People were pretty pissed about the way the election of 1824 ended. After the Corrupt Bargain between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson immediately started campaigning for the next election and built up a coalition of supporters, ready to oppose the new administration at every turn. Would he get his revenge in 1828?
The Last Four Years
For JQA’s part, he had a very ambitious agenda. He was a major supporter of Clay’s American System, meaning 1) Infrastructure to build the West, 2) Tariffs to protect manufacturing in the North, and 3) A national bank to regulate it all. JQA’s infrastructure plan was the most aggressive the US had seen at that point. He wanted to build, build, build! JQA argued for a loose interpretation of the Constitution’s General Welfare Clause, which stated that the federal government could collect tax for (among other things) the “general welfare of the United States.” That meant new government-sponsored roads and institutions, like universities. He was also very active on foreign policy. He wanted to expanded US trade as much as possible, signing lots of new treaties.
Unfortunately, JQA’s vision never fully came to fruition. Jackson supporters in Congress (freshly separated from the Democratic-Republican party) blocked most of his agenda. Even JQA’s idea to send a delegation to Panama to make Western Hemisphere friends couldn’t make it past the gridlock.
As with the previous election, 1828 was mostly personality-based, with one major exception: Tariffs. Protective tariffs were a big part of the American System, and popular in JQA’s home of New England. Jackson supporters devised a dastardly plan to use this against them.
The year was 1828, and the bill was the Tariff of 1828. Jackson supporters in Congress introduced the tariff after the midterms, which was very suspiciously against everything they believed in. It was a huge increase in taxes on imports. Southern planation owners (a big part of Jackson’s coalition) preferred to buy cheap goods from Europe, a trade partnership that also helped them sell cotton. But the plan was to win over voters in the West and North who liked the American system. It was such a large increase, though, that they thought the rest of Congress would never have the guts to pass it. By letting it fail, Congress would disappoint their Northern supporters, who would defect to Jackson. Even though the South would be mad, there was no chance they would vote against Jackson anyways. But it backfired! Congress passed the tariff and JQA signed it into law! People were so outraged, the tax became known as the Tariff of Abominations. Luckily, it all worked out in the end for Jackson, as his base was fired up in opposition to JQA’s tariff, and everyone conveniently forgot it was his side that introduced it in the first place.
In all, Jackson was pretty quiet about his policy positions. He positioned himself as a moderate against the establishment political class, without completely denouncing the American System.
With Jackson’s early decision to run (capitalizing on 1824 fervor), he was able to build a new faction, ending the one-party reign of the Democratic-Republicans. The new group was called simply, the Democrats, and it’s the same Democratic party that still exists today! With some minor differences, of course. Jackson’s main ally, and the brains behind the party’s organization, was Senator Martin Van Buren of New York. Unlike all of the parties before them, the Democrats did not care about the taboo of party loyalty. Van Buren saw parties as a way to unify their base in an era when the popular vote was finally becoming relevant. The Democrats were very organized, holding lots of exciting campaign events. With modern techniques to energize voters, the Democrats ushered in the Second Party System.
JQA and Clay’s supporters were much more conservative about factions. They wanted to restore the peace of the Era of Good Feelings. The establishment coalition was now known as the National Republicans (still not the same Republicans we have today). Ya know, I’ve been explaining for a while how the Democratic-Republicans outdid the Federalists so badly in the 1800s that the Federalists ceased to exist. But by 1828, it was actually Federalists ideas that had infiltrated the Republicans. JQA and Clay were much more in-line with the policies of Alexander Hamilton than the founder of their party, Thomas Jefferson. To their determent though, the National Republicans weren’t nearly as organized as the Democrats. Many thought party loyalty was dangerous. In reality, they were severely behind the times and not honest about the coming wave of populist voters.
THE CANDIDATES & THE CAMPAIGN
After the disaster of the William H. Crawford’s 1824 campaign, neither party held an official nominating caucus. Instead, JQA and Jackson were nominated by state legislatures individually.
In a stunning turn of events, Vice President John C. Calhoun actually switched parties to become Jackson’s running mate. JQA’s replacement was Secretary of Treasury Richard Rush, whose home was swing-state Pennsylvania. Combined with Henry Clay’s support from the West, the National Republicans thought they had a strong coalition.
