The Election Of 1824


December 3, 1822, an observer in Washington described the political situation there in these words: "While he who now fills the halls of the White House is slowly closing his eyes upon the rich trifles of the world, like an old father he stands surrounded by three full-grown sons, each seeking the inheritance cabinet, on his departure. John Q., from the favors bestowed by the old man in his lifetime, has been deemed a favorite always : J. C., however, from being possessed of a sanguine temper, sets up also pretensions to the inheritance. William and the old gentleman, you know, it has been reported, are constantly disagreeing in opinion and are hence not quite so friendly as father and son should be; be this as it may, it seems pretty well settled that the Virginia estate, if not already done, will be apportioned to the Latter." These words will describe the opening of the campaign of 1824, but they do not mention two other candidates, Clay and General Jackson.

Of the five aspirants Adams had the support of New England and some strength outside of it in sections where the federalists had been strong. Crawford was the heir of the old organization which directed the Virginia-New York alliance, now sadly shorn of its power. Every other candidate made inroads candidates on it. Calhoun took South Carolina, and Pennsylvania seemed his through his support of internal improvements. Clay had Kentucky and was accorded the new states north of the Ohio with Missouri and Louisiana. Jackson had Tennessee, and was making hard efforts to shame North Carolina out of her old practice of following Virginia blindly. Thus, in getting the old organization, Crawford got little more than his own state, with Virginia, and the support of the anti-Clintonian faction of New York republicans. In so confused a state of party no one expected any candidate to have a majority of the electoral votes, and an election by the house of representatives seemed likely.

Before the campaign closed, Calhoun was eliminated as a contestant for first place. He had counted on Pennsylvania because the politicians there were for him. But Jackson, whose candidacy Calhoun was announced late, gathered strength with the people of the state, and the politicians early in 1824 came to realize that they could not carry Calhoun to victory. They quickly took up Jackson, and Calhoun anxiously waiting to hear that this great state had declared for him, was astonished to learn that it had been swept over to Jackson. It was fatal to his hopes, but he calmly acquiesced in a plan to make him vice-president, and in that field he had little opposition. His decline in position implied the improvement of Jackson's chances.

Crawford was generally esteemed the leading candidate until a stroke of paralysis laid him low in September, 1823. His friends declared it was slight, his enemies said he was at death's door. Neither assertion was correct, but he was an invalid all through the year 1824, and was, in fact, not physically strong enough to come back into active national politics. The organization which had adopted him strove hard to hold its grip on its following, and was so successful that in the election he had the third place among the candidates.

As the organization candidate he would naturally have the stronger following in the republican caucus, hitherto a strong recommendation To overcome this advantage his opponent united to break down the caucus. This piece of party machinery was undemocratic, and tended to make the presidency subservient to a congressional ring. It had been tolerated only because it was the sole attainable means of securing concentration of purpose in a largely disorganized party group. To oppose it, nomination by state legislatures was now resorted to. Various states recommended their favorites to the people and issued severe criticisms of the caucus system. So unpopular became the institution that none but the Crawford men would attend, and when in February, 1824, the last republican caucus that was to meet was called to order, only 66 of the 216 republicans in congress were present. Of these, all but four voted for Crawford. In the attack on the caucus, the friends of Jackson, who was hailed as tin- people's candidate, were most active.

The campaign of 1824, like its two predecessors, was conducted on personal grounds. This does not mean that principles were then unknown, but that on the leading principles under discussion, tariff and internal improvements, the candidates were practically of the same opinion. Clay was the peculiar champion of the tariff, but neither of the others opposed it. Calhoun was preeminently for internal improvements, but all the others mildly favored them. Crawford's friends in the South talked about his devotion to the "principles of 1798," the doctrines of strict reconstruction ; but national measures were so popular that they dare not press the point. Some Southerners wished to raise the question of Adams's attitude on the Missouri question, but he replied that he was for conciliation. In fact, no one dared bring up this point, since it would injure a Southern candidate in the North as much as a Northern candidate in the South. As the only Northern candidate, Adams got the vote of that large portion of the inhabitants of his section who resented the Virginia domination. He was not personally popular there, spite of his many excellent qualities.

No one awaited the election returns more impatiently than Clay. In 1823 he was triumphantly reflected speaker, and if the election went to the house and he were one of the three highest, his popularity in that body would give him excellent prospects. His fate hung on the action of Louisiana and New York. In the former state he had a majority of the legislature, which chose the electors, but a vote was taken when three of his friends were absent, and the Jackson and Adams men combined and carried the day. In New York the legislature also had the choice, and by skillful manipulation three of the men chosen as Clay men voted at last for his opponents. A loser at these two points, he got only 37 votes, while Crawford got 41, Adams 84, and Jackson 99. His narrow failure to fall among the lucky three was partly atoned for by the knowledge that in the field into which the contest was now committed he would be the arbiter between his rivals.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Election Of 1824
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Short History of the United States by John Spencer Bassett, Ph.D. The Macmillan Company 1913
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