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Going negative (1824-1828)

In 1824 President Monroe announced that he would maintain the tradition set by Washington of two terms and out. The presidential campaign thus opened with speculation of a ticket made up of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and General Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans: "John Quincy Adams,/Who can write,/And Andrew Jackson,/ Who can fight."

Adams, however, wanted a larger government, Jackson a smaller one, and soon Jackson's supporters began promoting him for the top spot. In the fall election Jackson gained more electoral votes than Adams or Henry Clay, but no one had a majority and the choice went to the House of Representatives. The eventual result was what Jackson's followers called a "corrupt bargain": Clay threw his support to Adams; Adams was elected; Adams made Clay his Secretary of State. The practice would not raise eyebrows now, but it did raise Jackson's anger then.

For four years Jackson fumed as John Quincy Adams pushed government growth. In December 1825, Adams asked Congress to set up a national system of highways and canals, a national university, a department of the interior, and so on. Adams tried to make his case by looking to Europe and contending that since countries there were making "gigantic strides ... in public improvements," American legislators should follow foreign examples and "not be palsied by the will of our constituents." Many advocates in recent decades have banged Americans over the head with "progressive" European examples, but in the 1820s this approach was novel and, to Jackson, disgusting. Imitate Europe, from which Americans had become independent?

The Adams-Jackson rematch in 1828 turned out to be one for the gutter. One newspaper backed by Henry Clay, the Cincinnati Gazette, charged that "General Jackson's mother was a COMMON PROSTITUTE, brought to this country by British soldiers!" Backers of Adams also attacked Jackson for overstepping his rightful authority in setting up Sabbath regulations in Pensacola, and for executing six deserters during wartime. Those charges did not seem to stick, and Jackson's followers turned the labeling of Jackson as a "killer" to his political advantage by responding. "Why don't you tell the whole truth? On the 8th of January, 1815, he murdered in the coldest kind of cold blood 1,500 British soldiers for merely trying to get into New Orleans?"

Jackson's supporters hit back at Adams for supposedly wearing silk underwear and, as ambassador to Russia, introducing young American women to lascivious nobles ("He pimped for the Czar.") Adams, they charged, had installed expensive furniture in the White House and used public funds to buy a billiard table and a chess set. Adams, they said, loved Europe, while Jackson was an all-American who would toss out big chunks of the growing government bureaucracy before it could get settled.

Andrew Jackson won big.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is Reforming Journalism. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.