John Adams once wrote in a letter to Jonathan Jackson, “there is nothing I dread so much, as a division of the Republick into two great Parties, each arranged under its Leader, and concerting Measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble Apprehension is to be dreaded as the greatest political Evil, under our Constitution.” Adams feared The 1828 Presidential Campaign and victory of Andrew Jackson fundamentally changed the way that political campaigns in the United States are viewed, handled, and run.
Recent progress in voting rights for white males led to the shift in presidential campaigns having to instead focus on appealing to the masses. By using the corrupt election of 1824 as a springboard, Andrew Jackson won public support through his presidential campaign tactics of using coordinated media attacks and fake news on his opponents, building a cult of personality around himself, and generating mass appeal with a new generation of voters. With the idea of the people controlling the government and voting being key to the new country, voting rights was a key issue in the early 19th century.
Many early leaders, including John Adams, believed that only people that owned property should be allowed to give consent and “have a stake in society.” It was argued that those who did not own any property had no free will of their own and as a result could be manipulated and intimidated by those that did own property. However, state constitutional changes in Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York were beginning to lower or in some cases completely remove any property requirements. Most newer states being added to the union also had little to no requirements. Along with these voting rights came the change that allowed voters to vote for the president instead of state legislatures electing them. As a result, voter turnout began increasing during presidential elections, when previously voters mainly only participated in electing people to state office. Across all states, the percentage of white males voting in the presidential election doubled between the elections of 1824 and 1828 from 26.5% to 56.3%, primarily due to the new ability for common men to participate in a presidential election. Because the voting power had shifted in favor of the general population, it was becoming an increasingly important part of political campaigns to focus on appealing to the common folk instead of a rich and elite upper class. Andrew Jackson first ran for president in the 1824 election again John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay. Early in the campaign, Jackson’s supporters feared that he would not be able to win the required votes that the final decision would instead be made by the House of Representatives. These fears were realized when Andrew Jackson came first in both the Electoral College with 99 votes and in the popular vote with 151,363 votes. Because of this the choice was deferred to the House of Representatives who had a significant of time to make their decision. Immediately, Jackson’s supporters began arguing that his high votes among both the electoral college and popular vote meant that he should win before the house. In retrospect, historian Donald Ratcliffe argues that Jackson did not in fact have popular support when taking into account votes from people in states where state legislatures instead chose the electors. He believes that only 28% of people voted for Jackson and his electors while 72% did not vote for him. Nevertheless, Jackson pressured the House with his claims of popular support and that claim would become a key part of his 1828 campaign. More important than his claims of popular support, however, was the controversy around the eventual decision of the House of Representatives to pick John Quincy Adams for the 1824 presidency. In early 1825 Henry Clay announced that he would be supporting Adams and the congressional delegations of Ohio and Kentucky did the same. Soon following this announcement, an anonymous letter appeared in the Columbian Observer newspaper that accused Clay of agreeing to help Adams win the House in exchange for appointing Clay as secretary of state. The letter also claimed that Clay had brought the deal to Jackson’s people, but they were “above bargaining for the presidency.” Following outrage and denial by Clay, eventually the Pennsylvania congressman George Kremer would admit to writing to the paper. In March of 1825, Kremer wrote a letter to Jackson saying that James Buchanan had told him that “the friends of John Quincy Adams were making overtures to the friends of Henry Clay that if they aided to elect Adams, Clay should be Secretary of State” In response, Jackson said that “the people have been cheated.” and that “this is the most open, daring corruption that has ever shown itself under our government, and if not checked by the people, will lead to open direct bribery” Despite Kremer’s claims, he was unable to produce any evidence of his claims in front of Congress and the investigation was dropped. While Jackson maintained an “admirable equanimity” over the the House vote and the Clay appointment initially, he and his supporters would soon use this corruption scandal as the basis of their political campaign despite the lack of any real evidence. As a result of the corruption scandal, Andrew Jackson and his supporters began a campaign of coordinated attacks in the media against John Quincy Adams. Using their newspapers, they attacked their enemies relentlessly by making up stories and spreading rumors. In any locations where Jackson lacked influence, old newspapers were bought out and new ones were founded entirely.After a generous subsidy, an article from Stephen Simpson’s Columbian Observer presented an imaginary conversation between Clay and Adams where the president chastised Clay’s immorality. Rumors spread that Adams would pass a law reminiscent of the Sedition Act of 1798 to control the newspapers, and that Jackonites would march on Washington to overthrow Adams. According to historian David Heidler, “there was nothing too trifling for Jackson’s operatives to leave unnoticed.” They criticized Adams for living a supposed lavish lifestyle and even accused him of purchasing a billiards table with taxpayer money. As with most of the rumors spread by Jackson, this continued to affect Adam’s personal and professional reputation even after proving to the House Committee that he bought it with his own money and a public correction being issued. Campaigners took notice of this, and while many major candidates lobbied, “focusing directly on the established legislative power brokers,” Jackson’s men instead seemed, “more ready than the others to employ mass meetings, spontaneous resolutions, and personal canvassing among the voters.”