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The Era of Good Feelings was definitely over by the time the 1824 election rolled around. Controversy over the Missouri Compromise and Monroe Doctrine, combined with the depression that followed the Panic of 1819, undermined national unity. Five candidates—all of them Democratic-Republican—ran for the presidency that year.
Initially, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams was the strongest candidate. Also popular was Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Then, in the summer of 1824, General Andrew Jackson threw himself into the race. Although he had little political experience, he became the dominant candidate because he was the most popular man in the country. In the end, Jackson received more popular votes than the others, but no candidate won enough electoral votes to become president.
As was the case in 1800, the House of Representatives had to elect the next president. Because of Clay’s last-minute support, the House chose Adams. But when Adams then named Clay his secretary of state, Americans were outraged. Most of the American presidents up to this point had served previously as secretaries of state, and the position was commonly regarded to be the stepping-stone to the presidency. Jacksonites thus clamored that Adams had won only because of a “corrupt bargain” with Clay. His reputation ruined, Adams remained politically impotent throughout his four years.
The election of 1824 was different from previous elections in that support for candidates was highly sectional. In the late 1700s, Federalists and Democratic-Republicans alike drew support from the North as well as the South. Then, during the Era of Good Feelings, most Americans identified with the Democratic-Republicans. In 1824, however, this unity had disappeared: Adams carried New England solidly, while Jackson relied on the South and West. The results of the 1828 election were similarly divided by region.
Akin to the growing sectionalism in the United States was the emerging power struggle between regionalism and federalism. President Jackson was the embodiment of federal power. Though a Democrat, he firmly believed that the federal government should have the final say over the states. He also demonstrated on numerous occasions that he felt the presidency to be the strongest of the three branches of government.
On the other hand, sectional politicians were emerging as well. Henry Clay from Kentucky became the voice of the West, lobbying to improve western infrastructure to facilitate transportation and help the growing agricultural economy. Clay’s ally Daniel Webster, from Massachusetts, was the primary advocate for the North, campaigning for infrastructure as well as higher protective tariffs to help Northern manufacturers. The primary voice of the South was the states’ righter John C. Calhoun.
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