Our government, sir, is founded upon the intelligence of the people.
Andrew Jackson was not a typical presidential candidate - he had a limited education, spoke no foreign languages, had never been abroad. He had little legislative or executive experience. He was, in the view of Thomas Jefferson, the most unfit man imaginable for the office of the presidency. Yet he was a national hero, loved and respected by many average Americans.
As President James Monroe's term came to an end, Andrew Jackson believed he was the person most suited to succeed him. But three members of the president's Cabinet: John Quincy AdamsSon of John Adams and 6th President of the United States., William H. Crawford, and John C. CalhounA U.S. Senator and strong proponent of states' rights and nullification. , as well as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Henry ClayA harsh political rival of Andrew Jackson and member of the Whig Party., also planned to follow Monroe as president. Though comparatively Jackson had few qualifications as a statesman, the Tennessee legislature in 1822 nominated the popular general for the presidency anyway.
There was no organized national presidential campaign in 1824, and the candidates did not actively seek votes or make promises. However, Jackson's powerful political friends in Nashville and elsewhere organized meetings of his supporters and published "The Letters of Wyoming," a political document touting Jackson's ability to restore virtue to government.
"In the selection of the Chief Magistrate of this Union, it is not necessary that we should look exclusively to mental qualification ... It is strength of character; a perseverance and steadiness of purpose ... that makes the distinguished man."
—John Eaton from The Letters of Wyoming
The election proved Jackson was the only candidate with a truly national popular following - he led the field with 43 percent of the popular vote and 99 electoral votes - but still fell short of a majority.
Since no candidate had a majority in the Electoral CollegeA select group of people who cast votes in presidential elections. , under the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution the choice between the top three candidates now fell to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation cast one vote. In part because Henry Clay announced his support for Adams, Adams drew the votes of thirteen states, a majority, on the first ballot. Adams then named Clay as Secretary of State, leading Jackson to swear that a "corrupt bargain" had swindled him out of the office.
Jackson and his supporters immediately began preparing for a rematch.
"I weep for the Liberty of my country ... the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office."
—Andrew Jackson after losing the vote in the House of Representatives
Jackson's 1828 campaign was the first presidential campaign to appeal directly to voters through a professional political organization. After Jackson allied with John C. Calhoun to form an anti-Adams coalition, skilled political organizers like Martin Van BurenA trusted colleague to Jackson and 8th President of the United States., and others created a network of campaign committees to organize rallies, parades, and barbecues, and erect hickory poles, Jackson's symbol.
Jackson's followers fended off questions regarding his qualifications and experience by touting his battlefield exploits, indomitable patriotism, and opposition to aristocracy and corruption.
Mud was slung on both sides, much of it aimed at Jackson's wife Rachel, his violent escapades, and the incidents of ferocious discipline and disrespect for civilian authority that dotted his military career.
"[W]ho has been so cruelly tried as I have ... the enemies of the General have dipped their arrows in wormwood and gall and sped them at me. Almighty God, was there ever anything to equal it ... to think that thirty years had passed..."
—Rachel Jackson to a friend
For the first time in American history, a presidential election was the focus of public attention, and voter participation increased dramatically. In the end, Jackson won easily but his victory was touched with grief. As if responding to the torrent of abuse, Rachel Jackson died on December 22, 1828.