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President John Quincy Adams and the Election of 1824

  • 0:05 Election of 1824:…
  • 0:36 List of Candidates
  • 2:02 John Quincy Adams
  • 2:53 The Corrupt Bargain
  • 5:07 The Adams Administration
  • 7:06 End of an Era
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Steven Shirley
The Election of 1824 and its candidates played a huge role in the election of John Quincy Adams as president. In this lesson look at the dramatic turn in presidential politics and the not-so-remarkable presidency of this public servant.

Election of 1824: American Politics at the Crossroads

The presidents who made up the Virginia Dynasty
Virginia Dynasty Presidents

By 1824, the United States had been led by five strong presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. The five came to be known as the Virginia Dynasty, and were not only presidents but founding fathers of our young nation. Following these gentlemen was no easy task and would prove difficult for any aspiring politician seeking the White House in 1824.

List of Candidates

With no clear candidate to inherit this mantle, the election was an open race with a crowded field. Men of considerable talent and intellectual ability (as well as gravitas) entered the race to vie for the ultimate prize in American politics, the presidency of the United States. Who were these men?

  • There was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a longtime member of congress and former Secretary of War under James Monroe. He wouldn't last till the end of the race, preferring instead to drop out and ally himself with the eventual winner and become vice president. Smart move.
  • There was William H. Crawford of Georgia. He was seen as the early favorite in the election, and was himself a senator, a former ambassador and Secretary of War.
  • Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, Old Hickory as he was known, was anything but the darling of the D.C. But he was a populist and popular politician, not to mention a war hero. Perhaps a little rough around the edges, but Jackson was highly respected for his political acumen.
  • Henry Clay of Kentucky was the powerful Speaker of the House of Representatives. He would be a major player in the ultimate outcome of 1824, not to mention a vehement critic of Andrew Jackson.

John Quincy Adams

President John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams

And then there was John Quincy Adams, son of...well you guessed it, our second president, John Adams. Living in his father's shadow was never easy, but John Quincy Adams managed a distinguished career as a lawyer, a diplomat and eight years as Secretary of State. Indeed, John Quincy Adams was one of the most influential Secretaries of State in our nation's history, helping author one of the most important foreign policy decisions of our young nation: the Monroe Doctrine. But, would that be enough to make him president?

What made matters more difficult was the fact that in 1824 there was no 2-party system like we have today. Political parties were more diverse, and candidates more free to act and build coalitions of supporters.

The Corrupt Bargain

This meant that endorsements and political experience were very important. Because of the support of two former presidents, Madison and Jefferson, the early favorite was Crawford. However, as the campaign got underway, it became clear that this was going to be a very different election. First, Crawford suffered a stroke, which severely hampered his campaign, and his own party was split into two parts.

By the time the dust cleared on election day, none of the five candidates had secured enough electoral votes to win the presidency. For the first time in our nation's history, there was no clear presidential winner after the election. Jackson secured 99 electoral votes and Adams 84. However, neither captured a majority of the votes. The rest of the votes were scattered among Clay and Crawford, and so there was no clear winner.

What to do? Well, the failure of any candidate to get a majority of the electoral votes kicked in one of the most unique features of our presidential election system, the 12th Amendment of our Constitution. The new president would now be chosen not by the people, or the Electoral College, but by the House of Representatives.

Calhoun, Jackson, and Adams received the most electoral votes in 1824
1824 Election Top Candidates

Since only the top three vote-getters qualify in such a circumstance, Henry Clay's name was dropped from the list of possible candidates presented to the House of Representatives. Crawford, given his health and his poor showing in the initial vote, was also not a serious contender.

As the time for the vote in the House neared, Clay used his considerable influence to block Jackson's ascent to office. Put simply, Clay did not like Jackson. While he had no real love for Adams, he at least felt he could strike a deal with him. He'd help get Adams elected president only if Adams would name Clay Secretary of State. Clay believed that the job of Secretary of State was the perfect launching pad for his future presidential ambitions. Adams agreed, and the deal was struck.

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