06 John Quincy Adams


  • Explain how the Electoral College works
  • Describe the “corrupt bargain” that made John Quincy Adams President
  • Evaluate the impact of the Electoral College

John Quincy Adams, son of founding father and former President John Adams, had perhaps the most miserable term in office of any President, despite his desire to redeem the family name after his father failed to win re-election.  The reason why his single term in the White House went so poorly is that he became President in the controversial Election of 1824.

In that campaign, there were many candidates seeking the presidency: Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, Secretary of Treasury William Crawford, popular war hero General Andrew Jackson and current Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.  Jackson won the popular vote—meaning he won the most votes from the people.  Jackson did not, however, win a majority in the Electoral Collage, who really pick the President.  According to the Constitution, if a candidate doesn’t win the majority of the Electoral College votes, the top three vote getters go to House of Representatives, who must choose the winner.  The top three were Crawford, Adams and Jackson.

Before the House voted, William Crawford died of a stroke and it became a two-man race between Adams and Jackson.  With the votes that were originally for Clay and Crawford up in the air, Clay persuaded the House to give the Presidency to Adams over Jackson.  For this, Clay was named Adams’ Secretary of State.  Jackson and his followers accused Adams of “stealing” the presidency in a “corrupt bargain.”  Jackson and his followers campaigned against Adams for the four years he was in office.  It was one of the reasons why Adam’s presidency was so miserable.

Adams was not able to accomplish any of the things he wanted to do for the country because of how he became president.  Congress did not work with him and the Jacksonian Democrats–as the supports of Andrew Jackson began to be called–tried to stop him from getting anything done.  To try and gain support, Adams kept on and even hired people who were his political enemies, all of whom contributed to undermining his presidency.

As a result, Andrew Jackson won the presidency in 1828–the dirtiest in history–by a landslide.  John Quincy Adams, like his father before him, did not leave office graciously.  Also like his father, the presidency remains the low point of his political career.  He later became a member of the House of Representatives for his home state of Massachusetts, the only former president to hold federal office after serving in the White House, where he became outspoken in the need for the abolition of slavery.

BEFORE: 5 – Monroe

AFTER: 7 – Jackson

United States History & Government


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