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.
Changes in voting qualifications and participation, the election of Andrew Jackson, and the formation of the Democratic Party—due largely to the organizational skills of Martin Van Buren—all contributed to making the election of 1828 and Jackson's presidency a watershed in the evolution of the American political system. The campaign of 1828 was a crucial event in a period that saw the development of a two-party system akin to our modern system, presidential electioneering bearing a closer resemblance to modern political campaigning, and the strengthening of the power of the executive branch.
In this lesson, students analyze changes in voter participation and regional power, and review archival campaign documents reflecting the dawn of politics as we know it during the critical years from 1824 to 1832.
How did changes in state constitutions tend to affect the voting population?
After completing this lesson, students will be able to
There was a general trend in the first half of the 19th century to extend the right to vote to more white males. Distribute the handout "Examples of Changes in the Franchise" on pages 1-2 of the PDF. Read with the class the first two sections. In what ways did the revised constitutions of Massachusetts and New York extend voting rights? (They removed the property requirement, though New York kept it for African Americans. Massachusetts, like many states, retained a tax requirement that would prevent the poorest citizens from voting.) According to the EDSITEment-reviewed website Women of the West Museum, in the period from 1792-1844, the constitutions of Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia excluded blacks from voting, but expanded white male suffrage.
(NOTE: Though it's not the focus of this lesson, students should be aware that some segments of the population were actively excluded from voting during this same period. Share the excerpt from the New Jersey constitution of 1776, included in the handout. Have students read it carefully. Who could vote? Any resident worth 50 pounds-including African Americans and women, who voted in some early elections. Now read the act of 1807. It took the vote away from everyone but white males worth 50 pounds. When the financial requirement was finally dropped in 1844, only white males continued to be specified. So at the same time the right to vote was being expanded for white males, it was narrowing for others.)
There were differences from state to state in the franchise changes. Some states that dropped property requirements continued a tax payment requirement, for example. Others, like Vermont and some of the frontier states (for example, Ohio and Indiana), never had property requirements for white males.
It should be noted, as well, that in the earliest elections, electors for president had been chosen by state legislatures. But by 1828, all but two states were choosing electors for president through a popular vote. Therefore, not only were more white males allowed to vote, but that vote also had a direct effect on the outcome of presidential elections.
(NOTE: Information about the Electoral College and the presidential election of 1824 is contained in the complementary EDSITEment unit The Election Is in the House: The Presidential Election of 1824. See the third bulleted item in the section Preparation Instructions).
Students should be able to respond effectively to the following questions:
Look at the following list of hypothetical people living in the U.S. in 1828. Identify whether each individual would probably have been enfranchised after 1800, disenfranchised since 1800, or enfranchised previous to 1800. Help the students think about the likely differences in the concerns of each that might affect voting, if s/he had the franchise:
Ask volunteers to create other "characters" to discuss in a similar way.
1 class periods