The Election of 1824
John Quincy Adams was elected President on February 9, 1825 in the United States presidential election of 1824, after the election was decided by the House of Representatives. The presidential election of 1824 is notable for being the only election since the passage of the Twelfth Amendment to have been decided by the House of Representatives in accordance with its provision to turn over the choice of the president to the House when no candidate secures a majority of the electoral vote. The election of 1824 is often claimed to be the first in which the successful presidential candidate did not win the popular vote. However, the popular vote was not measured nationwide at the time, making this claim somewhat speculative.
The election was a contest among the following men:
- General Andrew Jackson, a charismatic hero of the War of 1812, former Representative, and United States Senator from Tennessee;
- John Quincy Adams, son of former President John Adams, former member of the Federalist Party, former United States Minister to Russia, one of the drafters of the Treaty of Ghent, former United States Senator from Massachusetts, and Secretary of State.
- William H. Crawford, former United States Minister to France, former United States Senator from Georgia, former Secretary of War, and Secretary of the Treasury.
- Henry Clay of Kentucky, the Great Compromiser and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
The traditional Congressional caucus nominated Crawford for president and Albert Gallatin for vice president, but it was sparsely attended and widely attacked as undemocratic. Gallatin later withdrew from the contest for the vice presidency. In 1823, Crawford suffered a stroke, crippling his bid for the presidency. Among other candidates, John Quincy Adams had more support than Henry Clay because of his huge popularity among the old Federalist voters in New England. By this time, even the traditionally Federalist Adams family had come to terms with the Democratic-Republican Party.
The election was as much a contest of favorite sons as it was a conflict over policy, although positions on tariffs and internal improvements did create some significant disagreements. In general, the candidates were favored by different sections of the country, with Adams strong in the Northeast; Jackson in the South, West and mid-Atlantic; Clay in parts of the West; and Crawford in parts of the East.
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, the current Secretary of War, was initially a fifth candidate in the early stages of consideration, but opted instead to seek the vice-presidency. Later, he backed Jackson after sensing the popularity of Crawford in the South. Both Adams and Jackson supporters backed Calhoun, giving him an easy majority of electoral votes for vice-president.
Not surprisingly, the results of the election were inconclusive. As shown in (Figure 1), the electoral map confirmed the candidates’ sectional support as follows:
- Adams won outright in the New England states,
- Jackson gleaned success in states throughout the nation,
- Clay attracted votes from the west,
- Crawford collected votes from the east.
Jackson received more electoral and popular votes than any other candidate, but not the majority of 131 electoral votes needed to win the election. Meanwhile, John C. Calhoun secured a total of 182 electoral votes and won the vice-presidency in what was generally an uncompetitive race.
1825 Contingent Election
The presidential election was deferred to the U.S. House of Representatives. Following the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment, only the top three candidates in the electoral vote were admitted as candidates in the House: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and William Harris Crawford. John Quincy Adams was elected President on February 9, 1825 on the first ballot with 13 states, followed by Jackson with 7, and Crawford with 4. John Quincy Adams had 138 electoral votes, Andrew Jackson had 71 electoral votes, and William Crawford had 51 electoral votes.
Adams' victory shocked Jackson who, as the winner of a plurality of both the popular and electoral votes, expected to be elected president. Interestingly enough, an anonymous statement appeared in a Philadelphia paper that essentially accused Clay of selling Adams his support for the office of Secretary of State. No formal investigation was conducted so the matter was neither confirmed nor denied. When Clay was indeed offered the position after Adams was victorious, he opted to accept and continued to support the administration he voted for. By appointing Clay his Secretary of State, President Adams essentially declared him heir to the Presidency, as Adams and his three predecessors had all served as Secretary of State. Jackson and his followers accused Adams and Clay of striking a corrupt bargain. The Jacksonians would campaign on this claim for the next four years, ultimately attaining Jackson's victory in the Adams-Jackson rematch of 1828.