In this lesson, we will explore the dirty politics of the 1828 election and the Age of the Common Man in American politics. Discover how this election changed American politics forever.
Lead-Up to the Election of 1828
The Election of 1824 left a bitter taste in the mouths of Andrew Jackson and his supporters. The 'corrupt bargain' that led to John Quincy Adams becoming president also led to four years of loyal but vocal opposition to Adams and rendered his presidency all but impotent. By the Election of 1828, Andrew Jackson was ready to try again.
Evolution of the 2-Party System
Several key events had changed the political landscape over the past four years. For example, prior to 1828, there were more than two political parties vying for influence, and Congressional caucuses chose candidates for presidents. While that did not always translate into large numbers of politically viable candidates, as was the case in 1824, it certainly created numerous distractions for any campaign.
But this time, the number of parties had been whittled down and consolidated to two: the Democrats, led by Andrew Jackson, and the National Republican Party, home to John Quincy Adams and essentially everyone else who was anti-Jackson. It was the evolution of the two-party system that we have today.
But this wasn't the only change. After securing his nomination, Adams had to choose a new running mate. But wait - what happened to Vice President John C. Calhoun? He had switched sides and become Jackson's running mate! Can you imagine today the Vice President abandoning his party's nominee to join the other side? It would be scandalous, and yet, in 1828, this was American presidential politics at its best.
Jackson Wins It All Thanks to the Common Man
Jackson's first victory may have been winning Calhoun away from Adams, but there were smaller, more important victories taking place in states across the country.
Changes in state constitutions also led to more people being allowed to vote. For example, you no longer had to be a wealthy landowner. You still had to be a white male, however, so no women or non-whites were allowed, but it was progress. This change in voter qualifications would lead to record-breaking voter participation in the election. Up to 80% of qualified voters voted.
If 1824 was a watershed moment in American politics, the campaign of 1828 set the standard for mudslinging among the candidates. And this was no ordinary mudslinging: Adams was accused of misusing public funds, gambling in the White House, and splurging with tax money for his extravagant lifestyle. The attacks on Andrew Jackson were no less vicious. He was accused of being uneducated, reckless, and, well, a murderer! True, he had engaged in a duel years before in 1806 to protect the honor of his wife, but in those days, duels were not so unusual.
The candidates couldn't have been more different. Adams stayed off the campaign trail, preferring instead to remain in the White House and govern. Jackson was quite the opposite. A war hero, vaunted 'Indian fighter,' and a 'man of the people,' Jackson enjoyed the campaign trail and sought the support of the common folk, campaigning hard in the South, Mid-Atlantic, and Western states.
The hard work paid off. Andrew Jackson routed John Quincy Adams in the popular vote and the Electoral College, coasting to victory with 178 electoral votes to 83 and winning the popular vote by over 140,000.
The amity that usually returned after an election was resolved never materialized in 1828. Andrew Jackson refused to pay the customary courtesy call to outgoing president Adams, and Adams refused to attend the inauguration of Jackson. To make matters worse, Jackson lost his beloved wife before his inauguration. Many blamed the stress of the campaign and the vicious accusations against her and her husband. Jackson is quoted as saying he could forgive all insults against him but he would never forgive those directed at his loving wife.
It was a bitter end to a bitter campaign.
Age of the Common Man
With the change in voter qualifications prior to the election of 1828, the Age of the Common Man had begun, and yet, all were not happy with this outcome. Many elite landowners had enjoyed political power and a monopoly on the vote. But now, others shared this right, and Jackson courted them, appealed to them, and welcomed them. In the minds of the common man, they had just elected one of their own as president.
Throughout his presidency, Jackson would continue to champion the causes of the common man, including fighting against economic monopolies, changing the political nomination process from one of insider-only caucuses to national conventions open to all, and rejecting pork-barrel politics that had long been the mainstay of Washington, DC.
Some, like the Maysville Road project, which had long been the pet project of none other than Henry Clay - a long-time rival of Jackson - were cut. Jackson vetoed the bill, and the veto came with a warning that any project that did not have all of America's interest in mind and did not conform strictly to the Constitution would not survive.
These and other actions did not make Old Hickory popular with the tea-and-crumpets crowd of DC but endeared him in the hearts and minds of the common man.
The election of 1828 had featured it all: mudslinging, party politics, populism, and war heroes. It ushered in the new age of the common man, giving him the vote and thus a voice. American politics would never be the same.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify the changes to the party system, Andrew Jackson's running mate, and voting laws that preceded the Election of 1828
- Understand how and why Jackson appealed to the 'common man'
- Summarize the causes Jackson did and did not favor during his presidency