A question that academics and scholars often ask is: just how did Andrew Jackson win the election of 1828?
Andrew Jackson was anything but your ordinary politician. Raised on the western frontier and military hero of the important 1815 Battle of New Orleans, Jackson was quick-tempered, unyielding, and physically imposing.
Jackson’s ultimate victory over John Quincy Adams would prove to be a crucial moment in American history, ushering in the so-called “Jacksonian Era” or “Era of the Common Man.”
How Did Andrew Jackson Win the Election of 1828?
Andrew Jackson won the critical election of 1828 through a combination of an expansion of the voting electorate, fewer presidential candidates, superior campaign organization, and discontent over Adams’ presidency.
Many of these reasons were outside of Jackson’s direct control, though his party’s superior organization and willingness to adapt to changing political campaign norms proved to be the difference.
Expansion of Electorate
Jackson’s victory in the election of 1828 is often attributed with the democratization of politics, passing some political power from the aristocracy to the common man.
From this belief came the term “Jacksonian Democracy” to signify how during Jackson’s presidency the rights of the common man expanded.
However, this view is misleading. In the four or five decades preceding Jackson’s victory more and more states dropped property requirements for adult white males to vote.
By 1792, seven of fifteen states had completely given up property requirements altogether for white males to vote.1
Furthermore, the popular vote was already fairly widespread at the state level by the 1780s. In fact, historians estimate that in the 1790s between 60-90% of white adult males could vote in lower house elections across the states.1
Utilization of the popular vote to decide presidential electors for the Electoral College came much more slowly. In the election of 1800 just three states allowed a popular vote to determine its electors.
By 1824 that number had grown to twelve, or 50% of states, and by 1828 eighteen of twenty-four states held their electoral college vote by a popular general election.1
Other states still utilized state legislatures to appoint their electors, or a statewide popular vote at the district level.
It can be stated that Andrew Jackson was first president to win a popular majority in a competitive election where the popular vote directly determined the final outcome in the Electoral College.1
It is notable to mention that the expansion of the electorate solely occurred for adult, white males. In most cases, free black men and all women saw their voting rights disappear as they became increasingly disenfranchised.
Fewer Presidential Candidates
The election of 1828 also featured notably fewer candidates running for the presidency than the prior election of 1824.
In 1824 John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay all ran for president under the Democratic-Republican party.
With four separate candidates the popular vote and electoral vote were split four ways. Andrew Jackson won a majority of the popular vote and electoral vote, though he fell short of the 50% electoral vote threshold.
Under the Twelfth Amendment the House of Representatives held a contingent election to decide the winner.
John Quincy Adams was eventually chosen as president, though not after Jackson’s supporters accused Adams and Speaker of the House Henry Clay of striking a “corrupt bargain.”
The four-way split of electoral votes helped Adams win in 1824 when he almost surely would not have become president without it.
Adams had no such advantage in 1828, this time going head-to-head against Jackson.
The result was that Jackson virtually captured all the votes that Clay and Crawford won in 1824, giving him a landslide victory. Jackson won 178 electoral votes to Adams’ 83.
Interestingly, Adams won a similar number of electoral votes in 1828 (83) vs 1824 (84), though the head-to-head contest doomed him.
Superior Campaign Organization
One of the primary reasons that Andrew Jackson won the election of 1828 was due to superior party organization.
Jackson’s Democratic party organized from the ground up and maintained close correspondence from the local to national level.
Democratic politicians and supporters embraced new methods of reaching out to voters to ensure wide popular support. Modern campaign methods such as barbecues, parades, and rallies among other events were utilized to persuade voters to favor Jackson.
Jackson’s supporters were incentivized to campaign hard with promises of federal employment should he win. This system became known as the “spoils system” where incoming administrations would fulfill campaign promises to supporters.
The Democratic party did a masterful job by campaigning on Jackson’s personality rather than any specific issues.2
Adams was by far the superior statesman, but Jackson portrayed himself as for the “common man” and railed against corruption and the aristocracy. His background as a frontier planter and his military career helped solidify this view among the populace.
The Democratic party also organized to give Jackson support in the media. The United States Telegraph was founded in 1826 and Duff Green was hired as editor and publisher with the goal of defending and promoting Jackson in the 1828 election.3
Green and the Telegraph played a significant role in helping Jackson win the presidency.
Discontent over the Adams Presidency
The fact that the Adams presidency and administration were fairly unpopular with the American public aided Jackson’s candidacy.
Adams never enjoyed broad popular support as evidenced by his losing the popular and electoral vote in 1824. The label of him and his administration as “corrupt” would hound him throughout his presidency.
Adams was a notable supporter of Henry Clay’s American System which promoted protectionist tariffs, a National Bank, and funding internal improvements like infrastructure.
His tariff policy made him popular in the north where a majority of the manufacturing sector was located, but incredibly unpopular in the south.
Protectionist tariffs like the 1828 Tariff of Abominations were despised in the south due to their negative impacts on the cotton trade. The 1828 tariff nearly split the Union as it directly led to the 1832 Nullification Crisis.
Adams simply failed to resonate with the American populace. His policies, vision, and cabinet choices did nothing to persuade the public that his interests didn’t primarily benefit wealthy aristocrats.
Andrew Jackson won the election of 1828 through a combination of factors:
- Expansion of the Electorate
- Fewer Presidential Candidates
- Superior Campaign Organization
- Discontent over the Adams Presidency
The significance of the election of 1828 would ultimately lie in the transformative aspect that Jackson’s presidency would have on American society.
Jackson’s election was a primary cause of the Indian Removal Act that eventually led to the forced removal of Native Americans to the west of the Mississippi.
White settlers moved onto their vacated land, helping to expand the institution of slavery.
Jackson’s election was also a deathblow to proponents of the National Bank. Jackson eventually destroyed the National Bank in the 1832 Bank War, though its absence was a major cause of the Panic of 1837.
While the Democratic party did not maintain its grip on the American populace, its superior campaign methods undoubtedly helped propel Andrew Jackson to win the election of 1828.
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) RATCLIFFE, DONALD. “The Right to Vote and the Rise of Democracy, 1787—1828.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 33, no. 2, 2013, pp. 219–54. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24768843.
2) Eriksson, Erik McKinley. “OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER ORGANS AND THE CAMPAIGN OF 1828.” Tennessee Historical Magazine, vol. 8, no. 4, 1925, pp. 231–47. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42637502.
3) Ewing, Gretchen Garst. “Duff Green, John C. Calhoun, and the Election of 1828.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 79, no. 2, 1978, pp. 126–37. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27567491.