In what many have called the dirtiest presidential election ever, Andrew Jackson reigned supreme over John Quincy Adams in the election of 1828. For the first time in a political campaign, the main focus was to slander the reputation of the opponent. Issues seemed to be disregarded in favor of personal attacks upon the individual. The days of standing for office and remaining silent towards the American public before elections took place were over. The election of 1828 focused on insults, name calling, and heckling between the candidates and their parties. The War of 1812 threatened to destroy the young nation’s pride.
Washington had been burned to the ground, the Hartford Convention was in session, and rumors of a British armada had east coast cities beginning to panic. Into this atmosphere of gloom and doubt burst the news of Andrew Jackson’s crushing victory over the British in New Orleans. “The brilliant and unparalleled victory at New Orleans, has closed the war in a blaze of Glory and the nation agreed with him that Jackson’s victory placed America on the very pinnacle of fame. ” Jackson had lifted the pride and the spirit of nationalism in previously frustrated Americans, and thus, became a national hero.
Jackson’s military triumphs led to suggestions by friends that he become candidate for president, but he disavowed any interest, and political leaders in Washington assumed that the flurry of support for him would prove temporary. The campaign to make him president, however, was kept alive by his continued popularity and was carefully nurtured by a small group of his friends in Nashville, who combined devotion to the general with a high degree of political astuteness. In 1822 these friends maneuvered the Tennessee legislature into a formal nomination of their hero as a candidate for president.
In the following year this same group persuaded the legislature to elect him to the U. S. Senate–a gesture designed to demonstrate the extent of his popularity in his home state. The election of 1824 had failed to determine President James Monroe’s successor because the electoral ballots were split among four candidates, none of whom had a majority. According to the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, the House of Representatives was required to select the chief executive from among the three men with the highest electoral count.
In 1824 these three included the Senator from Tennessee, Andrew Jackson, who had 99 electoral votes; the Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, with 84 electoral votes; and the Secretary of the Treasury, William H. Crawford, who received 41 electoral votes. Henry Clay, who was the fourth candidate, was eliminated since this total electoral count reached only 37 votes. Jackson also took a commanding 40,000 popular vote lead over the second highest candidate, John Adams.
According to the followers of Adams, Jackson’s candidacy was a terrible judgment in that an uneducated, untrained, uninformed, and inexperienced Indian fighter would attempt to challenge governmentally established gentlemen for the highest political office in the nation. His opponents (both supporters of Adams and simply people against Jackson for personal reasons) first argued that he was incompetent by training and background to lead the nation as President. He was of course, uneducated in the fact that he did not attend college as all American Presidents before him had.
To prove Jackson’s lack of qualifications the friends of Adams were not above circulating forgeries which demonstrated Jackson’s illiteracy. His overwhelming popularity and respectable reputation as a war hero had helped him to win the popular vote of 1824. However, since he was unable to obtain an electoral vote majority, the vote to decide who would become President would go to the House of Representatives where an event would unfold that would cause an extraordinary amount of controversy that would be talked about for years to come.
Since Henry Clay had only received 37 electoral votes, he was eliminated for the vote in the House, as only the top three candidates are eligible for the vote. William Crawford was never really a factor in the race as he unfortunately suffered a stroke before the election which left him partially paralyzed and seemingly incapable of performing the duties of a President. President Monroe had supported Crawford in his bid to become President. Clay and his men threw their support behind Adams. Clay prominently declared that “we must keep Jackson the vulgarian out of the White House.
Jackson and his supporters cried of a foul “corrupt deal” in which they claimed Clay only gave his support to Adams because Adams promised him the Secretary of State position. Jackson was outraged and immediately began attacking Adams and his administration. It was reported in the Argus of Western America that “Clay was a good man for supporting John Quincy Adams, and not Andrew Jackson in 1824. ” The war of words had begun, and there was still a full four years until the next election. Jackson’s relentless pursuit to destroy the image of the Adams administration continued with little opposition from Adams.
It was quite possibly true, Adams and Clay had made the deal and did not believe it was wrong since there was nothing illegal about it. They began to attack Jackson in the time before the 1828 election focusing on several issues. They looked at the “war hero” and began to question the validity of his nickname. They dug up information and began to portray Jackson as a hot-tempered murderer. Jackson was appointed to “take care” of the Indian problem in Florida.
He stated that “The (Indian removal) policy is intended to save Indians from inevitable extinction. Those who refuse to emigrate are subject to the jurisdiction and laws of the states. ” He was to remove the Indians from Florida, in particular the Seminoles, and send them westward along what would later be called the trail of tears. It was publicized that Jackson enjoyed killing Indians, which was a hard accusation for him to deny. Jackson was a superior General for the United States, and he was obsessed with war. The Adams administration had John Binns (Editor of the Philadelphia Democratic Press) publish a “coffin handbill” which was widely circulated and hurt Jackson a great deal before the election.
