A petition signed by over three million people is asking the Electoral College to change their votes from Trump to Clinton. It’s a crazy and dangerous idea—but it’s not unprecedented. We’ve done this before.
In 1824, John Quincy Adams became president even though he lost the election. It was as bad an idea then as it is now. It caused major problems, and its fallout changed American politics forever.
10. President Adams Lost Both The Popular Vote And The Electoral College
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John Quincy Adams didn’t just lose the electoral vote—he lost everything. His main opponent, Andrew Jackson, won by every definition possible. He had the popular vote and the Electoral College—and he still didn’t become President.
The problem was that Jackson didn’t quite pull in the majority of the Electoral College. There were four candidates vying for the presidency, and that split up the vote enough that he fell just slightly short of half the electors. In America, that means the House of Representatives have to pick the winner of the election instead of the people. And this time, they decided to completely ignore the people. John Quincy Adams only had about two-thirds of Jackson’s votes—but they made him president anyway.
9. There Were Clear Signs Of Corruption
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This wasn’t an accident. Andrew Jackson might have been popular with the voters, but he was not popular with the political elite. They saw him as a brutish, uneducated man, and a lot of politicians thought he was dangerous. In particular, Henry Clay absolutely loathed him.
Henry Clay was one of the four men running for presidency. Like Adams, he’d lost the vote to Jackson. Clay, though, had influence. He was the Speaker of the House of Representatives—which, as you might recall, were the people who got to decide who became president.
Clay threw all of his support behind Adams. At first, it seemed like Clay just had something against Jackson, but when Adams became president, he made Clay his secretary of state. This was more than just a cushy job—four secretaries of state had gone on to become presidents. Adams was giving Clay a nearly sure-fire path to the presidency.
Jackson was furious. He famously called it a “corrupt bargain,” believing that Adams had bought the Presidency against the will of the people—and he was probably right.
8. It Divided The Democrats And The Republicans
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Before 1824, Democrats and Republicans were one party, called the Democratic-Republican Party. Elections weren’t a choice between two parties, either. Four people ran for the presidency in 1824, but all four were members of the Democratic-Republicans.
After Adams stole the election, though, that changed. Jackson was not about to stay in the same party as the people who had just robbed him. He started his own party, the Democrats—a group that is still a major American party today.
John Quincy Adams started running as a National Republican. His party didn’t get apologetic—they still hated Jackson, and they called him a “jackass.” Jackson, though, made the insult his own. He took it as his new party’s logo, which is why the democrats are represented by a donkey today.
7. The Next Election Was The Dirtiest In History
Photo credit: David Claypoole Johnston
The election of 1828 has been called the dirtiest election in American history. Attack and smear ads had been used before—but never to this degree.
Jackson’s supporters spread rumors that John Quincy Adams moonlit as a pimp. In his early career, Adams had been an ambassador to Russia, and Jackson’s men decided to get it out there that just maybe the reason the Russians liked Adams so much was that he sold them women.
John Quincy Adams tried to stay out of the mudslinging, but his supporters weren’t above a little slander. They called Jackson’s mother a prostitute and spread rumors that Jackson was the bastard child she conceived with a half-black man.
It got filthy. It got dirty. It got so bad, in fact, that Adams stopped campaigning. He didn’t even want to be involved in his own election campaign.