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Corrupt Bargain of 1824: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 Election of 1824
  • 0:43 The Candidates
  • 1:59 Election Results
  • 3:25 The Corrupt Bargain
  • 3:49 Jackson's Response
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

During the Election of 1824, both Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams received a proposal from Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, that could help them secure the presidency. In this lesson, you'll learn about the 'corrupt bargain' and the outcome of the 1824 election.

Election of 1824

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do whatever you thought was necessary, regardless of the ethics involved? Well, John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, faced a similar situation in the election of 1824.

The election of 1824 signified the end of the Monroe Administration and a new beginning under a fresh leader. The election was one of the more contentious elections in United States history, which pitted four presidential hopefuls against one another and witnessed the end of the Republican-Federalist Party.

The race for the White House in 1824 was razor thin, with the winner engaging in a crooked deal that became known as the corrupt bargain.

The Candidates

There were four candidates running for president in 1824: John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, William Crawford and Andrew Jackson.

While all four candidates had different political ideologies, all four were running as Democratic-Republicans. Many people thought President James Monroe's Secretary of the Treasury, William Crawford, would replace him in office. Crawford was hand selected by future president Martin Van Buren to represent one aspect of the Democratic-Republican ticket.

John Quincy Adams was also a prominent contender. He'd also served the Monroe Administration as Secretary of State. Adams was extremely popular in the Northeast and had gained significant notoriety for being the son of a former president. He was also admired as an individual who successfully moved from federalism toward republicanism in the midst of a Republican Party collapse.

Other notable presidential hopefuls included Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay. Jackson represented the Southern states and hoped to gain popularity for his actions as a general during the War of 1812 and the First Seminole War.

Henry Clay was the Speaker of the House of Representatives and had become popular in the Western states while promoting the American System, a form of centralized government to strengthen and protect the United States.

Elections Results

In the presidential election of 1824, each of the candidates earned a double-digit percentage of electoral and popular votes. Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams led the contenders. Jackson had 99 electoral votes and 42% of the popular vote. Adams had 84 electoral votes and 32% of the popular vote. The election was essentially a draw, since none of the candidates reached the constitutionally required majority. As a result, the election was turned over to the House of Representatives.

Results of the Election of 1824
Election of 1824, Corrupt Bargain

The 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution required that, in the event a presidential candidate did not achieve the required plurality, the House of Representatives chose a winner out of the top three highest electoral grossing candidates. Henry Clay was automatically eliminated as he'd finished last. However, interestingly enough, Clay was responsible for ultimately deciding the election when he returned to his position as Speaker of the House.

In his position as Speaker, Henry Clay was responsible for selecting the president. He was also responsible for the corrupt bargain that affected the results of the 1824 election. While Clay harbored a great deal of animosity towards Andrew Jackson, he was willing to cut both Jackson and Adams a deal for the presidency.

The Corrupt Bargain

In his position as Speaker of the House, Henry Clay offered the White House to whichever man was willing to appoint him Secretary of State, which became known as the corrupt bargain. Andrew Jackson refused, but John Quincy Adams took advantage of the proposal. Clay immediately shifted his support to Adams, who garnered enough support in the House of Representatives to become president.

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