It portrayed him as a murderer as the six coffins displayed on the handbill stood for the death of six militiamen who were tried and executed shortly after the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson authorized these executions as the men were charged with robbery, arson and mutiny during the General’s campaign against the Creek Indians. According to the Administration newspapers in 1828, the men “had legally completed their military service and desired to return home. ” The intention of the handbill was to also demonstrate that Jackson was “a wild man under whose charge the Government would collapse.
It was Jackson’s turn to go on the attack. As Jackson was attacked for his lack of education, Jackson went on the attack of Adams’ higher-class education. Adams was charged as an aristocrat, a king who was spoiled rich with privilege. (He had served as his father’s secretary as a thirteen-year old boy with absolutely no qualifications. ) Jackson explained that “Adams lived his whole life at governmental expense,” and that Adams had been “extravagant and wasteful” of taxpayers’ money. He called Adams a daddy’s boy, and a person that is too educated for the common man.
Jackson represented the common man, unlike Adams. Adams’ Harvard education only appealed to the upper class of America, which Jackson was not for. Adams used language that was too advanced for the average middle class man. Jackson charged that Adams was only for the upperclassmen concerns, and for the rich and privileged. Adams’ only response to these accusations was to continually insult Jackson for his lack of education and inability to effectively run a country. Adams charged that the only reason for any amount of success by Jackson was based on his military career.
He attacked Jackson for not stating his opinion on any issues that faced the country. Jackson simply replied that he was “for the people,” and he was “the direct representative of the people. ” He chose not to take positions on issues unless it was absolutely necessary to do so. Editor Tom Marshall attacked Adams in the Argus of Western America as Marshall stated that Adams “should shamelessly pay out of his pocket the money he stole from the treasury to finance his personal travels with his family. ”
Apparently Adams had used federal money to pay for his family to travel to both Paris and St. Petersburg. Moral issues were put to the test as Jackson turned to personal attacks. He labeled Adams a pimp and a gambler. Jonathan Russell reported the details which stated that Adams provided an American girl for the Russian Tsar Alexander I. Martha Godfrey was apparently the prostitute provided for the Tsar, she was also a chambermaid to Mrs. Adams. The Democrats in the West mocked the President as “The Pimp of the Coalition” whose fabulous success as a diplomat had at last been explained. Adams was also charged with being a gambler.
The President was pilloried for spending $25,000 of the public’s money on a wide assortment of gambling equipment, including a billiard table, balls, cues, backgammon board, dice, chess and ‘soda water. ‘” Adams remarked that it was nothing but a second hand billiards table that was put in the White House. In response, Adams charged Jackson of committing adultery. Jackson had married the wife of Captain Lewis Robards believing her at the time to be divorced. Two years later it became known that Robards had not officially divorced his wife Rachel.
Lewis did receive a divorce from his wife only after it had been established that Rachel was living in adultery with another man, Andrew Jackson. To avoid possible legal consequences, Jackson had his marriage re-performed. Rachel was the target of several attacks from her husband’s opposition. She was referred to as a “black wench” and branded as a “profligate woman. ” It had been uncommon to discuss women in public newspapers. However, Rachel was publicly denounced in these newspapers, along with her husband Andrew. (Just before Jackson was elected President, Rachel died of a sudden heart attack.
He blamed Adams for allowing the insults to grow towards his wife, stating the stress they caused her led to her heart failure. Jackson would never forget what Adams had done. ) The Adams administration continued the personal assault upon Jackson claiming that he mother was a “common prostitute. ” They asserted that British military officers had brought her to the United States where she married a mulatto man. With this man, she had several children, including young Andrew Jackson. Upon reading this in a local newspaper, Jackson broke down emotionally.
He realized that they were no longer insulting him, or someone that was still alive that he could defend. Rather, the memory of his dead mother was being assailed by his opposition. The election was turning more and more harsh and personal between the two candidates. Jackson was enraged with anger. Adams questioned whether the nation was ready for a President from the West as Jackson was from Tennessee. He didn’t believe a rugged frontiersman that grew up in a log cabin was capable of running a nation. Adams believed Jackson lacked the necessary education and experience that was needed for such a task.
He charged that Jackson had no real governmental experience, and therefore would be incapable of holding such a high political office. This was ironic as Jackson had been elected to the House of Representatives at the age of twenty-nine. When he turned thirty, he was elected to the Senate, and when he reached the age of thirty one, he was appointed to a state supreme court judge of Tennessee. The only real issue of the election was that of the passing of the tariff of 1828, or, the tariff of abominations. It was proposed by Jackson to weaken Adams and his party.
