Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 2: The Election Is in the House: 1824: The Candidates and the Issues

A We The People Resource


The Lesson


William H. Crawford was one of four candidates for President in 1824.

William H. Crawford was one of four candidates for President in 1824.

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.

Guiding Questions

  • All of the major candidates for president in the 1824 election claimed allegiance to the same party, the Democratic-Republicans. What distinguished the candidates from each other?
  • What were the important issues in the campaign of 1824?

Learning Objectives

  • List some changes in presidential election laws and/or procedures since 1796.
  • Cite examples from presidential campaign materials from 1824.

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.

According to James F. Hopkins (Hopkins, James F., "Election of 1824," History of American Presidential Elections, Volume 1. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Ed. 5 vols. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1971, 349-350.):

… After the War of 1812… the Federalist party was no longer an effective force in national politics, and all who wanted to succeed James Monroe in March, 1825, claimed to be Republicans. The issues between the old parties had disappeared or had diminished in importance, while new issues had not yet proven divisive enough to bring about the formation, on a national scale, of clearly defined, opposing political groups.

Political competition now took place within the surviving national party. Factions clustered around individual leaders and tended to be sectional in nature although they were based to some extent on national questions like slavery, tariff, internal improvements, banking, and public land policy. … Candidates might disagree with one another on specific issues, yet not one could claim that his stand on any matter of national importance was exclusively his. Each man represented what he thought to be the paramount interests of his own section of the country but if he expected to win a national election he had to cultivate support in areas outside his own.

In the absence of an opposition party the Republicans felt no need to publish a platform. Each candidate stood on his record, without presenting the voters with a statement on the questions of the day or outlining a program for the future. John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay did develop some programs but not even Clay's "American System," conceived to serve the interests of both his section and the nation as a whole, constituted a formal platform in the modern sense. Furthermore, the views of other contenders coincided with some aspects of Clay's and Calhoun's policies.

As they learn about the candidates, students can use the chart "Campaign of 1824: Candidates and Issues," (Page 4 of the Master PDF), or the Interactive version for recording candidate positions on slavery, tariff, internal improvements ("American System" for Henry Clay), banking, and public land policy. Help students as needed in understanding these issues. Two additional columns on the chart allow for collection of information on each candidate's political or other leadership experience and personal data relevant to the campaign.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. How Candidates Were Nominated in 1824

In 1824 there were still no national party conventions as we know them today; they began in 1832. Candidates were generally nominated by state legislatures, party leaders, or by gatherings of party members in Congress, known as a "caucus." Share with the class the sections "The Congressional Nominating Caucus" and "Decline of the Nominating Caucus" from the article Caucus on Grolier's The American Presidency, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library. William Crawford was the candidate nominated by the Democratic-Republican caucus in 1824. His nomination by caucus was a campaign issue, as was his health.

If desired, students can view and/or read the 1824 Anti-Caucus/Caucus Broadside, on the EDSITEment resource American Memory, in which appear, side-by-side, one declaration—signed by 22 legislators—claiming a majority of Republican congressmen were anti-caucus, and another announcing the time and place for the caucus. Editorial comments from the Washington Republican "congratulate the people of the United States on the different aspects presented by the two statements."

Activity 2. Who Were the Candidates?

Briefly introduce the five candidates for president in 1824. Share with students the following brief biographies from Grolier's The American Presidency, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library. If desired, students can use the chart "Campaign of 1824: Candidates and Issues" to compile information concentrating on the candidates' stands on the issues. Because of the de-emphasis on issues in the campaign, students should expect that some sections of the chart will remain blank. However, within this lesson's secondary material (the biographies) and primary sources, all of these issues are mentioned.

The following biography of William Crawford is from The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, a link from Internet Public Library.

Crawford, William Harris
1772–1834, American statesman, b. Amherst Co., Va. (his birthplace is now in Nelson Co.). He moved with his parents to South Carolina and later to Georgia. After studying law he practiced at Lexington, Va., and served (1803–07) in the state legislature. In the stormy state political battles of the time, he was the leader of the upcountry forces and allied with the followers of James Jackson and later George M. Troup, leaders of the tidewater region. In a duel Crawford killed a partisan of John Clark, head of the opposite faction, and in another duel was wounded by Clark. In the U.S. Senate (1807–13), Crawford staunchly advocated rechartering the Bank of the United States. From 1813 to 1815 he was minister to France. He was then appointed Secretary of War by President Madison, but in 1816 he was made Secretary of the Treasury, a post he held through both of Monroe's administrations. He had strong support for the presidency in 1816 but disavowed his candidacy. In the presidential election of 1824, Crawford, a leading candidate, finished third in the voting. Since no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes, the election went to the House of Representatives, and John Quincy Adams was finally chosen. Crawford later served as a judge in Georgia.

The Biographical Directory of Congress, offers these brief summaries concentrating on public service:

  • John Quincy Adams: Brief Biography
  • John C. Calhoun: Brief Biography
  • Henry Clay: Brief Biography
  • William Crawford: Brief Biography
  • Andrew Jackson: Brief Biography
Activity 3. Campaign Documents

Now divide the class into three to six small groups. Students will review archival campaign documents from the top three vote-getters. What were supporters saying in the candidate's favor? What criticisms were opponents offering? What was the tone of the discourse in each?

Before students begin working, spend some time discussing the strengths and shortcomings of using primary sources. The use of first-hand sources raises many questions. For example, how do we know that these documents offer a representative sample? Or, how confident can we be in generalizing and/or drawing conclusions from a few isolated documents? If desired, use the lesson Analysis of Primary Sources on The Library of Congress website, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Memory, as a guide to discussion. It covers the following:

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

When groups work with the documents, they can use the Written Document Analysis Worksheet on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Digital Classroom to help them.

Help students understand, as well, how documents against a candidate can reflect issues and positions even when they are unreliable.

If desired, students can use excerpted, annotated versions of the documents listed below, which are available on the handout "Excerpted and Annotated Campaign Documents" (see Preparing to Teach This Curriculum Unit for download instructions). To access the complete documents click on the links provided below. Unless otherwise specified, documents are from the EDSITEment resource American Memory. Some material from 1825 has been included to show how quickly the campaign for 1828 got underway, and because the key issues were similar.

As groups report their findings to the class, have students fill in the chart "Analysis of 1824 Presidential Campaign Materials" (see Page 4 of the Master PDF).


Students should be able to discuss the following:

  • What did the pro-campaign materials emphasize for each candidate?
  • What issues were discussed in the campaign materials?
  • What personal qualities of any candidate were discussed in the campaign materials?
  • In what ways do the campaign materials compare and contrast to campaign materials one might see today?

Have students read a modern account of the 1824 election, such as The Campaign and Election of 1824 on the EDSITEment-reviewed website The American President. What particulars in the account did the campaign materials support? Were there any additional issues that did not appear in the campaign material the class reviewed?

Following the discussion outlined in the assessment section, ask students to write a short essay discussing the respective advantages of primary and secondary sources in the study of history. To support their ideas, they should make specific references to the materials presented in this lesson.

Extending The Lesson

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

1-2 class periods

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 > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Reform
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • 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
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets
Student Resources