January 12th, 2022


Mid-Term Elections: 1826

2020 was not the first time that a prominent candidate in a Presidential election said that victory had been stolen from him. In 1824, supporters Andrew Jackson were also convinced that victory in the contest had been stolen from them. They weren't alleging that this was the result of voter fraud. Everyone knew that Jackson had finished first in both the popular vote and in the electoral vote. But when Jackson failed to win a majority of electoral college votes, the winner was selected by the House of Representatives and the decided to make the candidate in second place the President. Jackson and his supporters said that this was the result of a "corrupt bargain" made between his leading opponent John Quincy Adams and his longtime political nemesis Henry Clay.

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It was somewhat ironic that Adams was one of the targets of Jackson's rage. Just a few years earlier, Adams, then Secretary of State in the cabinet of President James Monroe, was the only cabinet member coming to Jackson's defense over allegations that Jackson had overstepped his authority as a general in Florida. Florida was a Spanish possession at the time, which the U.S. had long sought to purchase. Spain did a poor job of preventing the indigenous tribes active in Florida from raiding United States territory, lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Adams had been negotiating with Luis de Onís, the Spanish minister to the United States, for the purchase of Florida and the settlement of a border between the United States and New Spain, but these negotiations were interrupted by an escalation of the Seminole War.

In December of 1818, President Monroe ordered General Andrew Jackson to enter Florida and retaliate against Seminoles that had been conducting raids into Georgia. Monroe's orders were somewhat vague, and Jackson took them to be his authority to capture the Spanish outposts of St. Marks and Pensacola, where two Englishmen were executed for allegedly assisting the Seminole. Jackson's actions were strongly condemned by the rest of the Monroe's cabinet, but Adams came to Jackson's defense, arguing that what Jackson had done was necessary for the country's self-defense. He convinced Monroe to support Jackson. Adams told the Spanish diplomats that Spain's failure to police its own territory had compelled Jackson to act. He gave Spain the choice of either securing the region or selling it to the United States. After extended negotiations, Spain and the United States agreed to the Adams–Onís Treaty, which was ratified in February 1821.

In the spring of 1822, Jackson's health worsened. He suffered severe exhaustion, he regularly coughed up blood, and his entire body shook. After several months of rest, he recovered and turned his mind to national politics. He detested the Second Bank of the United States, blaming it for causing the Panic of 1819 by contracting credit. He decided not to run for governor of his home state of Tennessee when asked to do so, but agreed with a plan to have the legislature nominate him for president. That took place on July 22, 1822. Jackson did not like Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, a Georgian with his own presidential aspirations. Crawford had been the most vocal critic of Jackson in Monroe's cabinet. But many southerners remembered Jackson as the Hero of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and many outside of Tennessee threw their support behind Jackson. Many Americans appreciated his attacks on the banks because the Panic of 1819 had wiped out many of them financially.

Jackson emerged as one of the five major candidates for president in 1824. The others were Crawford, Adams, Clay, and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. After the War of 1812, the Federalist Party had faded away, and so in an unusual occurrence, all five presidential contenders were members of the Democratic-Republican Party. Jackson's campaigned as a defender of the common people, as well as the one candidate who could rise above sectional divisions. He campaigned on combatting corruption and vowed to restore honesty in government. As a war hero, Jackson was popular with many people and he benefited from the expansion of suffrage among white males that was spreading through the nation.

In 1823, Jackson reluctantly allowed his name to be placed in contention for one of Tennessee's U.S. Senate seats. The move was a calculated one, designed to defeat incumbent John Williams, who openly opposed Jackson's presidential candidacy. The legislature narrowly elected him. He returned to the Senate, after having left that body almost 25 years earlier. Jackson was appointed chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. Remarkably, once in the senate Jackson struck up a friendship with Thomas Hart Benton, now a senator from Missouri, with whom Jackson had once fought a duel with in 1813.

