Popular Preferences in the Presidential Election of 1824
Abstract

Traditionally Andrew Jackson has been regarded as the people’s choice in the 1824 presidential election who was cheated by insider dealing in the House election. This article tests that view by a careful examination of the election data discovered by Philip Lampi and now available electronically. That evidence shows that the old conflict between Federalists and Democratic Republicans had not died away in local politics but continued to affect political preferences, even though the Federalist Party no longer offered opposition in the presidential election. With Lampi’s generous aid, the article explains (in full detail) the difficulties and uncertainties of reconstructing voter preferences as expressed in a complex and decentralized system that oscillated between casual informality and legalistic pedantry. But an admittedly speculative reconstruction of voter preferences in New York State, containing one-seventh of the populace, suggests that Adams held an overwhelming lead over Jackson there and was probably the most popular candidate nationwide. The Jacksonians, however, found it easy to brand the outcome as a corrupt bargain among political insiders, partly because of the circumstances of the 1824 election. In many ways that contest worked as the Founding Fathers had intended, as a decision taken by those who knew best, but since the 1790s the presidential election had been democratized by the informal processes created by two-party conflict. Now, with the withdrawal of Federalist opposition and a multiplicity of candidates, the election was all too likely to produce a result that appeared to lack the democratic legitimacy of preceding elections.


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