- Did the Constitution work as the Founders intended in the election of 1824?
- Understand the role of the House of Representatives in presidential elections.
- Analyze what the “popular vote” meant in 1824.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the Electoral College in light of the election of 1824.
- Evaluate the success of the constitutional procedures for presidential election.
- Handout A: John Quincy Adams and the Election of 1824
- Handout B: Counting the Votes
- Handout C: Votes by State
- Handout D: Guided Controversy: Did the Electoral College System Fail?
To create a context for this lesson, students complete Constitutional Connection: Electing The President.
Have students read Handout A: John Quincy Adams and the Election of 1824 and answer the questions.
DAY ONE WARM UP [20 MINUTES]
Distribute Handout B: Counting the Votes.
Explain to the class that it is 1824 and the Electoral College has finished voting. Invite four students to assume the roles of the top “candidates.” They should introduce themselves and explain how they fared in the election.
Assign to the rest of the class roles in the House of Representatives by distributing slips from Handout C: Votes by State.
Ask the students to form groups according to the candidate for whom their state voted. (If a state split electoral votes, they should use the candidate who received the most.) Ask students which candidate seems to have won.
Review the difference between a plurality and a majority.
Have the House members assemble according to additional criteria including: North/ South/Midwest; populous vs. sparsely populated; industrial vs. agrarian, etc. and ask students what they observe about the totals.
DAY TWO WARM UP [15 MINUTES]
Remind students that the Electoral College was designed in part to ensure that candidates had support from the entire country, and not just a few large or populous states.
Write the following question on the board or overhead: Did the constitutional system of presidential election fail in 1824?
Divide the class into groups of four. Within each group, two students should prepare to argue that the Constitution worked; the other pair should prepare to argue that it failed.
Give each group Handout D: Did the Electoral College System Fail? Have each group evaluate the facts and prepare their arguments.
DAY ONE ACTIVITY [15 MINUTES]
Have House members vote among the top three candidates, with each state having one vote. Encourage Adams, Clay, Crawford, and Jackson to take active roles, persuading states to vote for them, or for other candidates.
DAY TWO ACTIVITY [20 MINUTES]
Put four chairs—two facing two—in the middle of the room, with the rest of the chairs around them. Invite a group to debate in the “fishbowl.” Students in the audience should take notes on the debaters’ arguments. Allow each pair in the “fish bowl” one to two minutes to make an opening statement, and then have them debate for two to three minutes.
Invite more groups into the fishbowl as time permits.
DAY ONE WRAP-UP [10 MINUTES]
When about five minutes remain, call for the House to vote. Compare and contrast the class’s vote with the House’s vote from 1824. What were the reasons for the similarities or differences in outcomes?
DAY TWO WRAP-UP [10 MINUTES]
As a large group, discuss the day’s debates. Ask students:
- Did the “popular vote” as we know it today exist in 1824?
- Did the Constitution work as it was designed to work?
- Jackson accused Adams and Clay of striking a “corrupt bargain.” If Adams did indeed promise to appoint Clay Secretary of State in exchange for his support, was that “corrupt”?
- Do you think the Electoral College system should be reformed or abolished? If it were, how would campaigns change?
Have students complete an activity using Andrew Jackson’s first annual Message to Congress at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sl4Pb5Ypbho.
John Quincy Adams and the Election of 1824
The Election of 1824 was the first to be decided in the House of Representatives after the Twelfth Amendment was passed. Jackson received the most electoral votes and the greatest percentage of the popular vote (inasmuch as it existed in 1824), but the House voted for John Quincy Adams. In this lesson, students explore the election of 1824 and evaluate the Electoral College system.
Jonathan White: 1824 & Contentious Elections | BRI Scholar Talks
BRI Senior Teaching Fellow Tony Williams sits down with Jonathan White, associate professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University and author of several books on the Civil War, to discuss his essay on the presidential election of 1824 in our new digital history textbook, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Together, they piece together the historical background behind one of the most contentious elections in American history. In 1824, none of the four candidates—Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, or William Crawford—were able to obtain a majority of the Electoral College vote. The Twelfth Amendment required the election be sent to the U.S. House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams was chosen as the sixth U.S. president. Can we learn any lessons about democracy from contentious elections? Was the election a crisis or a demonstration of the successful workings of constitutional principles? About Jonathan White: Jonathan White is an associate professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University and is the author or editor of ten books, including "Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman and Emancipation" and "Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln," which was a finalist for both the Lincoln Prize and the winner of the Abraham Lincoln Institute’s 2015 book prize. He serves on the Boards of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Institute, the Abraham Lincoln Association, the Lincoln Forum, and the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia. His most recent books include "Lincoln on Law, Leadership and Life" and “Our Little Monitor: The Greatest Invention of the Civil War." He is presently writing a biography of a convicted slave trader named Appleton Oaksmith. Check out his website at www.jonathanwhite.org/ or follow him on Twitter at @CivilWarJon.
The Election of 1824: John Quincy Adams
This Presidents and the Constitution eLesson takes us back to 1824 and the controversial election of John Quincy Adams. This was the first election decided by the House of Representatives after the passage of the Twelfth Amendment, which had been ratified in the wake of the election of 1800.
Continuity or Change? Presidential Elections | BRIdge from the Past: Art Across U.S. History
In this episode, Mary and Josh analyze a political cartoon depicting the controversial 1824 presidential election in a unique way. “A foot-race” (1824) shows a crowd cheering on candidates John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay as they race toward a finish line. Which details stand out to you as meaningful, and what do they convey about popular opinions on the election?