The most visible candidate was House Speaker Henry Clay. A leading War Hawk during the War of 1812, Clay had a power base in Kentucky, was a gifted public speaker, and had support for his so-called American System of protective tariffs and federally sponsored internal improvements. His high-profile advocacy of these issues made him a familiar name in much of the country. Although he was well known, his clear identification with the war and nationalism weakened his roots in the South, which was beginning to fear supporting anyone for President who was not a slave owner or a supporter of states' rights.
Then there was General Andrew Jackson from Tennessee, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson's reputation as an Indian fighter and western expansionist, owing to his military escapades in Spanish Florida (see Jackson biography, Life Before the Presidency section), gave him national standing above all other candidates. It also helped that Jackson could enter the race as an outsider, a defender of the Republic who had risked his life in service of his nation. In fact, his supporters talked about him as another George Washington. Few experienced politicians, however, expected Jackson to win if any of the opposing candidates could broker a cross-regional coalition that would unite either the West or the South with New England or the mid-Atlantic States.
Such a coalition was no easy task to achieve. After all, the 1824 election occurred in a day and age when a new political electorate composed of regionally focused voters had only recently been empowered with the franchise. Since 1820, the old political caucus method by which the congressional leaders nominated presidential candidates had fallen into disrepute. This was principally because the old caucus system failed to connect with the wishes of the new voters, the tens of thousands of males who had been enfranchised by the removal of property ownership as a criterion for white male suffrage. This new climate looked to regional endorsements of candidates by state conventions or state assemblies, which meant that regional popularity, rather than congressional intrigue, would drive the nomination process.
Although Adams was a centrist politician of sorts-a Jeffersonian-Federalist, to coin a new term-many Americans still identified him as a New Englander and as the son of the old Federalist leader John Adams. Additionally, many staunch Democratic-Republicans blamed Adams and his supporters for having transformed the party of Jefferson into a disguised form of Federalism under the rubric of "National Republicans." Southerners, moreover, objected to Adams because of his moral opposition to slavery. They remembered his criticism of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 as a proslavery conspiracy, and they suspiciously recalled Adams's efforts to include language opposed to the international slave trade in the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.
Four Democratic-Republican Candidates
In the summer of 1824, an unofficial caucus of less than a third of the congressmen eligible to attend nominated Crawford for President. Supporters for Adams denounced the caucus bid, and the Massachusetts legislature nominated Adams as their favorite-son candidate. The Kentucky legislature did the same for Clay. Both nominations followed the pattern set by the Tennessee legislature, which had nominated Andrew Jackson in 1822. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina dropped out of the presidential race by announcing his bid for the vice presidency, a move that both Adams and Crawford endorsed. Because all four candidates were nominal Democratic-Republicans-the Federalist Party had disintegrated by this point-the election would be decided without reference to party affiliation.
As the campaign progressed, Jackson emerged as the man to beat. The size of his rallies in key swing states-Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, New York, and New Jersey-far surpassed or rivaled those for Clay and Adams. In this first election in American history in which the popular vote mattered-because eighteen states chose presidential electors by popular vote in 1824 (six states still left the choice up to their state legislatures) -Jackson's popularity foretold a new era in the making. When the final votes were tallied in those eighteen states, Jackson polled 152,901 popular votes to Adams's 114,023; Clay won 47,217, and Crawford won 46,979. The electoral college returns, however, gave Jackson only 99 votes, 32 fewer than he needed for a majority of the total votes cast. Adams won 84 electoral votes followed by 41 for Crawford and 37 for Clay.