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The Election of 1824
Digital History ID 322

Author:   Henry Clay


In the following letter, Clay predicts that the presidential election of 1824 will be decided by the House of Representatives. In the election, Jackson received the greatest number of votes both at the polls and in the electoral college, followed by Adams, Crawford, and then Clay. But Jackson failed to win the constitutionally-required majority of the electoral votes.

As provided by the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, which was required to choose from among the top three vote-getters in the electoral college. There, Clay persuaded his supporters to vote for Adams, commenting acidly that he did not believe "that killing two thousand five hundred Englishmen at New Orleans" was a proper qualification for the presidency. Adams was elected on the first ballot.

A Philadelphia newspaper charged that Adams had made a secret deal to obtain Clay's support. Three days later, Adams's nomination of Clay as Secretary of State seemed to confirm the charge of a "corrupt bargain." Jackson was outraged, since he could legitimately argue that he was the popular favorite. The general exclaimed, "The Judas of the West [Clay] has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver."


I think it certain that the election will come into the H[ouse]. of R[epresentatives].

Pennsylvania having decided for Genl. Jackson, I think it most probable that Mr. Adams and the Genl. will be two of the three highest who will be carried into that house.

If I should obtain the vote of New York, I shall also be one of those three, and the highest of them.

If Mr. Crawford should obtain it, he will enter the House and I shall be left out of it unless I can counterbalance the vote of Genl. Jackson by a support derived from some eastern state.

In respect to the dispositions of New York, you are probably well informed in Philadelphia. Here the belief is that the real contest in that state is between Mr. Adams and me.

If I enter the H. of R. no matter with what associates my opinion is that I shall be elected.

If Mr. Adams, Mr. Crawford and Gen. Jackson should happen to be the three highest, I think Mr. Adams will be elected.

The states of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Louisiana, according to indisputable information received here, remain unshaken in their determination to support me. Virginia prefers me next to Crawford. South Carolina is balanced between Genl. Jackson and me. My opinions on the Tariff will probably occasion me the loss of that state. It is a little remarkable that, while those opinions subject me to certain & positive loss to the South, they bring me no corresponding gain in other quarters....

My present belief is that Mr. Adams, Genl Jackson and myself will be the three highest who will enter the H. of R. And the number of votes respectively which we may have will depend mainly upon the decision of N. York. If that decision should be against Mr. Crawford I think his friends will abandon him and make their secondary choice, which I have reason to think will, as to most of them, be for me.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Henry Clay to Dr. J.D. Godman

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