Corrupt Bargain

The 1824 Presidential Election that Birthed American Politics

Andrew Jackson and the Election of 1824

Andrew Jackson was a larger-than-life figure in American politics, a senator, judge, business owner and war hero who rode a wave of populism into the White House in 1828, but this was not so in the 1824 run for the President.

In the 1824 presidential contest, Jackson did not publicly advocate for his own election, in keeping with the tradition of the day. However, Jackson did make it clear he was determined to cleanse government of corruption and return it to its earlier values.

The Presidential Election of 1824

There were only a few serious contenders, and all the candidates were from the Democratic-Republican party. The campaign quickly heated up between Henry Clay, William Crawford, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, becoming America’s first great mudslinging contest. In order to claim victory, a candidate needed to win the majority of the electoral votes. In 1824, there were a total of 261 votes available, which meant a candidate would need 131 to with the presidency. When the votes of the 24 states were finally tallied, to no one’s surprise, there was no majority winner.

  • Henry Clay

    Popular Votes: 47,217 Electoral Votes: 37
    Henry Clay (Kentucky), supported by the West, “The Great Compromiser.” Clay supported tariffs, spending on roads and canals to promote business, compromise between North and South.

  • William Crawford

    Popular Votes: 46,979 Electoral Votes: 41
    William Crawford (Georgia), supported by the South, and Madison and Monroe’s Secretary of Treasury. Crawford supported states’ rights.

  • John Quincy Adams

    Popular Votes: 114,023 Electoral Votes: 84
    John Quincy Adams (Massachusetts), supported by New England and Monroe’s Secretary of State. Son of John Adams. Like Clay, Adams supported tariffs, spending on roads and canals to promote business.

  • Andrew Jackson

    Popular Votes: 152,901 Electoral Votes: 99
    The outsider among the top candidates, Andrew Jackson (Tennessee), supported by the West, was a military hero. Jackson presented himself as the champion of the common man.

The Making of a “Corrupt Bargain”

Henry clay’s fourth-place finish shut him out of the presidency. He tried to use his post as Speaker of the House to play kingmaker. He called in favors and worked behind the scenes to influence the vote. Jackson was a fellow Westerner, but Clay suspected that he would be a rival in future presidential races. Clay disliked Adams, but the two met privately a month before the House election. Both men denied making any bargains. But rumors said that Adams had promised to make Clay Secretary of State.

The House of Representatives Decides

Following the procedures of the 12th Amendment, the House of Representatives now had to choose the President from the top three: Jackson, Adams and Crawford. At the time, Inauguration Day was in March, and the first months of 1825 became a frenzy of lobbying and back-room bargaining. Rumors spread that representatives were trading their votes for ambassador posts and cabinet jobs.

The House met to vote on February 9, 1825. After more than a month of arm twisting and bargaining, John Quincy Adams took exactly the 13 states he needed to win, Jackson won seven, and Crawford won four. The public galleries in the house broke into such an uproar of booing and hissing that Speaker Clay ordered them cleared.

Three days later, the new president nominated Henry Clay as his Secretary of State. Charges of making a “corrupt bargain” dogged Henry Clay for the rest of his life.

Jackson Accepts Defeat & Announces 1828 Presidential Run

Jackson graciously accepted his defeat until rumors swirled that Clay and Adams had struck a deal to ensure Adams’s election. When Adams named Henry Clay as his Secretary of State, it confirmed Jackson’s suspicions that the two men had reached a “corrupt bargain” and deprived the American people of their popular choice for president.

The Jackson supporters were furious. After all, he had won by far the largest share of popular votes. Jackson immediately declared that he would run in 1828. And he became the first major American politician to call for eliminating the Electoral College and electing the president directly by popular vote. Jackson got his revenge in 1828, when he defeated Adams to capture the presidency.


What were candidates accused of in the mudslinging campaigns of the 1824 presidential election?

Jackson was called a gambler, duelist, adulterer and military tyrant. Clay was called a drunkard and a gambler. Adams was ridiculed for his slovenly dress. Crawford was attacked for dishonesty and mismanaging the budget.

When did the people actually vote for the presidential candidates in the election of 1824?

Americans went to the polls in the fall of 1824.


Learn more about Andrew Jackson’s Presidency in 1828.