disputed Election of 1824


The election of 1824 was the second and last election decided by the House of Representatives. The four major candidates were John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William H Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. When the electors were counted Jackson had 99, Adams 84, Crawford 41 and Clay 37. The election was thrown to the House of Representatives with the three leading candidates competing. All of the candidates hoped for support from Clay and his supporters. Before the House met a scandal erupted when a Philadelphia newspaper published an anonymous letter claiming that Clay would support Adams in return for an appointment as Secretary of State. Clay vigorously denied this. Adams won on the first ballot of the House of Representatives, and later appointed Clay as Secretary of State.

The election of 1824 came at a point of transition for the Presidential election system. It was the first election in which a sizable number of states were electing their Presidential electors by popular vote. In the early years of the country the state legislatures selected their state's electors. By 1824, 18 out of the 24 states had their electors selected directly by the voters of that state. This set the stage for a dramatic change in the election of Presidents. Going into the election, the establishment was expected to support Secretary of State Crawford. Crawford, was from Virginia, and a strong believer of states' rights. Opposing Crawford, initially, was John Calhoun, who believed strongly in a strong central government. Then, two additional candidates who represented regional interests, came forth to run: John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State and son of the second President, represented the interests of New England, and Henry Clay, presented himself as the representative of the West. A fifth candidate, Andrew Jackson, soon emerged. Due to his lack of political experience, Jackson was not taken seriously initially. However, General Jackson of Tennessee, was a hero of both the War of 1812, and the Seminole War. Shortly before being nominated, Crawford was struck with, seems likely to have been, a stroke, but was nominated by a Republican caucus anyway. John Calhoun decided to wait out the election, being content to run for Vice President, and both Adams and Jackson happily accepted him on their respective tickets. The political experts were severely mistaken, not anticipating the popularity of Jackson, the war hero. When the election results finally made there way to Washington it was clear Jackson had won the popular vote with 152,901 votes (42.5%) followed by Adams 114,023(31.5%) with Clay at 47,217(13%) and Crawford 46,979(13%) bringing up the rear. In electoral votes, however, Jackson had 99, Adams 84, Crawford 41 and Clay 37.

Since none of the candidates received a majority of the electoral votes, under the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution. As a result, the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives. Under the provisions of the amendment, the House meets and each state received one vote. Only the first three candidates contended, thus, Clay would not stand for election in the house. Clay, however, saw himself as a kingmaker, since he was able to sway three states (Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri) to vote for who ever he supported. On top of the ten states firmly in the Adams camp, Clay's support would gave him a majority of 13 out of 24 states. Adams and Clay had a three-hour meeting during which Adams cemented Clays support. With Adams ahead in control of state delegation, and with Clay's antipathy for Jackson who he considered a dangerous populist, the decision to support Adams should not have been unexpected. But when it was later announced that Clay would become Adams Secretary of State, Clay was accused of selling his support to Adams. Jackson was bitter and stated: “The Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thrity pieces of silver. His end will be the same”. Clay was never able to shake the sense of impropriety from his reputation, that his support of Adam alledged, regardless of however honorable he may have thought his actions to be.