The One-Party Presidential Contest

Adams, Jackson, and 1824's Five-Horse Race

Donald Ratcliffe

Winner: American Politics Group Richard E Neustadt Prize

Winner: Sally and Morris Lasky Prize

“A truly splendid accomplishment. Drawing on a prodigious amount of primary-source research, it effectively corrects many misconceptions sewn into both popular understandings of the election and the regrettably meager body of professional literature on the subject.

—Journal of the Early Republic

“This fine book provides a detailed overview of the election of 1824, when the reigning Democratic-Republican coalition collapsed into a complex race for the presidency. Ratcliffe's analysis should force historians to rethink long-held assumptions about the rise of American democracy.

—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
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The election of 1824 is commonly viewed as a mildly interesting contest involving several colorful personalities—John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and William H. Crawford—that established Old Hickory as the people's choice and yet, through "bargain and corruption," deprived him of the presidency. In The One-Party Presidential Contest, Donald Ratcliffe reveals that Jackson was not the most popular candidate and the corrupt bargaining was a myth. The election saw the final disruption of both the dominant Democratic Republican Party and the dying Federalist Party, and the creation of new political formations that would slowly evolve into the Democratic and National Republicans (later Whig) Parties—thus bringing about arguably the greatest voter realignment in US history.

Bringing to bear over 35 years of research, Ratcliffe describes how loyal Democratic Republicans tried to control the election but failed, as five of their party colleagues persisted in competing, in novel ways, until the contest had to be decided in the House of Representatives. Initially a struggle between personalities, the election evolved into a fight to control future policy, with large consequences for future presidential politics. The One-Party Presidential Contest offers a nuanced account of the proceedings, one that balances the undisciplined conflict of personal ambitions with the issues, principles, and prejudices that swirled around the election. In this book we clearly see, perhaps for the first time, how the election of 1824 revealed fracture lines within the young republic—and created others that would forever change the course of American politics.

About the Author

Donald Ratcliffe is emeritus reader in history at the University of Durham and supernumerary research and teaching fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford. His many publications include Party Spirit in a Frontier Republic: Democratic Politics in Ohio, 1793–1821 and The Politics of Long Division: The Birth of the Second Party System in Ohio, 1818–1828.

Additional Titles in the American Presidential Elections Series