Items such as hemp, iron sail duck and woolens had an extremely high tax applied to them. Jackson figured that this tax was so high that even the northern states that wished for higher taxes on goods would veto it. He hoped that when it was vetoed he could turn to the south and say, “we sure pulled one over on them (the north). ” To the dismay of Jackson, the tariff was passed. Now the South had become angry with Jackson for having the tariff passed. John Calhoun, Jackson’s vice presidential candidate secretly wrote a letter denouncing it.
Jackson and his newly founded Democratic Party had followed the concepts of a low tariff, strict construction, a weak central government, private morality, ignoring slavery, and opposing the Bank of the United States. Jackson was very much against the idea of a national bank. “The bank,” Jackson told Martin Van Buren, “is trying to kill me, but I will kill it! ” Jackson, in vetoing the recharter bill, charged the Bank with undue economic privilege. He believed that it put too much power and authority into the hands of only a few.
The few people that did have control over the banks were upper class wealthy men, not representatives of the common man. Adams had adopted Clay’s American System, which consisted of a second bank of the United States, a high tariff, and internal improvements. Jackson was opposed to all of these. Jackson did however support internal improvements, just not at federal expense. He said that if the states chose to spend the money the federal government supplied them with on internal improvements, that would be acceptable, but never at federal expense. He objected to a high national debt while supporting state banks and issuing of paper money.
President Jackson was “honest and patriotic; that he was the friend of the people, battling for them against corruption and extravagance, and opposed only by dishonest politicians. They loved him as their friend. ” Another issue that arose before the election was the controversy surrounding the sudden disappearance of a Western New York man named William Morgan. He had joined a Freemasonry club that apparently did not appeal to him. After leaving the club angry over the fact that he felt neglected and not part of the group, Morgan published a book of the Masonic secrets.
He was arrested for apparently stealing a tie, released, and arrested again for a debt he owed to a Mason. After being released on bail, he was taken to Fort Niagara and allegedly drowned by the Masons in the Niagara River. An order went out by New York Governor De Witt Clinton calling for “the dismissal of every appointed Mason in office. ” An explosion of anti-masonry broke out. They were accused of being an “elitist group, made up of aristocrats wanting to control everything, the government, the courts, and business. ” Andrew Jackson was a high ranking Masonic official.
Adams hoped to capitalize on that fact announcing he never was part of the Masonic group, but the importance of his statement was downplayed with the announcement that Henry Clay was a Mason. Jackson believed the executive branch of the government should dominate. He intended to lecture congress on what their duties should be. He also believed in the idea of the “spoils system” in which he believed that the President should be allowed to appoint anyone he desires to his cabinet positions. If someone had the power to be elected by the nation, it should be a “to the victor, goes the spoils” notion.
He was attacked for this saying that he wished to take over the United States and create a dictatorship in which he would have all the power. This was ironic as Jackson had been charging Adams with attempting to establish a monarchy in the United States. The election of 1828 also contained several campaign firsts. Jackson split from the Democratic Republican Party and formed his own Democrat Party. (It was known as the Jackson Party until 1832. ) A new set of political parties emerged as Adams led the Republicans against the flamboyant character of General Jackson and his Democratic followers.
As there was a split in parties, the creation of partisan papers emerged. Printed ballots and compiled voter lists were used in this election to the advantage of both candidates. A newspaper of the time charged Jackson with the ABC’s; adultery, bully, and cuckold (his wife was a bigamist). Jackson’s campaign was highly organized. Calhoun did a great deal of work “bringing over” a number of people to the Democratic ticket. The House during the election of 1824 appointed Calhoun Vice President under Adams. He denounced the idea of Adams, and would go on to run (and serve) for election with Andrew Jackson in the 1828 campaign.
He is the only person to have ever served as Vice President under two different men. ) William Long, a chairman under Andrew Jackson, announced, “Because his election to the presidency would be a proud triumph of patriotism over self ambition; of incorruptible integrity over a vicious political bargaining; and a glorious deliverance of our country from a meditatime perversion of its official authorities to the perpetuation of power in a designated succession. ” For this reason, Andrew Jackson will be elected. The first campaign biography ever created was written about the 1828 election, focusing mainly on Jackson’s experience in it.
It can be said that the main reason Jackson was able to win in 1828 was the amount of campaigning his party was able to do compared to the Adams administration. There was a non stop barrage between the candidates on a personal level. Issues facing the nation at the time meant little to nothing as the campaign was all about attacking the reputation of the other candidate. Jackson’s flamboyant character helped to lift him to victory, as he was able to do more damage to Adams’ name throughout the campaign. Historians have interpreted Jackson’s election in 1828 as the beginning of the “rise of the common man” in American history