Jackson's supporter John Eaton updated a biography of Jackson and he and others wrote letters to newspapers praising Jackson's record and past conduct. In 1824, most of the Democratic-Republicans in Congress boycotted the party caucus where candidates were typically selected. That year the caucus selected Crawford as their candidate, but it failed to gain popular support. A Pennsylvania convention nominated Jackson for president a month later, and was critical of the caucus, which had been boycotted by many. After Jackson won the Pennsylvania nomination, Calhoun dropped out of the presidential race and successfully sought the vice presidency instead.

In the presidential election, Jackson won a plurality of the electoral vote, taking states in the South, West, and Mid-Atlantic. He was the only candidate to win states outside of his regional base, as Adams dominated New England, Clay won three western states, and Crawford won Virginia and Georgia. Jackson won a plurality of the popular vote, taking 42 percent, although not all states held a popular vote for the presidency. He won 99 electoral votes, more than any other candidate, but he fell short of the 131 he needed for a true majority.

With no candidate having won a majority of the electoral votes, the House of Representatives held a contingent election under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment. The amendment specified that only the top three electoral vote-winners are eligible to be elected by the House, so Clay was eliminated from contention. It was between Jackson, Adams and Crawford. Jackson was convinced that he was going to win this contingent election, because Crawford and Adams lacked Jackson's national appeal, and also because Crawford had suffered a debilitating stroke that raised doubt his physical capacity for the presidency.

Clay was Speaker of the House and presided over the election. He saw Jackson as a loose cannon and as someone who who actually stage a military coup. Clay threw his support behind Adams. The two shared the same opinion on the importance of federal funding for national improvements such as roads and canals. With Clay's backing, Adams won the contingent election on the first ballot.

When Adams announced that he was appointing Clay as Secretary of State in his cabinet, a position seen as a stepping stone to the presidency, angry supporters of Jackson accused Clay and Adams of having reached a "corrupt bargain." Jackson himself said: "So you see, the Judas of the West," referring to Clay, "has closed the contract and receive the thirty pieces of silver. His end will be the same." After the Congressional session concluded, Jackson resigned his Senate seat and returned home to Tennessee.

Adams had offered Jackson the job of Secretary of War, but Jackson was not interested in being at the same Cabinet table as Clay and Adams. At first Jackson was gracious and cordial to Adams, but soon Jackson's supporters were encouraging him to run for President again in 1828. In 1825, Jackson accepted the presidential nomination of the Tennessee legislature for the 1828 election. Vice President Calhoun was also upset about the appointment of Clay. Adams's ambitious December 1825 annual message to Congress created further opposition and leading politicians such as Francis Preston Blair of Kentucky and Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri broke with the Adams administration. By the end of the first session of the 19th United States Congress, an anti-Adams congressional coalition had formed, made up of Jacksonians (led by Benton), Crawford supporters (led by Martin Van Buren), and Calhoun supporters (led by Robert Hayne and George McDuffie). Adams lacked strong supporters outside of the North. This led to a split in the former Democratic-Republican Party. Supporters of Adams began calling themselves National Republicans, while supporters of Jackson began calling themselves Democrats. These forces would oppose one another in the 1826 mid-term elections.

In the 1826 elections, Adams lost support and his opponents picked up seats throughout the country. Andrew Stevenson (a Jackson supporter) replaced John Taylor (an Adams supporter) as Speaker of the House. Adams himself observed that it was the first time that the United States had a Congress that was firmly under the control of political opponents of the president. Nine seats shifted in the House of Representatives from Adams supporters to those of Jackson, enough to give the Democrats a majority of 113 to 100 over the National Republicans. In the Senate, the Democrats only picked up one seat from the National Republicans, but they already had a majority which, after the elections, stood at 27 to 21.

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After the elections, Martin Van Buren and John Calhoun agreed to throw their support behind Jackson's candidacy for President in 1828. Van Buren brought with him many of Crawford's supporters. It was the beginning of the end for the Presidency of John Quincy Adams. The age of Jackson loomed on the horizon.