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Friday, December 2, 2016

Controversial elections are nothing new to American politics

From The Founders, Religion and Government:

Controversial elections are nothing new to American politics. We have had five presidents win the election without winning the popular vote: Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, and John Quincy Adams. You can count six if you add Abraham Lincoln who got more votes than any other candidate but still only had 39.8% of the people choose him. We have also had three elections decided by the House of Representatives. The president was chosen by the House in the elections of 1800 and 1877 as was the president in the Election of 1824.

America was almost half a century old in 1824. The last of the Founder presidents, James Monroe, was preparing to leave office bringing the Era of Good Feelings to an end. Many of the other Founders had already gone to their reward. The country was changing. And the first two political parties were either dead or dying.

The Election of 1824 marked the first time the Federalist Party did not field a candidate for the presidency. At the same time the Republican Party had five candidates in the running. In our early history it was not unusual for a party to offer more than one candidate for office, but the sheer number showed a lack of organization in the party. That lack led to a most controversial election and eventually to a new party.

To win office that year required 131 electoral votes, just over half the 261 total. In the election candidate Andrew Jackson won the most electoral votes, 91, but not enough to win the election. He also had the most popular votes – 153,544. The man who came in second was John Quincy Adams with 84 electoral votes and 108,740 popular votes. William H. Crawford had just 41 electoral votes even though he was considered the Republican Party's official candidate. In fourth place was Henry Clay with 37 votes.

According to the Constitution, if no candidate garners the necessary votes in the Electoral College, the election goes to the House of Representatives to be decided. One would think that body would chose the man with had received the most votes, and in 1824 Jackson had the most electoral and popular votes. But what he did not have was the presidency. The House gave that to John Quincy Adams.

According to the 12th Amendment the top three candidates are to be considered. The left Clay out. But Clay was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That gave him a lot of influence in the choice. He had campaigned hard against Jackson and was determined to keep him out of the White House. So Clay assembled an alliance in the House of those who had supported Adams and those who had supported himself. In return, Adams made Clay his Secretary of State, a position which had been the stepping stone to the presidency for Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. John Quincy Adams himself held that position.

But the deal was a bad one for both men. Those who supported Jackson named the agreement the Corrupt Bargain and before Adams had even assumed office held it as an example of elite insiders pursuing their own interests instead of representing the will of the people. Clay never won the presidency and Adams remarked that, “The four most miserable years of my life were my four years in the presidency.” Some bargain.

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