Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

The Presidential Election of 1824: The Election is in the House (3 Lessons)



The Unit


John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824

John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824 by garnering more electoral votes through the House of Representatives, even though Jackson originally received more popular and electoral votes.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

The presidential election of 1824 represents a watershed in American politics. The collapse of the Federalist Party and the illness of the "official candidate" of the Democratic-Republicans led to a slate of candidates who were all Democratic-Republicans. This led to the end of the Congressional Caucus system for nominating candidates, and eventually, the development of a new two-party system in the United States. In the election, Andrew Jackson won a plurality of both the popular and electoral vote. But John Quincy Adams became president. Four crucial elements of our election system were highlighted in the election of 1824: the nomination of candidates, the popular election of electors, the Electoral College, and the election of the president in the House when no candidate receives a majority in the Electoral College.

In this unit, students will read an account of the election from the Journal of the House of Representatives, analyze archival campaign materials, and use an interactive online activity to develop a better understanding of the election of 1824 and its significance.

Guiding Questions

  • Why was the election of 1824 decided in the House of Representatives?
  • Who were the candidates in 1824?
  • What were the important issues in the campaign of 1824?
  • How did John Quincy Adams win election in 1824?

Learning Objectives

  • Summarize relevant portions of the Constitution on presidential election procedures.
  • Explain why the election of 1824 was decided in the House of Representatives.
  • Cite examples from presidential campaign materials from 1824.
  • Explain how John Quincy Adams won election in 1824.
  • Take a stand, supported by evidence, on whether or not there was a "corrupt bargain" between Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • Each of the lessons below can be used as a stand-alone. Taught in order as a unit, the lessons are structured like a mystery in which the author reveals the solution-that is, the results of the 1824 election-at the beginning. The fun is coming to understand what led up to that conclusion. Lesson 3, "Was There a Corrupt Bargain?" offers a culminating activity that is enhanced by an understanding of the issues covered in Lessons 1 and 2.
  • If possible, choose student volunteers for the transcript reading for the first activity the day before teaching Lesson One, below, to allow time for them to review their parts.
  • In Lesson One, hypothetical examples of what could happen in a close election are offered as a check for understanding the numerical results of the 2000 election. Take care not to get embroiled in the politics of the 2000 election.
  • For a comprehensive introduction to the history of the presidential election process, consult Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer PDF on the website of the United States Senate, a link from the EDSITEment resource Congress Link. Students will read material from the introduction to the Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan: Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Digital Classroom, for background on the election of 1824, the history of presidential elections prior to 1824, and modern issues surrounding the electoral college.
  • In Lesson Three and Extending the Lesson, students will look at a variety of evidence to see if it indicates whether there was a "corrupt bargain" in John Quincy Adams's victory in the presidential election. Considering that there is no agreement among historians about the "corrupt bargain," all student conclusions should be accepted as long as reasonable evidence is offered to support ideas.
  • Extending the Lesson requires that students work on computers to use the Interactive Election Results activity, found on Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, available via a link from the EDSITEment resource Explore DC.
  • Some new trends in the electorate were apparent in the election of 1824. The franchise, or right to vote, was being extended to more white males as income-related eligibility requirements were being dropped by more states. The major change was the elimination of property requirements. Later, tax-paying requirements were also dropped. Direct election was replacing selection by state legislatures as the method for choosing electors, increasing the importance of the popular vote. Political campaigns felt more strongly than ever the need to appeal to the masses. The nation was expanding as western states joined the Union bringing their own issues and a desire for full participation. The Kentucky legislature in joint session unanimously nominated favorite son Henry Clay, looking to a time "when the people of the West may, with some confidence, appeal to the magnanimity of the whole Union, for a favorable consideration of their equal and just claim to a fair participation in the executive government of these states" (Hopkins, James F., "Election of 1824," History of American Presidential Elections, Volume 1. Ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. editor. 5 vols. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1971, 363.). With no more national heroes of the Revolution left to succeed Monroe, regional figures and regional issues were becoming even more important. In the presidential election of 1824, regionalism and regional issues predominated. Choosing the president in the House became a matter of political deal-making. One important result was the eventual development of a new two-party system. By 1828, the expanded electorate, with all its implications, became significant on a national level. Voter participation in almost every state rose dramatically. In the complementary EDSITEment lesson, "The 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics," students review the election of 1824, study the personalities and issues in the election of 1828, and analyze statistics reflecting voting participation rates from 1824 to 1836 and voting results in 1828 to gauge the impact of Andrew Jackson's election and the new trends in the electorate.
  • It may be necessary to clarify for students party names during the period covered in this lesson and the period just beyond. What follows is, in the interest of brevity, a somewhat simplified explanation. In 1824, all of the candidates claimed allegiance to the Democratic-Republican Party (often called Republican) which linked back directly to Jefferson and Madison. When Jackson became President in 1828, he ran as a Democrat. Members of the new second party that rose in opposition called themselves National Republicans at first. Later, the core of that opposition to Jackson took the name Whigs. So someone like Henry Clay, at one time or another, was a member of the Democratic-Republicans, National Republicans, and Whigs. In addition, The Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans are not the same as either our modern Democrats or Republicans, though our Democrats lay claim to the Jefferson legacy through their connection to Jackson's Democrats.
  • Many links to the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, used throughout this unit, lead to an index page that includes a digitized image of an original document. On that page will be found links to higher-quality image files and transcriptions of text.
  • Throughout this unit, students read and analyze a variety of primary documents. The following materials from EDSITEment resources may be useful to teachers seeking expert advice on the use of primary documents:

This succinct but valuable lesson offers three basic steps for analyzing primary sources:

  1. Time and Place Rule
  2. Bias Rule
  3. Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level


Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Culture
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Oral presentation skills
  • Using primary sources