The Corrupt Bargain of 1824
There were four candidates for President in the election of 1824, and all of them were from the same party – the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalist Party was all but dead, in the preceding election of 1820 James Monroe, a Democratic-Republican, had run for re-election unopposed. In 1824 there was no popular vote for president in six of the 24 states.
Andrew Jackson of Tennessee won the popular vote in the states where it was cast, over John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and William Crawford of Georgia. Jackson’s margin over the other candidates was substantial in the popular vote, but was a plurality rather than a majority of the total.
None of the candidates achieved the required majority in the Electoral College, and under the Twelfth Amendment only the top three candidates in terms of electoral votes were presented to the House of Representatives, who would decide the contest in a contingency election in 1825. Henry Clay, the presiding Speaker of the House, was left out. Clay, embittered by his loss, personally detested Jackson.
Jackson had won the popular vote and was the leading vote winner in the Electoral College, which naturally led him to believe that he would prevail in the House election. He underestimated the power of the position of Speaker. Clay used his influence and his ability to reward members of the House with a favorable legislative calendar to build support for Adams. Jackson lost the election in the House when Adams carried thirteen states. Jackson carried seven, Crawford four.
When the incoming President Adams named his cabinet, he selected Henry Clay to be his Secretary of State. Four consecutive presidents, including Adams, had served as Secretary of State prior to being elected, thus Clay’s appointment was seen as elevating him to the most favorable position to succeed Adams. Jackson, armed by the knowledge that no man had won more votes for the office than he, immediately labeled the election of John Quincy Adams as a “corrupt bargain.”