Meet the Press yesterday morning had a segment on civility in today’s political climate. In watching the piece, one got the impression that American politics was always civil, neat, and tidy. The truth is that the election of 1828 was probably the nastiest in American history.
The seeds for the election of 1828 were sown in the election four years earlier. In 1824, there was a four-way race for president: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay. With no clearcut winner – Jackson won the most popular votes, but only 99 electoral votes out of the 131 needed to win the election. This threw the election into the House of Representatives as per the 12th Amendment to the Constitution. The 12th Amendment also limited the number of contestants to three forcing Clay out of the running. Henry Clay, however as Speaker of the House, would play a role in selecting the next president.
Clay believed that William Crawford due to an earlier stroke was in reality incapable of performing the duties of the office of the president. Clay was also opposed to Jackson as president seeing him as unqualified and nothing more than a military hothead. He had denounced Jackson’s actions in his 1819 invasion of Spanish Florida (perhaps a topic for another post).
So, Clay supported Adams, Adams won the election, and several weeks later Adams offered Clay the cabinet position of Secretary of State. That cabinet position was thought to be a stepping stone to the presidency. Clay accepted, and Jackson and his supporters cried “corrupt bargain”. By 1828, what started out as an anti-Adams movement became a pro-Jackson movement.
The 1828 campaign is credited as being the birth of modern politics (also a potential subject for a future post). As I stated earlier it was also particularly nasty. Here are some elements of the campaign:
– both sides played the “sex card”:
Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s marriage was called into question. Andrew and Rachel had married before Rachel’s divorce from Lewis Robards was finalized. When the mistake was discovered, Andrew and Rachel had the marriage ceremony performed again. However, Adams’ supporters called Rachel a bigamist & Andrew a “home wrecker”.
The Jackson camp accused Adams of “pimping for the Czar of Russia” when he was minister there.
Jackson’s mother was accused of being a prostitute who wed a mulatto & Andrew Jackson was accused of being a child fo that union.
In other areas:
Adams’ supporters produced the coffin handbill: See a copy here
Adams was accused of padding expense accounts, purchasing gambling equipment, opposing the Louisiana Purchase, and giving up U.S. interests in negotiating the treaty of Ghent.
The better organized Jackson camp under the leadership of Martin Van Buren had by 1828 organized themselves into the Democratic Party. They ran a better organized campaign, used modern tactics (buttons, slogans, speeches), and won the election of 1828. However, it was neither civil, neat, nor tidy.
For more information check out:
Parsons, Lynn Hudson, The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Remini, Robert V., John Quincy Adams. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002.