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John Quincy Adams and the Election of 1824

90 min
  • Did the Constitution work as the Founders intended in the election of 1824?

Students will:

  • 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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

Student Handouts

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