by the bank, as Jackson convinced the ordinary population that he was defending them against a privileged elite. Jackson campaign events were marked by enormous turnout, and he swept Pennsylvania and the vast majority of the country.


Jackson received 54.2% of the popular vote and 219 electoral votes. Clay received 37.4% of the popular vote and 49 electoral votes, while the remainder split among third party candidates. Following the election and Clay's defeat, an Anti-Jackson coalition would be formed composed of National Republicans, Anti-Masons, disaffected Jacksonians, and small remnants of the Federalist Party whose people whose last political activity was with them a decade before. In the short term, it formed the Whig Party in a coalition against President Jackson and his policies.


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