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Current time:0:00Total duration:6:21

Jacksonian Democracy - the "corrupt bargain" and the election of 1824

APUSH: KC‑4.1.I.C (KC), PCE (Theme), Unit 4: Learning Objective H

Video transcript

- [Instructor] So we've been talking about the emergence of Jacksonian democracy in the first half of the 19th century in the United States and we've been talking about how in this time period, the vote was slowly extended to all white male citizens so that by the end of this period there were no more property requirements in the United States and any white male citizen could vote. Now those property requirements had allowed free people of color and women to vote in some states and when voting became associated with white male citizens, those little loopholes ended up getting closed, but this expansion of voting rights to all white male citizens really represents a shift in how the average American thought about who deserved to have a voice in the political process of the United States. They stopped placing so much value on this sort of aristocratic republican citizenship of the early days of the United States where someone like George Washington would never run for office. He would stand for office. You wouldn't promote yourself, that would be vulgar. Instead, you would have men of well-known character promote you. But by the 1820s, very few Americans believed in the idea that there could be such a thing as too much democracy that you would have to avoid the mob rule. Instead, they wanted the mob rule. They wanted a great expansion of democracy and that was to them the real character of the United States. Now I should also mention that this expansion of democracy was part of a larger international expansion of democracy. Similar laws that eliminated property restrictions on voting were also being passed in England and France at this time period. So there's kind of an international wave to broaden the franchise, but the extension of voting in Europe is nothing like the extension of voting in the United States. There are nearly twice as many eligible voters in the United States in the 1830s as there are in Britain with a population that's half the size. So while European nations are taking small steps toward expanding the franchise, the United States is taking huge steps in this time period. So the first election where we start to see the influence of this new wave of voters is in the election of 1824 and let me give us a little bit more space to talk about this. So the election of 1824 was a contest between John Quincy Adams, son of American founder John Adams, Andrew Jackson, famous war hero from the War of 1812, the victor of the Battle of New Orleans, and Henry Clay, who will become known as the great compromiser for having pretty much spent his entire political career either running for president or putting together some kind of compromise. Now, John Quincy Adams I think kind of epitomized the older school of American democracy. He was reticent to campaign on his own behalf. He was very interested in academics and internal improvements. He didn't really see himself as being part of a particular political party. In fact, all three of these men were actually running as republicans 'cause in the era of good feelings there's only the Republican Party. So you can see how confusing this might as been as a voter to have three different candidates from the same party and they're supposed to be different than each other. So in this election, Andrew Jackson wins the popular vote and John Quincy Adams wins the electoral vote and Henry Clay wins neither. Now in a situation like this, who got to be president was decided by the House of Representatives. Well guess who was speaker of the house. Henry Clay. So he's out of the running himself, but he is in a position to make quite an impact on who wins the presidency. Well John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay didn't have a whole lot of common, but they sure both hated Andrew Jackson. So Clay and Adams meet and Henry Clay says, "Yeah John Q., "I'll see if I can get the House to vote for you," and that's what happens. So the House elects John Quincy Adams president and then just a couple days later, John Quincy Adams says that Henry Clay will get to be his Secretary of State, which was quite a plum of a political position and Andrew Jackson and his supporters go ballistic. They say that this was a corrupt bargain behind closed doors in which John Quincy Adams bribed Henry Clay to give him the presidency in exchange for this political position. Now, there's no evidence that this actual corrupt bargain really happened, but even if it did, it was totally in line with the earlier playbook of American democracy, a you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours kind of situation where the better sort of men, the higher men of character made a deal between themselves of who would lead this nation and the outrage over this possible collusion between Adams and Clay really signaled that the old days of a couple of people making decisions about American politics were over, that this kind of deal between statesmen was now seen as undemocratic or crooked or something that was done behind closed doors and that was against the American character and Andrew Jackson is really going to ride his wave of popular discontent over someone winning the popular vote, but losing the electoral vote due to in his mind a corrupt bargain right into the presidency in the election of 1828 and we'll get to that in the next video.