Andrew Jackson

Some have said that the 2016 election for president of the U.S. has been one for the gutter, filled with mud-slinging and name calling. Recent elections, however, have nothing on the early elections of this country. The two presidential elections between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were particularly nasty. Let's take a look at what has been called one of the "dirtiest elections in U.S. history."

Name calling in elections is nothing new. Name calling began in the very first contested presidential election in 1796. Thomas Jefferson supporters were "cut-throats who walked in rags and slept among vermin," while the other candidate, John Adams (the father of John Quincy), was referred to as "His Rotundity."

The Beginning of a Rivalry

Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams first butted heads in the presidential election of 1824. In that election, Jackson won more electoral votes than any candidate, took 43% of the popular vote, and carried the most states. Because the votes were split between eight candidates that year (Jackson was first, Adams was second), Jackson did not garner enough to win outright. and the election was decided by the House of Representatives. One of the other presidential candidates, Henry Clay, was also the Speaker of the House. He detested Jackson and threw his support to Adams. In return, Clay was to be named Secretary of State under Adams. Jackson supporters were furious and called the arrangement the "Corrupt Bargain." It was enough to get Adams selected as president, though. Jackson supporters immediately began campaigning for the 1828 election, opposing Adams in Congress at every opportunity.

Andrew Jackson was a military hero for his victory over the British in the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans (even though the War of 1812 had officially ended the month before the battle).

The Election of 1828

After his loss in 1824, Jackson began looking for ways to consolidate his power. He needed someone from the northern region of the U.S. to garner support in areas other than the south and west, which he carried in 1824. Martin Van Buren was a shrewd and influential senator from New York who was strongly opposed to Adams. He helped form a strong alliance between Jeffersonian Democrats and Andrew Jackson supporters.

With his political power expanded, Andrew Jackson was ready to run against Adams in 1828. His past, however, made him an easy target to attack and slander. Jackson had a violent temper, and he was strong-willed:

  • In 1806, Jackson shot and killed a man in a duel.
  • During the War of 1812, he ordered the execution of six men accused of desertion.
  • During the First Seminole War (1816-1819), Jackson was sent to end Seminole raids from Florida into Georgia. Jackson disobeyed orders, however, and seized Spanish settlements in Florida, going so far as to remove the Spanish governor from power.

Adams' campaign took advantage of his temper by printing posters of Jackson that featured coffins—implying that Jackson was a murderer. Even though Jackson's actions in Florida resulted in a treaty that gave Florida to the U.S., the supporters of Adams said his disobedience and declaration of martial law showed how unreliable, temperamental, and harsh he was in action. Another pamphlet accused Jackson of cannibalism, saying he ate Indians he supposedly massacred.

The biggest accusations, however, were aimed at the relationship of Jackson and his wife Rachel. Rachel had been married and divorced before marrying Jackson. Adams' campaign spread the story, without mentioning all the facts, that Rachel's divorce hadn't gone through prior to the marriage to Jackson, and that Rachel was an adulteress and a bigamist—serious charges in that era. One paper that supported Adams even "reported" that Jackson had a fight with Rachel's husband, drove him off, and stole his wife.

Jackson's followers did their share of mud-slinging. Before becoming president, Adams had been an ambassador to Russia. Jackson's campaign accused Adams of providing American women to the czar of Russia for sex, calling him a "pimp." He was labeled pompous, arrogant, and corrupt. They accused him of being a gambler and of using government money to buy a pool table for the White House (he did put a billiard table in the White House, but used his own money).

Adams removed himself from all campaigning, believing it beneath a president. Jackson, on the other hand, got even more involved once dirt began to fly. In his diary, Adams wrote that "in a popularity contest, no one could stand against the hero of New Orleans." He was right. When it was over, backed by the support of the common people and the political acumen of Van Buren, Jackson had overwhelmingly defeated Adams for the presidency.

John C. Calhoun was the vice-president during John Quincy Adams' first term. Adams selected Treasury Secretary Richard Rush as his running mate for his attempt at re-election. Calhoun became the 1828 vice-presidential candidate for Andrew Jackson.

The Aftermath

Adams went on to a successful career in Congress, and became a leading voice for the anti-slavery movement, successfully defending the Africans in the Amistad case before the Supreme Court. Though Jackson had success politically, the 1828 election had a devastating personal cost. Shortly after Jackson won, his wife, Rachel, became ill and died. Jackson blamed Adams and his followers for her death. He is reported to have said, "May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can." At the inauguration, Jackson refused to pay Adams the customary visit given to an outgoing president, and in return, Adams refused to attend the inauguration. The men remained bitter enemies until their deaths.

Martin Van Buren, the 8th president, was considered the first professional politician. The term "OK" for alright came from his supporters who wore buttons with the letters O.K. because Van Buren was from "Old" Kinderhook.