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John Quincy Adams: One-Term Wonder


Part 2: The White House and Beyond

The people of the United States in 1824 couldn't quite make up their minds who they wanted to be president. Andrew Jackson got the most popular votes, but he didn't get enough Electoral Votes to make him president.

The Electoral College, part of the Constitution, requires that a president have a certain percentage of the total votes cast. Jackson didn't have a high enough percentage. To get an Electoral College vote, each state totals up all its popular votes (like the ones adults you know cast on Election Day). The candidate who has the most popular votes in that state gets ALL of the Electoral votes for that state.

So, Andrew Jackson had the most votes, but he didn't have enough. The Constitution said he had to get 50 percent of the votes. The votes available at the time were 261. Jackson had 99. He needed 127. Adams had 84. Crawford had 41. Clay had 37.

The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution says that if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the Electoral votes, then the House of Representatives must elect the president. This is exactly what happened in 1824. The representatives of each state voted as a group. Each state got one vote. During the House deliberations, Henry Clay, himself a Representative from Kentucky, agreed to give his support to John Quincy Adams. This was enough for the rest of the Representatives, who voted to elect Adams president.

Taking office amid such unpopularity didn't deter Adams, who pushed ahead with a plan to develop thousands of miles of canals and roadways to connect the far-flung territories of the young country. (The Erie Canal, which linked the port of New York and the Great Lakes area, was completed during his presidency, as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first railroad to carry freight and passengers.) He was a champion of the Bank of the United States, and he believed strongly in a strong national government. He also campaigned for a national university and observatory and for federal protection of Native American lands. These views made him many enemies.

The popular will was too much for him in 1828, and Andrew Jackson was elected. Just two years later, Adams was re-elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for 18 more years. He spoke out on Native American rights, on the advancement of science, on freedom of speech, and on the evil of slavery.

In 1848, he died of a stroke on the House floor.

First page > John Quincy Adams > Page 1, 2

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