23d. The 1824 Election and the "Corrupt Bargain"
Henry Clay was thrice a candidate for the Presidency and the chief architect of the Compromise of 1850 which moved slavery to the forefront of Congressional debates.
The 1824 presidential election marked the final collapse of the Republican-Federalist political framework. For the first time no candidate ran as a Federalist, while five significant candidates competed as Democratic-Republicans. Clearly, no party system functioned in 1824. The official candidate of the Democratic-Republicans to replace Monroe was William H. Crawford, the secretary of the treasury. A caucus of Republicans in Congress had selected him, but this backing by party insiders turned out to be a liability as other candidates called for a more open process for selecting candidates.
The outcome of the very close election surprised political leaders. The winner in the all-important Electoral College was Andrew Jackson, the hero of the War of 1812, with ninety-nine votes. He was followed by John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president and Monroe' secretary of state, who secured eighty-four votes. Meanwhile Crawford trailed well behind with just forty-one votes. Although Jackson seemed to have won a narrow victory, receiving 43 percent of the popular vote versus just 30 percent for Adams, he would not be seated as the country's sixth president. Because nobody had received a majority of votes in the electoral college, the House of Representatives had to choose between the top two candidates.
After losing the Presidency to Andrew Jackson in 1828, John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives where he served until his death in 1848.
Henry Clay, the speaker of the House of Representatives, now held a decisive position. As a presidential candidate himself in 1824 (he finished fourth in the electoral college), Clay had led some of the strongest attacks against Jackson. Rather than see the nation's top office go to a man he detested, the Kentuckian Clay forged an Ohio Valley-New England coalition that secured the White House for John Quincy Adams. In return Adams named Clay as his secretary of state, a position that had been the stepping-stone to the presidency for the previous four executives.
This arrangement, however, hardly proved beneficial for either Adams or Clay. Denounced immediately as a "corrupt bargain" by supporters of Jackson, the antagonistic presidential race of 1828 began practically before Adams even took office. To Jacksonians the Adams-Clay alliance symbolized a corrupt system where elite insiders pursued their own interests without heeding the will of the people.
The Jacksonians, of course, overstated their case; after all, Jackson fell far short of a majority in the general vote in 1824. Nevertheless, when the Adams administration continued to favor a strong federal role in economic development, Jacksonians denounced their political enemies as using government favors to reward their friends and economic elites. By contrast, Jackson presented himself as a champion of the common man and by doing so furthered the democratization of American politics.
John Quincy Adams was the last President to serve before Andrew Jackson turned the American political process upside-down with his popular sovereignty. It even took a "corrupt bargain" to get Adams in office. Read about the son of John Adams on this well-written and in-depth site presented by americanpresidents.org.
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The people of the United States do not directly elect the president. How does the system actually work? Check out the National Archive and Records Administration site on the electoral college process. It includes "electoral college box scores" from 1789 until 1996.
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Henry Clay is supposed to have said "I'd rather be right than President," though some of his actions during 1824 make that hard to believe. This brief biography is presented by the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
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The William Blount faction of Tennessee politics wanted to nominate Jackson for the Presidency soon after his return from Florida. The faction convinced the legislature to back Jackson. To groom him for higher office, the Blount group ran him for the U.S. Senate again–defeating the current leader of the Sevier faction as an added bonus. Jackson won by a vote in the legislature, and he set off for Washington again.
Jackson's service in the Senate–twenty-six years after his first term in that body–showed that he had gained little knowledge of the political process but had measurably advanced in political ability. He quietly mended his relationships with several key Senators and worked behind the scenes to advance his Presidential quest.
Jackson's candidacy for President gained several key backers early on. Pennsylvania signed on and other key states in the North and South also signaled their support. Jackson's appeal was almost universal: he stood as an example of the everyman, an orphan who overcame humble beginnings in the backwoods of the Carolinas to became a self-made businessman and war hero. Jackson faced two main opponents: John Quincy Adams from Massachusetts and William H. Crawford of Virginia, who had been seeking the Presidency since 1816. Others, such as Henry Clay of Kentucky, were also-rans. In 1823, Crawford suffered a stroke, and though it initially looked like he might drop out of the race, he ended up persevering.
In the fall of 1824, Jackson decisively won a plurality of the election, with his 152,901 votes topping Adams's 114,023, Clay's 47,217, and Crawford's 46,979. None of the candidates, however, won a majority in the Electoral College–Jackson earned ninety-nine votes, Adams eighty-four, Crawford forty-one, Clay thirty-seven–and the election was thrown into the House of Representatives as the Twelfth Amendment dictates. In this scenario, each state delegation received one vote and the winner had to receive a majority of thirteen states. Clay, as the fourth candidate, was eliminated.
A frantic behind-the-scenes battle for the Presidency began. Every candidate and his supporters buttonholed members of Congress and crusaded in the press to win the election. To receive Clay's support, Adams secretly promised Clay a position as Secretary of State. Jackson tried making similar deals with Crawford, and Clay's supporters even floated a similar deal with Jackson–even though Clay had made his deal with Adams. In January, Clay announced his support of Adams, denying that he had been promised anything in return.
On February 9, 1825, the voting in the House began. Adams held twelve states, Jackson had seven and Crawford held four. Crawford positioned himself as the swing candidate, and New York held firm as the swing state. Adams won the election on the first ballot, though, when a single delegate in New York switched to Adams.