Don’t Belittle the Popular Vote Winner

(November 25, 2016) None of the four Presidential candidates had a majority of the popular or electoral vote after the 1824 Presidential election. Among the twenty-four states, eighteen held popular votes. Andrew Jackson led with 41% compared to 31% for John Q. Adams, with 28% divided between William Crawford and Henry Clay. The Electoral College tally for all states was 38% to Jackson and 32% to Adams, with Crawford and Clay finishing third and fourth respectively for the remaining 30%. Since nobody had an electoral majority, the 1804 Twelfth Amendment required that the House of Representatives select a winner among the top three candidates. Each state, however, was permitted only a single vote, which meant that at least thirteen states needed to agree upon a single choice.

Since Clay’s fourth place ranking blocked him from House consideration, he threw his support behind Adams who was elected by thirteen of the twenty-four states. After gaining the White House, Adams appointed Clay to Secretary of State, an office then commonly regarded as a Presidential stepping-stone. Since all five prior Presidents had been aristocrats, Jackson supporters suspected the appointment was part of a conspiracy to reserve the office for the upper classes regardless of the people’s choice for a commoner like Jackson.


As President, Adams advocated federally funded public works that included roads, harbors, and even a national university. He planned to pay for them by increasing tariffs, which were then the chief source of federal taxes. Due partly to a weak political coalition, however, he accomplished little except to reluctantly sign a tariff in 1828 that even he felt was too high. Known as the “Tariff of Abominations” by its opponents, it boosted taxes on dutiable items to an average of 62% by 1830 as compared to an already high 50% when Adams took office in 1825.

Southerners particularly opposed the tariff because of the two ways it injured the region’s export economy. First, it increased the price of manufactured goods, which Southerners bought and were typically produced in Europe or America’s Northern states. Second, it provoked leading European countries to seek supply alternatives to American cotton and to threaten tariffs and quotas on U.S. cotton.

In the Jackson-Adams 1828 election rematch, Jackson won 56% of the popular vote and 68% of the electoral vote. His victory reflected a rise in populist sentiment, objections to high tariffs, and Adams’s mediocre record as President. Every Southern state voted for Jackson whose family roots were in South Carolina and Tennessee, while Adams’s support was mostly in the Northeast where his family had long been politically prominent.

Toward the end of Jackson’s first term, Congressional Northerners corralled enough support to pass an even higher tariff in 1832. They did so by adding protection for items produced in the present-day Midwest. South Carolina responded by passing a nullification ordinance that declared the 1828 and 1832 tariffs to be unenforceable in the Palmetto State. The action triggered a constitutional challenge that preceded the Civil War secession crisis by about thirty years. If Jackson acquiesced to South Carolina’s nullification the entire Union might unravel, but he instead responded decisively.

First, Jackson announced that no state had the power to nullify a federal law. Second, he obtained Congressional authority to use military force against his native state, which is something that Lincoln failed to do about thirty years later. Finally, he successfully asked Congress to pass a new compromise tariff.

In 1928 the U. S. Treasury Department honored Andrew Jackson by putting his image on the face of the $20 bill. At the time he was one of the best-known Presidents who had been long revered as a champion for the common man. According to Senator Thomas Hart Benton who observed as Jackson left the White House after his second term the former President was greeted by a great shout of approval while walking toward a waiting carriage.

[A cry of] such power [was] never…received. It was the affection, gratitude and admiration of the living age, saluting for the last time a great man. It was the acclaim of posterity breaking from the [hearts] of contemporaries.

Senator Benton’s posterity prediction, however, did not anticipate twenty-first century political correctness.

To commemorate the 2020 centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the vote, the Treasury originally intended to place a famous woman’s image on the face of the $10 bill while moving Alexander Hamilton to the back. The department dropped those plans after the creator of the current Broadway play Hamilton, among others, lobbied to keep the bill unchanged. Instead, Jackson will be moved to the back of the $20 bill and Harriet Tubman put on the face.

Although no official reason explains Jackson’s singling-out for demotion, media reports suggest the chief one is that he was a slaveholder. That labeled him a pre-1866 white Southerner, which is a category abhorred by the politically correct. Moreover, former Virginia Senator James Webb suggests a second sinister implication, “This dismissive characterization of one of our great presidents is not occurring in a vacuum. Any white person whose ancestral relations trace to the American South now risks being characterized as having roots based on bigotry and underserved privilege.”

In short, Jackson is devalued by the Treasury and demonized in the media for the unpardonable offense of being a man of his own time. Perhaps someday the memory of George Washington may be similarly demoted. Despite being a slaveholder, however, without Washington’s accomplishments there would be no reason to debate the choice of icons on our currency, because our country would likely be nonexistent.

According to venerable historian Gordon Wood the great majority of his academic colleagues fail to recognize the pernicious distortions caused by political correctness. “Much of their history,” he concludes, “is…essentially anachronistic—condemning the past for not being more like the present. It has no real interest in the pastness of the past. These historians see themselves as moral critics obligated to denounce the values of the past in order to somehow reform our present.”

Much as Wood cuts against the grain to state the truth about a corrupting attitude pervading his profession, Jackson defied the will of his native state to preserve the Union. Jackson and Wood put the interests of the entire country ahead of the delusions of their cohorts.

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Belittle the Popular Vote Winner

    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Perhaps in the future some of the dominant viewpoints of today’s historians will be considered narrow-minded and bigoted.


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