AP American History
October 21, 1997
The year of 1828 was a tumultuous year in American politics. It so happened that it was a presidential election year. The election of 1828 was different from any other presidential election up to that point. The election not only set a precedent, but was also one of the bitterest in American history. Out of all the elections up to that point, it had all the makings of a present-day campaign. The two modern aspects evident in the campaign were horrific mudslinging and the choice of presidential electors by a popular vote.
The two men running for the office of president that year were the incumbent, John Adams, and the once-defeated Andrew Jackson. John Adams ran as a National Republican, later to be known as the Whigs. Adams had the support of the respectable Secretary of State, Henry Clay, but he did not have the support of his own Vice-President, John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was very powerful in the politics of that time period. He threw his support in favor Jackson because he could tell that Adams and the Republicans wanted Henry Clay to succeed Adams in the election of 1832. William H. Crawford, presidential hopeful in 1824, also gave his support to Jackson. However, the most important man to lend his backing to Jackson was Martin Van Buren, because he could tell that Jackson was going places. Jackson was running as a Democratic Republican. Because the Democrats are widely known to be the party of the common man, Jackson could use the theory of us against them. The Democrats also gained the support of the newly formed Workingman’s Party.
When Adams had beaten Jackson for president four years before, the Jacksonians protested that there was a corrupt bargain between Clay and Adams. This came about because once the vote went to the House of Representatives, Clay, a candidate, threw his support in favor of Adams. Once in office, Adams made Clay Secretary of State. Throughout Adams’ administration and the campaign, the Jacksonians made the phrase corrupt bargain a rallying cry for their supporters. Adams though made enemies of his allies by refusing to remove competent civil servants from their jobs in favor of his political friends. Adams’ views were already known so he had to run on those. Jackson however was for anything against Adams that made Adams look bad. Everything else he was safely shrewd in defining his position on the current issues of the time. He would just put himself in the middle if he didn’t have an opinion or he didn’t want to upset his supporters. So, in fact, he ran without a program. While he campaigned in the South, his friends in Washington, led by Van Buren, were winning the election for him. They concocted a tariff bill aimed at attracting electoral votes in both the Northeast and Northwest by hiking the protective rates on items favored in those areas. It was called the Tariff of Abominations, especially in the South. This raised dislike for the Adams Administration. That year was also the first year in which presidential electors were chosen by popular vote instead of congressional caucuses. This made the election even more democratic, which is what the Democrats, as they had come to be known, wanted. The Democrats, after all, were on raising the idea of democracy versus aristocracy.
This campaign was not only one of the most savage elections up to that time, it is one of the nastiest in our country’s history. Both candidates used the newspapers to do a significant part of their mudslinging. One newspaper editor that Jackson used was Amos Kendall of Kentucky. Kendall was the editor of the Argus of Western America. All of his editors though did an expert job of making his political head-hunting look like a crusade to clean Washington of corruption and privilege. One of Adams’ editors was Charles Hammond of Cincinnati. He was the editor of the Cincinnati Gazette. Hammond turned Jackson’s marriage into a contemptible type of propaganda. But the even more effective propaganda was the Coffin Handbill, which made Jackson out to be a murderer and a ruffian because he had executed six Tennessee militiamen for mutinying during the Indian wars. Adams and the Republicans tried to make Jackson look like a murderer, a slave trader, a gambler, a brawler, a cockfighter, a swearer, a thief, a traitor, and a adulterer. The claims of him being an adulterer hurt him the most because he was madly in love with his wife, Rachel. They even described her as being a strumpet and a whore. The Democrats countered with accusations of Adams pimping for the Czar of Russia while he was in Washington, recklessly spending money for a pool table, cues, and balls, being a monarchist, and being an aristocrat. The charge that one Democrats the election though, was that of the corrupt bargain.
The election of 1828 was not one of America’s kindest elections, but it was a pivotal one. No election up to that point had held nominations by a popular vote or had such dirty campaigning. No one can say for sure who, between Adams and Jackson, was more brutal in their attacks. Their campaigns should be looked upon as something to learn from, something not to emulate. But instead it started a long line of dirty campaign tactics and character slander. These facts are debatable, but one isn’t, it was one of the most important presidential elections ever.