A History Lesson on Presidential Elections — This Day in 1824


I remember back in the 2016 election when there were many voters asking: ‘what happens if neither nominee reaches the magic 271 electoral votes?’ There’s actually precedent here! Since 1804, all but one presidential election has been conducted under the Twelfth amendment to the constitution. This election is also the only one where the candidate who won the most electoral votes did not win the presidency. Let’s take a look at this day in 1824:

Background: the four candidates and the historic election.

Tuesday, October 26, 1824: the electoral votes were split four ways — Andrew Jackson, a war hero and Tennessee Senator, received 99 electoral votes; John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams tallied 84 votes; Secretary of Treasury William H. Crawford received 41; and Speaker of the House Henry Clay tallied 37 votes. All men represented the Democratic-Republican party and all of them fell short of the magic 131 electoral votes to win. John Quincy Adams carried the New England states but still fell behind Jackson who won a majority of the west, Pennsylvania, and both Carolinas. After the votes were tallied, Jackson came out ahead in both the electoral college and the popular vote, but for the first time in our history, none of the candidates secured an outright majority of the electoral votes.

Almost 200 years ago today, the presidential election was decided by the House of Representatives.

The outcome of the election was now put into the hands of the House of Representatives. Jackson felt confident, having won the popular vote, but Speaker Clay, endorsed Adams for the presidency. On December 2, 1824, the House elected John Quincy Adams as the sixth President of the United States. It was widely believed that Speaker Clay convinced the House to elect Adams. Adams assumed office on February 9, 1825.

Jackson gets the last laugh.

After President Adams appointed Henry Clay to be his Secretary of State, many Jackson supporters denounced the election as a “corrupt bargain” and raged against the Adams administration. Jacksonians in congress painted the Adams administration as illegitimate and many historians widely attribute President Adams’ lack of accomplishment while in office to the hostility from Jackson supporters. After the election, Jackson resigned his senate seat but sought reelection for the presidency in the 1828 election. For four years, President Adams’ reputation had been smeared with accusations of corruption and in the 1928 election, Adams lost very badly to Andrew Jackson. Jackson gets the last laugh.

Although, it wasn’t all bad for Adams: he went on to serve in the House of Representatives from 1830 until his death, at age 80, in 1848.

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