Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives had now to choose a President from the three leading candidates. Clay was Speaker, and had great influence over the House, but his own name had to be dropped. Beaten himself, he had the power to make any one of his three rivals President of the United States.
It was a trying situation for him and for the three citizens whose fate he seemed to hold in his hands. Crawford was so ill that Clay could not seriously consider him. Adams had never liked Clay, though they generally agreed about public questions, and the ardent Kentuckian could never have found the cold manners of the New England statesman attractive. But from the first he preferred Adams to Jackson, thinking a mere " military chieftain " unfit for the office. On the 9th of February, Adams was elected. That evening he and Jackson met at a presidential reception. Of the two, the defeated Westerner bore himself far more graciously than the successful candidate from New England.
Up to this time, no unseemly conduct could be charged against any one of the four rivals. But the human nature of these men could not bear to the end the strain of such a rivalry. For many years the jealousy and hatred and suspicion it gave birth to were to blacken American politics. Jackson was guilty of a grave injustice to Clay and Adams; and they, by a political blunder, delivered themselves into his hands. Jackson and his friends charged them with u bargain and corruption." Adams, by appointing Clay Secretary of State, and Clay, by accepting the office, gave their enemies the only evidence they ever had to offer of the truth of the charge. Every other semblance of a proof was shown to be worthless, and the characters of the two men have convinced all candid historians that the charge was false. But there was no way to prove that the charge was false. Jackson believed it, and from this time he made war on Clay and Adams. • He believed he had a wrong to right, a combination of scoundrelly enemies to overthrow, a corrupted government to purify and save. The election had shown him to be the most popular of all the candidates, and his friends, of whom Benton was now the foremost, contended that the House ought to have chosen him in obedience to the people's will. Until he should be elected, he and his followers seemed to feel that the people were hoodwinked by the politicians.
Hitherto, since his second entrance into public life, he had borne himself as became a soldier whose battles were already fought. Webster had written of him: " General Jackson's manners are more presidential than those of any other candidate. He is grave, mild, and reserved." But now he was once more the Jackson of the tavern brawl, of the Dickinson duel. Politics had come to be a fight, and his friends had no more need to urge him on. He resigned his place in the Senate, and was at once, for the second time, nominated for President by the Tennessee legislature. With untiring industry and great political shrewdness, Lewis, Eaton, Benton, Livingston, and others of his friends set to work to get him elected. The campaign of 1824 was no sooner ended than the campaign of 1828 was begun.
It was an important campaign because it went far to divide the old Republican party, to which all the candidates of 1824 had belonged, into the two parties which were to battle for supremacy throughout the next quarter of a century. The division was partly a matter of principles and policies, but it was also a matter of organization.
As to principles and measures, Adams was disposed to revive those policies which the old Federalist party had adopted in the days of its power. He had left that party in 1808, not because he had given up its early principles, but because he believed that its leaders, particularly in New England, in their bitter opposition to Jefferson, had gone to the point where opposition to the party in power passes into disloyalty to the country. In the Republican party he always acted with those men who, like Henry Clay, favored a strong government at Washington and looked with distrust on any attempt of a State to set up its own powers against the powers of the United States. As President, he wished the government to take vigorous measures for defense, for developing the country by internal improvements, for protecting American industries by heavy duties on goods imported from other countries. He thought that the public lands should be sold at the highest prices they would bring, and the money used by the general government to promote the public welfare. He had no doubt as to the government's power to maintain a national bank, and thought that was the very best way to manage the finances.
Jackson himself was not a free-trader, and had committed himself to a " proper " tariff on protection lines; but during the campaign he was made to appear less of a tariff man than Adams. He had also voted for certain national roads and other internal improvements, but he had not committed himself sweepingly to that policy. He doubted the constitutionality of a national bank. As to the public lands, he favored a liberal policy, with the object of developing the western country by attracting settlers rather than raising money to be spent by the government. On the general question of the powers of the government he stood for a stricter construction of the Constitution and greater respect for the rights of the States than Adams believed in. So, notwithstanding Jackson's tariff views, the mass of the people held him a better representative of Jeff ersonian Democracy than his rival.
But a party is an organization, and not merely a list of principles. It is, as some one has said, a crowd, and not merely a creed. Jackson's managers so organized his supporters that they became a party in that sense much more clearly than in the sense of holding the same views. Committees were formed all over the country somewhat on the order of the committees of correspondence of Revolutionary times. Newspapers were set up to attack the administration and hold the Jackson men together. Everywhere Jackson was represented as the candidate of the plain people against the politicians. In all such work Major Lewis was active and shrewd, and before the end of the campaign, from another quarter of the union, Jackson won a recruit who was already a past master in all the lore of party politics. Martin Van Buren was a pupil in the political school of Aaron Burr, and was recognized as the cleverest politician of a State in which the sort of politics that is concerned with securing elections rather than fighting for principles had grown into a science and an art. New York was then thought a doubtful State, and the support of Van Buren was of the utmost value.