Old Hickory for President: Andrew Jackson, 1824 and 1828

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Andrew Jackson earned fame as a military commander in the 1810s in the Creek War and War of 1812, particularly after his courageous and well-executed victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson continued his military career during the First Seminole War, in which he led attacks against Native American settlements and self-emancipated African American communities in Spanish Florida. This 1833 print depicts Jackson as a distinguished military hero, reinforcing the prevailing public persona of President Jackson. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery via Smithsonian Institution.

Andrew Jackson had some insider credentials when he first ran for president in 1824; he had briefly served in Congress and as territorial governor. However, Jackson defined his candidacy not on his political experience but on his outsider status—a “man of the people” who proved his presidential qualifications on the battlefield, not the ballot, and who appealed to new white male voters, many recently enfranchised as states lifted property qualifications for suffrage rights during the early 1800s. Despite Jackson’s “common man” appeal, he was in fact a wealthy landowner whose fortune was wholly dependent on the labor of hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children.

The election of 1824 was a turning point in the evolution of the two-party system. Four candidates, each largely bolstered by geographically sectional support, all ran for the same Democratic Republican party. Andrew Jackson won more votes than his opponents but, since Jackson failed to win a majority of votes, the power to elect the president went to the House of Representatives. There, Jackson was defeated by the alleged insider political alliance of his opponents, Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams. House Speaker Henry Clay supported second place finisher John Quincy Adams, who won the presidency.

The 1824 defeat heavily shaped Jackson’s 1828 campaign. Jackson’s supporters doubled down on his image as military hero and favorite of the American people, while his opponents used his violent military record against him. In 1828, Jackson’s victory was decisive, ushering in the era of Jacksonian Democracy, which redefined the role of the “common” (white) man in American politics.