On This Day

John Quincy Adams, John Q Adams
Library of Congress
John Quincy Adams

On This Day: House Elects John Quincy Adams President

February 09, 2012 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Feb. 9, 1825, the House of Representatives voted John Quincy Adams president of the United States. He had lost both the popular vote and the electoral college vote to Andrew Jackson.

The Election of 1824

The presidential election of 1824 featured four strong candidates: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford of Georgia, Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, and Tennessee Sen. Andrew Jackson.

All four were Democratic-Republicans, which had emerged as the country’s only political party following the disintegration of the Federalist Party. Crawford was the official party nominee, having been nominated by the congressional caucus, but supporters of the other candidates dismissed the caucus as undemocratic. The legislatures of Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee each nominated its home candidate for president.

The election results were largely divided along geographical lines and each candidate received at least 10 percent of the popular and electoral vote. Jackson, who won much of the South and mid-Atlantic, led the race with 41.35 percent of the popular vote and 37.9 percent of the electoral vote. Adams, carrying New England and New York, finished second with 30.92 percent of the popular vote and 32.2 percent of the electoral vote.

Though Jackson received nearly 40,000 more votes than Adams, he did not win the majority of electoral votes required to be elected president. Under the 12th Amendment, in situations where no candidate receives a majority the House of Representatives decides between the three leading vote getters. Each state is given one vote, determined by a vote between its representatives.

Clay had finished fourth and was therefore out of the race, but as house speaker he wielded great influence over the vote. He threw his support to Adams, who also received support from former Federalists because his father, second President John Adams, was one.

The house held its vote on Feb. 9, 1825, two months after the election. Adams won the seven states he had carried in the election, plus Clay’s three states (Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio) and three states that had been carried by Jackson (Louisiana, Maryland and Indiana) to give himself 13 of the 24 states. Jackson finished with seven states and Crawford four.

Outrage Over the “Corrupt Bargain”

Just days after he was elected president, Adams named Clay as his secretary of state. Jackson’s supporters accused Adams of making the appointment in exchange for Clay’s support, a deal they dubbed the “corrupt bargain.” Adams and Clay denied the allegation, and it is likely that they would have supported each other even without a deal.

“Adams and Clay were generally aligned in their more nationalistic views, as opposed to the states' rights stand of other candidates, and each regarded the other as an able and distinguished public servant,” explains the Adams National Historical Park. “Clay thought Adams infinitely more qualified to be president than Jackson, and Adams believed Clay would be an excellent secretary of state.”

Adams addressed the election controversy in his inaugural address. “Less possessed of your confidence in advance than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence,” he declared. “Intentions upright and pure, a heart devoted to the welfare of our country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties allotted to me to her service are all the pledges that I can give for the faithful performance of the arduous duties I am to undertake.”

Jackson used the outrage of the election to build support for a presidential run in 1828. In one of the dirtiest campaigns in U.S. history—best known for the Adams campaign smearing Jackson’s wife as an adulteress—Jackson avenged his 1824 defeat with a landslide victory.

Biography: John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, the son of the second U.S. President John Adams, led a life consumed by politics. Adams was elected to the Senate in 1802 and later became secretary of state under President Monroe.

During his time in the Monroe administration, Adams convinced Spain to cede the Floridas to America and Britain to jointly occupy the Oregon Territory with the United States. He also helped construct the Monroe Doctrine, which declared that the United States would no longer allow European powers to colonize the Americas.

As president, Adams sought to initiate programs for nationalization, including a more intricate federally funded system of roads and canals. However, due in part to political discord created by his election, he was unable to accomplish many of his goals.

“While today we may view President John Quincy Adams' plans for the United States as far-sighted, they were perhaps over ambitious and unrealistic for 1820’s America,” according to the Adams National Historical Park. “His proposals were greeted with scorn and derision, regarded as efforts to enlarge the power under his control and to create a national elite that would neglect the common people and destroy the vitality of state and local governments.”

After his defeat by Andrew Jackson, Adams was elected to the House of Representatives in 1830, where he remained a voice against slavery until his death in 1848.

Historical Context: Disputed Elections

The election of 1824 was one of a handful of events in American history when the presidential election process stalled. The 1800 election was also forced into the House when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes.

In 1888, Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland by winning in the electoral college, even though he lost the popular vote.

A similar situation occurred in 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the electoral vote but not in the popular vote. It was a highly controversial election that had to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

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