The Presidential Election of 1816

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

The presidential election of 1816 between James Monroe and William Rufus was greatly influenced by the War of 1812. Read about the events that unfolded surrounding this election, then test your knowledge with a short quiz.

Background Information

The presidential election of 1816 had a clear-cut winner almost from the beginning. James Monroe of the Democratic-Republican party won the presidency in 1816, beating opponent Rufus King of the Federalist party and succeeding James Madison (who was Democratic-Republican). The election was shaped by the War of 1812 and foreign affairs with Great Britain and France. The Federalists were against the war and against centralization of government. But under the presidency of Madison, the war came to an end and the U.S. gained what it wanted: free trade. So the next presidency was nearly guaranteed to the Democratic-Republicans, represented by Monroe.

In order for you to develop a comprehensive overview of the political atmosphere of the presidential election of 1816, we'll review the most pressing issues of the Madison presidency and the context of the War of 1812 first. Then we'll look at the primaries and the actual results of the 1816 presidential election.

Portrait of James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, who won the 1816 election and served from 1817-1825
James Monroe

The Madison Presidency

President James Madison, who served up until the election of 1816, had inherited a few policies from his predecessor Thomas Jefferson. One of the most important was trying to force Great Britain and France to allow the U.S. to trade freely with any other country. The two countries were at war and neither wanted the other to have access to U.S. products. The U.S. Navy couldn't compete with either the British or the French, so instead the U.S. government set up a series of embargoes against both countries to try to force their hands. That wasn't very popular with the New England states, however, because trade with Great Britain was how they made most of their money.

That was one point that the Federalists, opponents of Madison and his Democratic-Republicans, had been raising since he'd taken office. As Madison's Secretary of State and likely successor, James Monroe had to deal with the issue too.

The War of 1812

The War of 1812 against Britain and its allies had been devastating for the United States. It had a good start, because the British had been so focused on defeating Napoleon. But as soon as Napoleon had been defeated and the British could focus on the war, the U.S. started losing badly. It wasn't long before the District of Maine (not yet a state) had been occupied and the U.S. Capitol had been captured and burned.

The more ground the U.S. lost, the more soldiers Madison asked for from the states. The Federalist New England state governors, meanwhile, took offense to the president making any demands. They were concerned about the federal government having more control over things than the states. The wealthy and educated people of New England were also miffed that their sons weren't being selected as officers in the national army. Having to serve at a lower tier not only put them in harm's way, because officers were more protected, it also insulted them. Thus, the governors gave Madison soldiers, but never as many as he'd requested.

In late 1814, a group of Federalists got together in what was called the Hartford Convention. They met in secret, but their goal was to turn public opinion against the Democratic-Republicans in favor of their own party. In the middle of their convention, though, the U.S. won several important victories in the war. At the Treaty of Ghent, Great Britain agreed that the war had been a stalemate and accepted that the U.S. would have free trade. And after that, Andrew Jackson had won his Battle of New Orleans, which ended the War of 1812. The Federalist Party lost all of its power almost overnight to the Democratic-Republicans.

Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans
Andrew Jackson

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