The campaigns got nasty. Although JQA still believed in taking the high road and not personally campaigning, his supporters were vicious. Luckily for them, Jackson had already lived a controversial life. They attacked him as a murderer, even accusing him of eating the corpses of the Native Americans he killed. They also distributed the “Coffin Handbills,” which depicted six coffins, representing the six militiamen Jackson had executed for desertion during the Creek War. Though their sentencing was likely fair, the National Republicans were able to create an image of a ruthless and evil Jackson. Their most personal attacks were against Jackson’s wife, Rachel. She had a marriage prior to Jackson and, unbeknownst to them, her ex-husband had not actually finalized their divorce before her new relationship. The National Republicans vilified her as an adulteress. This one hit Jackson the hardest (aka made him extremely angry).
But the Democrats weren’t free of sin, either. While JQA didn’t personally join in the fighting, Jackson was active in his campaign. Democrats accused “King John the Second” of wanting to restore the monarchy, the same accusation made of his father. They also claimed he used tax payer money to fund a gambling addiction, though all he had done was buy a billiards table and chess set for the White House. Their worst accusation was that, as Minister to Russia, JQA had procured prostitutes for the Czar.
Old Guys Pause!
John Adams #1 and Thomas Jefferson were actually still alive for the JQA administration. Adams delighted to see his son also serve as president. Jefferson had been an unofficial supporter of his party caucus winner, Crawford, in 1824. He bemoaned the circumstances of the final results. He was friendly with Jackson, but made no official endorsement. Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Coincidentally, John Adams also died on this exact day. His last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” not knowing that his fellow founding father had died just a few hours earlier. After being on opposing sides of the First Party System, the two had actually rekindled their friendship as pen-pals in the final years of their lives. At 90 years old, Adams was the longest-lived president until Ronald Reagan surpassed him in 2001 (Jimmy Carter is the current record-holder at 95).
At last, an election where most states chose their electors by popular vote. Only Delaware and South Carolina held out by having their state legislatures appoint electors. Additionally, most states had removed property restrictions on voting. Voting had finally been opened from solely rich, white men, to all white men! Progress!
In other news, looks like we have a clear North/South split on our hands… Jackson also picked up swing states, New York and Pennsylvania.
Andrew Jackson got his revenge! He became the 7th president, with a final electoral score of 178-83. He was the first president not from Virginia or named Adams. JQA joined his father as the only one-term presidents so far in America’s history. John C. Calhoun also won for vice president, making him the second and last VP to serve under two different presidents (George Clinton being the first, under Jefferson and Madison).
Having defeated the evil establishment, Jackson threw a party and opened the White House to the public after the inauguration. The crowd became so rowdy that the new president had to sneak out the back. It was a nightmare for the stuck-up National Republicans.
In sadder news, Rachel Jackson died in December 1828, just a few weeks after voting took place. Although she had already been in poor health, Jackson blamed her death on the National Republicans’ cruel personal attacks. He never forgave them.
What Did It Say About America?
Since he was the first to be elected mostly by popular vote (also having overcome Congress’ superseding of the popular vote four years earlier), Jackson was seen as the people’s candidate. He was also the first president considered to be a self-made man, representing the end of aristocratic rule. Not only was the Second Party System an era of new parties (the National Republicans were soon to be known as the Whigs), but it also marked a change in the way presidents were elected. Now, voters were in control. Unfortunately, voting rights still left a lot of people out…
Was It The Right Decision?
Hey, it’s my first outright No! The increased importance of the popular vote was all well and good, but it still only represented white men. Andrew Jackson was a hero of the 1800s, both for his military and political victories. But history has, rightfully, judged him much harsher in recent years. As we’re about to see, Jackson did lots of shitty stuff. From the Indian Removal Act, to crashing the economy, to starting a major pro-slavery party, Jackson’s legacy would have profound negative effects on the nation. In contrast, John Quincy Adams had a very successful post-presidency, becoming the only president to return to the House of Representatives. He was an important political leader for the anti-slavery movement. In 1848, he collapsed on the floor of the House. Freshman Congressman Abraham Lincoln, a fellow Whig, sat on the committee to make funeral arrangements.