During this election season I am mindful of the toll that the electoral process takes in terms of stress on the lives of the candidates, and their families.  The newest chapter has yet to be written as this year’s election has yet to be concluded.

          Three elections that took place in the long past are illustrative of this idea.  They are also interesting because they took place in the early years of our republic, and they presented situations that have not so far been repeated in our history.  They are the presidential elections of 1800, 1824 and 1828.

          The election of 1800 had its roots in the development of the two-party system.  The Constitution, as it was then written, mandated that there could not be separate votes for President and Vice President.  Candidates were chosen by each party’s congressional caucus.  The two parties of that era were the Federalists – , and the Democratic-Republicans.  The former were the party in power.  They championed a strong central government, with a strong Executive, and an Aristocratic Senate.  These officials were to be chosen by as few people as possible.

          The Democratic-Republicans favored minimal government, States’ rights and having officials chosen by a broadly based electorate.

          Election Day in those years was not considered to be in November but on December 3rd, the day the electors in each State were sworn in and cast their States’ electoral vote-  The Union then consisted of 16 States.  The campaign had been a hard fought one.  Congress had passed the Alien and Sedition Acts which were not only unpopular, but the latter resulted in the jailing of newspaper editors who criticized the administration of President John Adams.

          The campaign was a tough one with both sides engaging in their share of mud slinging.  As you will discover, campaigns were not nice affairs back then either.  Adams was accused of being a monarchist, and Jefferson was accused of being Godless.

          Stress manifested itself in the Adams’ family in a very sad way, his son, Charles, who had battled depression and alcoholism died on Election Day, December 3, 1800.  Charles had been the Adams’ most troubled child.  He died bankrupt and had left his wife and children.  This came as a crushing blow to the President and Mrs. Adams.

          On the same day the electors of the several States met and voted.  Although the official count did not take place until February 11, 1801, the results were known long before.  Jefferson and his running mate, Burr, tied in the Electoral College, each had 73 votes.  President Adams and his running mate, C. C.  Pinckney, finished out of the money.  The election was thrown into the House.

          At this point Aaron Burr decided that he would no longer abide by the understanding that he was his party’s Vice-Presidential candidate.  Instead he was going for all the marbles.

          Alexander Hamilton who led a faction of his party called the High Federalists, decided he disliked Burr more than Jefferson and lobbied for the latter.  After 35 ballots, Jefferson finally was elected President.

          Although Burr was elected Vice President, his life was never the same.  President Jefferson never trusted him again and during his term, his differences with Hamilton escalated to the point where Burr wound up killing Hamilton in a duel.  Burr’s career in politics was finished.

          In 1824, the two earlier political parties had broken down.  The Federalists had disappeared and the Democratic – Republicans had split into factions.  One began to coalesce around Andrew Jackson and this became the modern Democratic Party.  However, the Democratic Party was only just starting to form at this time.  Consequently the election focused on personalities these being:  Andrew Jackson the hero of New Orleans, John Quincy Adams Secretary of State and son of a previous President, Henry Clay former Speaker of the House, and William H. Crawford Treasury Secretary in the Cabinet of then President James Monroe.  These men all fought it out for the Presidency.

          Adams and Clay favored a strong federal government which aided internal improvements.  Jackson favored limited government and States rights.  Except that he opposed secession and nullification, and as President would make that very point in no uncertain terms.  Crawford was an old time Jeffersonian Republican and was a rallying point for people who shared those ideas.

          The election’s popular vote count was won by Jackson who had a clear majority.  But in the electoral vote while Jackson had the most votes, he did not have a majority, and the election was thrown into the House of Representatives.

          By this point in our history, congress had passed the 12th Amendment to the Constitution.  This provided for separate votes by the Electoral College for President and Vice President, and that only the top three candidates in the Electoral College would be considered by the House.  This left out Clay; however, as a former Speaker, he had great influence in the House and would be a king maker.  He promptly began negotiating to see who would appoint him Secretary of State, at that time the traditional stepping stone to the Presidency.

          The Adams’ people bit and accepted Clay’s terms.  Accordingly Clay spoke to his supporters who voted for Adams who in turn was elected on the first ballot.

          Jackson and his followers charged a “corrupt bargain” had been made.  This destroyed Adams’ Presidency.  He was never popular with the people, and his programs had no support in Congress.  In addition, his son, George, a troubled young man, committed suicide.  Clay by accepting the post of Secretary of State killed forever his chances of becoming President.  Also the followers of Adams and Clay prior to Election Day, began to circulate false rumors about the legality of Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s marriage.  This would not get Rachel’s attention for four more years, but then it would have a devastating effect.

          The last campaign that I will mention is that of 1828.  No sooner was Adams elected President by the House, then the campaign of 1828 got started.  This time there were only two antagonists the incumbent president John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson.

          Over the four years from 1824 to 1828, Jackson continued to work hard to build his political organization.  When the next election came his way, he was ready.

          There was a great deal of mud slinging.  Adams was accused of being corrupt.  The same questions were raised again about the Jackson’s marriage.  They had been told Rachel’s first husband, Lewis Robards, had divorced Rachel.  The Jacksons were then married only to learn the divorce was not final.  As soon as it was, the Jacksons had to repeat the wedding ceremony.

          Shortly after the election, Rachel went shopping for clothing.  She tired and went to rest in a relative’s office.  There she found a pamphlet defending her against charges of bigamy and adultery.  For the first time she realized the nature of the gossip about her.  Rachel went into a decline after this, and died from two heart attacks a month later.

          So we have seen how stressful the election process can be on the candidates and their families.

          In conclusion, let me say that politicians can be secretive, too.  It was said of Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren “that he rowed to his object with muffled oars.”


Ferling, John

          Adams vs. Jefferson:  The Tumultuous Election of 1800

          New York and London:  Oxford University Press, 2004.


Larson, Edward J.

          A Magnificent Catastrophe

          New York:  Free Press, 2007.


Remini, Robert V.

          Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom

          New York:  Harper and Row, 1981


Remini, Robert V.

          Henry Clay Statesman for the Union

          New York:  W. W. Norton and Co., 1991.


Shepard, Jack

          The Adams Chronicles:  Four Generations of Greatness

          Boston:  Little Brown, 1975.