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Historical Document

The United States presidential election of 1824 was notable for a large presidential candidate pool as five candidates participated in the election campaign. The results of the election were no less intriguing and caused angry charges against John Quincy Adams, newly elected president, and Henry Clay, who participated in the election and was made Secretary of State shortly after Adams gained presidency. Introspective description of those events is found in John Quincy Adams’ memoirs where he registered conversations and meetings important to the matter.

Memoirs, being a subcategory of autobiography, are aimed at representing both private and public events from peculiar period of the author’s life. However, memoirs cannot serve as a reliable historical source as they reflect subjective perception kept in the memory of a single person, unlike autobiographies, which require detailed proofs and descriptions, profound research and double-checking of the information. Thus using memoirs as sources can lead to relying on inadequate information; nevertheless, memoirs of public figures are helpful for portraying personality of the author and understanding his insight of the matter.

As for the excerpt from John Adam’s diary, it contains the outlay of meetings and conversations which concerned speculations about the results of the presidential election of 1824 in different states, particularly in Kentucky, and negotiations between political figures. It may be observed that not all of the conversations depicted in the document were held directly. For example, the member of the House of Representatives from Kentucky Mr. Letcher approached the author without professing connections to anybody, however, his allusions to possible support of Mr. Clay and his friends induced Adams to assume that Mr. Letcher played the role of an intermediate (Adams, 1875, p. 1). When describing meetings with Mr. Clay, the author repeatedly emphasized that their communication was explicit, open and candid, remarking that Mr. Clay straightly confirmed his support (Adams, 1875, p. 2).

Adams indicated that the formation of the Administration had been raised in his conversations with Mr. Letcher, Mr.  Webster, and Mr. Cook, nevertheless, there is no evidence in the document that any direct arrangements have been made. According to the diary, accusations in corrupt coalition had been made before the House of Representatives made a decision. In his conversation with Mr. Webster Adams made a passing mention that in case of victory his opponents would also gather associates in the Administration. However, the document indicates that Adams was persuading the President to announce the nominations beforehand in order to avoid conspiracy charges (Adams, 1875, p. 4).  Thus, it is clearly stated in the diary that Mr. Clay gave his support to incoming president, however, there is no clean evidence of bargaining of any kind.

Nevertheless, making Mr. Clay the Secretary of State was a pledge of coordinate government and a grievance for the opposition. It became the cornerstone of the strategy aimed at disturbing confidence in the ruling government and riddling reputation of the president. In particular, when the House of Representatives declared its decision, Andrew Jackson, who gained most electoral voices, claimed: “So you see, the Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver. His end will be the same”. Exploded reputation combined with blunders in foreign or domestic policy could become crucial. The family background of John Quincy Adams, who was the son of the second president of the US John Adams, was also unfavourable in comparison with his opponent Andrew Jackson, who came from the family of Irish immigrants and was considered to be a man of the people. The combination of unfortunate factors negatively influenced Adams’ further political career, as he lost to Jackson in the presidential election in 1828. 

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