Campaign of 1828
Andrew Jackson's presidential election in 1828 proved a turning point in American History. Not only was it considered the dirtiest campaign ever witnessed, but it also marked the beginning of political involvement for ordinary Americans.
1824 Presidential Election — Bitter Roots
This campaign had its bitter roots in the 1824 Presidential Election between the same two candidates. John Quincy Adams was awarded the presidency, but Jackson felt the American people were denied their choice and immediately set out to win the presidency four years later.
Changes in the Voting Public
Many more Americans were involved in the election of 1828. They called the election a triumph of democracy over aristocracy, inaugurating the age of the common man. The campaign also resulted in the revival of a two-party system and the creation of a new national party—Jackson's Democratic Party.
Mudslinging & Dirty Campaigning
In addition, the campaign reached new heights in mudslinging and dirty campaigning. Never before had there been such an intense focus on the candidates' personalities and such little attention paid to the issues.
Victory & Sadness
1824 Presidential Election
The campaign of 1828 had its bitter roots in an election between the same two candidates four years earlier.
In the election of 1824, Jackson won the popular and electoral vote, but the three other candidates divided votes and caused no majority. This lack of majority threw the election into the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House and Representative from Kentucky, yielded a great deal of power and influence and decided to put his support behind Adams who was awarded the presidency. Three days later Clay was appointed Secretary of State, considered the post to hold before being elected president.
Henry Clay was also a candidate in the 1824 presidential bid and had ambitions to one day serve in that capacity. Jackson declared a corrupt bargain. One Washington newspaper wrote an editorial affirming a deal had been made but both Adams and Clay deny any truth in the accusation.
In 1828, more people were eligible to vote than had ever been the case.
Until the end of the 18th Century an American's right to vote had depended upon owning certain property and religious association. During the first three decades of the 19th Century most states largely removed these restrictions by passing constitutional amendments. In that election, more than three times as many people cast votes as in the 1824 election. It marked the beginning of modern politics, until then presidential elections had been decided solely by the Electoral College, and the electors had all been appointed. Beginning in 1828, members of the Electoral College were voted into their positions, therefore their votes more truly reflected the public's wishes.
Because of past grievances and a potentially very tight race, both Jackson and Adam's camps used unprecedented means to get the public's vote. To appeal to the common man, for the first time organizers used symbols and slogans such as Old Hickory and organized rallies, dinners, parades, and barbecues to get out the vote. Both sides were very carefully organized with committees from national to local fundraising to news coverage.
One of the greatest misconceptions of modern presidential politics is that campaigning gets dirtier every year.
The "attack ads" take offensive precedence above substance and the press exposes bare the private lives of our public figures. Many refer to the good ole days of the last century when noble politicians debated issues of substance. Yet dirty campaigns have been with us since our first presidential campaign—George Washington ran unopposed.
Mudslinging Reached New Heights
But even among a long history of dirty campaigning, the Campaign of 1828 stood out as the worst. Attacks on Jackson were unparalleled in American political history. His opponents accused him of murder, gambling, slave trading and treason. They called him a 'military chieftain,' and said his mother was a prostitute, his father a mulatto man, and his wife a bigamist. "Mrs. Jackson once found her husband in tears pointing to a paragraph reflecting on his mother and said, 'Myself I can defend; you I can defend; but now they have assailed even the memory of my mother."
Due to the awkward circumstances surrounding their marriage, unfortunately some elements of the story of Rachel and Andrew's marriage were true according to the law. Rachel and Andrew were living as husband and wife for two years before they found out that her first husband had actually never completed the divorce. She was still technically married to Lewis Robards. This made Rachel Jackson a bigamist and an adulteress and Andrew Jackson a man of questionable character. Robards did finally move forward and obtain a divorce in 1793. For the record, Andrew and Rachel married in Nashville in 1794. During the campaign Jackson's opponents retold the story accusing Jackson of dishonorable intentions and Rachel of unfaithfulness.
Meanwhile, Jackson supporters were by no means innocent. Adams was accused of installing gambling tables in the White House at the public expense, of padding his expense account, and even of pimping women for the Tsar of Russia.
In the end, Jackson won by an overwhelming victory.
His popular vote was 648,273 to 508,064 (for Adams). His electoral total was 178 to 83. Jackson had broken the hold of the northeastern elite on the Presidency thanks to largest voter turnout up to that time.
All six previous presidents had come from Virginia or Massachusetts, Jackson was the first to be born in the new frontier. He was also the first not to be born into the ranks of privilege and wealth. Andrew Jackson's win showed democracy at work. He was the only President since George Washington without a college education. Citizens believed anyone could become President - you could be an ordinary person and still aspire to the nation's highest office.
But in the moment of his greatest victory, he also suffered the most crushing blow of his life—the death of Rachel.
Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson, Volume Two, The Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998) Chapter 8, "Triumph and Tragedy."
James Parton, The Life of Andrew Jackson, Volume III (New York: Mason Brothers, 1861)
Alice Osinski, Encyclopedia of Presidents, Andrew Jackson (Chicago: Children's Press, 1987)
Herman J. Viola, World Leaders Past and Present, Jackson (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986)
Cass R. Sandak, The Jacksons, First Families (New York: Crestwood House, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992)