Presidential Campaigns of the 1800s

The Campaigns of the 19th Century Hold Important Lessons for Today

A Hard Road to Hoe! Political Cartoon
A political cartoon on Martin Van Buren, who ran unsuccessfully against William Henry Harrison, known as the 'log cabin and hard cider' candidate, during the 1840 presidential campaign. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The campaigns that elected presidents in the 1800s were not always the quaint affairs we imagine them to be. Some of the campaigns were noteworthy for rough tactics, accusations of fraud, and image-making that was far from reality.

These articles about some of the most significant campaigns and elections of the 1800s highlight how politics changed throughout the century, and how some of the most familiar aspects of modern politics developed throughout the 19th century.

The Deadlocked Election of 1800

Thomas Jefferson

GraphicaArtis / Getty Images

The election of 1800 pitted Thomas Jefferson against the incumbent John Adams, and thanks to a flaw in the Constitution, Jefferson's running mate, Aaron Burr, nearly became president. The whole affair had to be settled in the House of Representatives and was decided thanks to the influence of Burr's perennial enemy, Alexander Hamilton.

The Corrupt Bargain: The Election of 1824

John Quincy Adams

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The election of 1824 resulted with no one winning a majority in the electoral vote, so the election was thrown into the House of Representatives. By the time it was settled, John Quincy Adams had won, with the help of Henry Clay, the speaker of the house.

Clay was named secretary of state in the new Adams administration, and the loser in the election, Andrew Jackson, denounced the vote as "The Corrupt Bargain." Jackson vowed to get even, and true to form, he did.

The Election of 1828, Perhaps the Dirtiest Campaign Ever

Andrew Jackson

Stock Montage / Getty Images

In 1828, Andrew Jackson wanted desperately to displace the incumbent John Quincy Adams, and the campaign waged between the two men may have been the nastiest and dirtiest in American history. Before it was over, the frontiersman was accused of adultery and murder, and the upright New Englander was literally called a pimp.

Anyone who thinks presidential campaigns used to be staid and quaint affairs isn't very familiar with the attacks leveled in partisan newspapers and handbills in 1828.

The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign of 1840

William Henry Harrison

Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images

The presidential campaign of 1840 was the precursor to our modern campaigns, as slogans, songs, and trinkets began to appear on the political scene. The campaigns waged by William Henry Harrison and his opponent, Martin Van Buren, were almost entirely devoid of issues.

The supporters of Harrison proclaimed him a man who lived in a log cabin, which was far from the truth. And alcohol, specifically hard cider, was also a big deal that year, along with the immortal and peculiar slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!"

The Election of 1860 Brings Abraham Lincoln to the White House

Abraham Lincoln

Staff / Getty Images

The election of 1860 was undoubtedly one of the most significant ever. Four candidates split the vote, and the winner, the nominee of the relatively new anti-slavery Republican Party, won an electoral college majority while not carrying a single southern state.

When 1860 began, Abraham Lincoln was still a relatively obscure figure from the west. But he demonstrated enormous political skill throughout the year, and his maneuvers succeeded in capturing his party's nomination and the White House.

The Great Stolen Election of 1876

Rutherford B. Hayes

Historical / Getty Images

As America celebrated its centennial, the nation wanted a change from the governmental corruption that marked the eight years of the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. What it got was a vicious election campaign capped off by a disputed election.

The Democratic candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote but couldn't put together a majority in the electoral congress. The US Congress found a way to break the deadlock, deals made behind the scenes brought Rutherford B. Hayes to the White House. The 1876 election was widely considered to have been stolen, and Hayes was mocked as "His Fraudulency."

The Election of 1884 Was Marked By Personal Scandals and Shocking Gaffes

Grover Cleveland

Oscar White / Getty Images

What can go wrong in the final days of a presidential campaign? Plenty, and that's why you've never heard of President James G. Blaine.

The Republican candidate, a nationally prominent politician from Maine, appeared to be cruising to victory in the election of 1884. His opponent, Democrat Grover Cleveland, had been damaged when a paternity scandal surfaced that summer. Gleeful Republicans taunted him by chanting, "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?"

And then, a week before the election, candidate Blaine committed a calamitous gaffe.

The First American Political Conventions

Henry Clay

Bettmann / Getty Images

The tradition of parties holding nominating conventions began prior to the presidential election of 1832. And there are some surprising stories behind those early political conventions.

The first convention was actually held by a political party which is long-forgotten, the Anti-Masonic Party. Two other conventions were held soon after, that of the National Republican Party, and the Democratic Party. All three conventions were held in Baltimore, Maryland, a central location for Americans at that time.

Extinct Political Parties

Political cartoon depicting the destruction of the Whig Party

Historical / Getty Images

We've grown used to American political parties with long histories, legendary figures, and impressive traditions. So it's easy to overlook the fact that political parties in the 1800s tended to come along, enjoy a brief heyday, and then disappear from the scene.

Some of the extinct political parties were little more than fads, but some had a profound impact on the political process. They raised issues of great importance at the time, most notably enslavement, and in some cases the parties disappeared but the party faithful regrouped under another banner.

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McNamara, Robert. "Presidential Campaigns of the 1800s." ThoughtCo, Nov. 12, 2020, McNamara, Robert. (2020, November 12). Presidential Campaigns of the 1800s. Retrieved from McNamara, Robert. "Presidential Campaigns of the 1800s." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).