Major Changes in American Politics by the Late 1820s

Andrew Jackson swept into the White House in 1828.
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The 1820s saw a major shift in both the identities of the major American political parties and in the way American citizens voted for their leaders. The presidential election of 1828, which pitted incumbent John Quincy Adams against Andrew Jackson, was the climactic finale of a decade of sweeping changes in the political system.

1 The Death of the Caucus

By the time of the election of 1824, the Federalist party was gone and the Republican party that had originated with Thomas Jefferson was beginning to splinter. Four candidates campaigned to be president at a time when under normal rules a caucus of influential Republican congressmen would have chosen one. But thousands of new voters who had been enfranchised once property ownership was lifted as a requirement for voting instead elected nominees in open state conventions.

2 A Transformative Election

The election of 1824 was eventually turned over to the House of Representatives after no candidate got a majority of electoral votes. John Quincy Adams eked out a narrow victory over Andrew Jackson, something that enraged Jackson and set up the transformative election of 1828. The Republican party had now firmly divided into the populist Democratic-Republicans of Andrew Jackson and the more conservative National-Republicans of the incumbent Adams. (The Democratic-Republicans would eventually become today’s Democratic Party, while the National-Republicans would, by 1854, turn into the Republican Party.) The election of 1828 saw Andrew Jackson organize supporters in each state who conducted a sophisticated campaign which would win him the presidency.

3 The Rabble of Democracy

The culture of the popular vote was now firmly entrenched in the American political system – 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 1828, twice as many as 1824. Crowds of people came from hundreds of miles away to see Andrew Jackson inaugurated.

4 National Elections

The election of 1828 augured other changes. In 1831, the first national party nominating conventions were held, replacing the ones then being held by state legislatures. By 1845, a system was put in place to coordinate federal voting days by the U.S. Congress. Elections for president and vice-president would be on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The rationale for this was that by November, all the crops were harvested, yet bad weather hadn’t set in that might make the roads impassable.

Based in New Jersey, Joseph Cummins has been a freelance writer since 2002. He has written 17 books covering history, politics and culture. He has a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Columbia University. His work has been featured in "The New York Times" Freakonomics blog, "Politico," "New York Archives" magazine, "The Carolina Quarterly," "The Michigan Quarterly" and elsewhere.