The so-called Era of Good Feelings was never entirely tranquil, but the illusion of national consensus was shattered by the panic of 1819 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Vigorous political conflict, once feared, came to be celebrated as necessary for the health of democracy. The American political landscape of 1824 was similar, in its broad outlines, to that of 1796. By 1840 it would be almost unrecognizable. The nonexistent party organizations of the Era of Good Feelings yielded to the boisterous democracy, frenzied vitality, and strong political parties of the Jacksonian era. The old suspicion of political parties as illegitimate disrupters of society’s natural harmony gave way to an acceptance, even a celebration, of the sometimes wild contentiousness of political life. In 1828 a new party, the Democrats, captured the White House. By the 1830s the Democrats faced an equally vigorous opposition party, the Whigs. This two-party system institutionalized divisions that had vexed the Revolutionary generation and came to constitute an important part of the nation’s checks and balances on political power. New forms of politicking emerged in this era, as candidates used banners, badges, parades, barbecues, free drinks, and baby kissing to “get out the vote.” Only about one-quarter of eligible voters cast a ballot on the presidential election of 1824, but that proportion doubled in 1828, and in the election of 1840 it reached 78 percent.
I. The “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824
A. In the election of 1824, there were four towering candidates: Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, Henry Clay of Kentucky, William H. Crawford of Georgia, and John Q. Adams of Massachusetts. All four called themselves Republicans. Three were a “favorite son” of their respective region but Clay thought of himself as a national figure (he was Speaker of the House and author of the “American System”). B. In the results, Jackson got the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, but he failed to get the majority in the Electoral College. Adams came in second in both, while Crawford was fourth in the popular vote but third in the electoral votes. Clay was 4th in the electoral vote. C. By the 12th Amendment, the top three electoral vote getters would be voted upon in the House of Reps. and the majority (over 50%) would be elected president. D. Clay was eliminated, but he was the Speaker of the House, and since Crawford had recently suffered a paralytic stroke and Clay hated Jackson, he threw his support behind John Q. Adams, helping him become president. When Clay was appointed Secretary of the State, the traditional stepping-stone to the presidency, Jacksonians cried foul play and corruption. Jackson said he, the people’s choice, had been swindled out of the presidency by career politicians in Washington D.C. John Randolph publicly assailed the alliance between Adams and Clay. E. Evidence against any possible deal has never been found in this “Corrupt Bargain,” but both men flawed their reputations. II. A Yankee Misfit in the White House
A. John Quincy Adams was a man of puritanical honor, and he had achieved high office by commanding respect rather than by boasting great popularity. Like his father, however, he was able but somewhat wooden and lacked the “people’s touch” (which Jackson notably had). B. During his administration, he only removed 12 public servants from the federal payroll, thus refusing to kick out efficient officeholders in favor of his own, possibly less efficient, supporters. C. In his first annual message, Adams urged Congress on the construction of roads and canals, proposed a national university, and advocated support for an astronomical observatory. Public reaction was mixed: roads were good, but observatories weren’t important, and Southerners knew that if the government did anything, it would have to continue collecting tariffs. D. With land, Adams tried...