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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  The Rise of Jacksonian Democracy: Eyewitness Accounts
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PART 1. THE PEOPLE'S PRESIDENT  |  Back to LESSON: Part 1  |  Back to ACTIVITIES: Part 1

From the writings of Margaret Bayard Smith: As Mrs. Smith finished a letter written to Mrs. Boyd of New York, begun on February 11, 1825, she breathed a sigh of relief that the election of 1824 had been decided:

After church on Sunday, Mr. Crawford and the rest of the family, came out with me and spent the rest of the day. When I shook hands and bid him farewell, "not yet," said he smiling. "I shall come to see you again." Various rumours are afloat, concerning the members of the Cabinet, but without foundation. Mr. A.[John Quincy Adams] I do not believe himself knows. If, (as it is believed) the leading republicans will not accept places, he will be embarrassed, and must either take federal gentlemen or secondary republicans. As yet, he has shown a great desire to conciliate and it is said will be a very popular Pred. I hope so. I love peace and good will with every one. I hope his administration will do honor to himself and good to his country. All sides show equally good dispositions,-- no personal enmity, no asperity. Genl. Jackson has shown equal nobleness and equanimity and received equal testimonies of respect and affection. To the honor of human nature, as much attention has been paid the two unsuccessful, as the successful candidate. For foreigners this election must have had something new and imposing, and to every one presented a spectacle of moral sublimity. These agitations and anxieties are now over, for my own part, I have felt much and rejoice once more to sit down tranquilly. I shall resume my books and pen without any wandering thoughts. We now feel fixed for life, the retirement of Sidney, I have no more to look forward to any change in our mode of living. The few remaining years of my life, (if indeed years await me) I will endeavour to improve, as well as to enjoy in endeavours to promote the happiness and welfare of my children and neighbors. The circle is a very contracted one, but contains sufficient objects to fill the hands, the heart, the mind.

From Mrs. Smith's notebook, February 1825:

When I returned to the parlour, the gentlemen were giving the family an account of the election--the mode in which it had been conducted and the causes which had produced this unexpected result. "Falsehood--damnable falsehood," exclaimed Mr. Cobb, "the poor miserable wretch after three times in the course of an hour giving his word of honor not to vote for Mr. A.--Five minutes after this last promise--did vote for him and this gave him a majority on the first ballot." "Do not say such bad words," said Caroline, "bad words and hard names, will not alter the matter." "It is enough to make a saint swear," reiterated Mr. Cobb. "Such treachery and cowardice!" If Mr. A. had not been chosen on the first ballot it was calculated--nay, promises had been pledged,--that three states that voted for him first, would come over to Mr. C[lay] on the second--and that on each succeeding ballot, his course would have gained strength. Many who voted for A. did so only in compliance to some previous engagement with their constituents to make him their first choice, tho' they in their own minds preferred Crawford, and have since regretted, not following their own judgments, instead of the instructions of their constituents. It was likewise supposed that when Jackson's friends lost hope of success, they would prefer C. to A. and would ultimately vote for him. Such at least was the understanding between the different parties, tho' it never seemed possible to me that Jackson who had so many more states than C. should ever yield to a minority. The only ground for such a hope, was the known impossibility of C.'s friends--who had resolved at all events to vote for no one but him, even tho' there should be no President and that Mr. Calhoun should come in--he being Vice-P. About dusk several other members and senators came in.--The conversation turned on the same subject and every one appeared as much mortified and disappointed as if assured of success previous to the election. Two of the gentlemen proposed going to the Drawing room to see how things appeared there and promised to come back and bring us some account of it. Cards were brought Mr. Cobb and Ann, Mr. Crawford and myself made the game of whist, Caroline and Mr. Lowry played chess and the rest talked and laughed while they looked over our game. That ease which certainty gives the mind after long endured anxiety and suspense, supplied it with pleasurable sensations which for the moment seemed to overbalance the mortification of defeat, and relieved from this pressure the spirits rose with an elastic spring and inspired us with mirth.

This seemed to me the cause. But be it what it might, the fact was certain that we were all very merry and joked and laughed in all honesty and sincerity. Between ten and eleven the gentlemen returned, and gave us an account of the drawing room. "Luckily," they said, they went late, otherwise they could not have got in. Some of the company had gone and made room for the others, but at one time the mass was so compact that they could scarcely move. "Pray Sir, take your finger out of my ear," said some one, "I will, Sir, as soon as I get room to stir."

Some were absolutely lifted from their feet and carried forward without any exertion of their own. Persons who never before had been seen in company, had got in that night, altho' the Marshall who stood at the door of the entrance had done his best to prevent intruders and had actually sent many away. Genl. Scott had been robbed of his pocket-book containing 800 dolls., and much mirth occasioned by the idea of pick-pockets at the Presidents Drawing room. A good anecdote for the Quarterly Review! [a British publication] "But when we got there," said Mr. Williams [Senator Thomas Williams of Mississippi], "the crowd was not so dense. We could see and move. Mr. Adams was not more attended to than usual, scarcely as much so as General Jackson." "I am pleased to hear that," said I, "it is honourable to human nature." "But it was not very honourable to human nature to see Clay, walking about with exultation and a smiling face, with a fashionable belle hanging on each arm,--the villain! He looked as proud and happy as if he had done a noble action by selling himself to Adams and securing his election. More than one, pointing to A. said, there is our 'Clay President,' and he will be moulded at that man's will and pleasure as easily as clay in a potter's hands." "When Prometheus made a man out of clay," said Mr. W., "he stole fire from heaven to animate him. I wonder where our speaker will get the fire with which he means to animate his Clay President." "Not from Heaven, I warrant," said one of the gentlemen. "Genl. Jackson," said Mr. Williams, "shook hands with Mr. Adams and congratulated him very cordially on his sweep." "That was a useless piece of hypocrisy," observed Mr. Crawford--"it deceived no one--shaking hands was very well--was right--but the congratulatory speech might have been omitted. I like honesty in all things." "And [New York Congressman Stephen Van Rensselaer] was there too," said Mr. Williams, "but tho' he too had a lady hanging on his arm, he looked more in want of support himself, than able to give it to another.""Poor Devil!" said Cobb, "one cant help pitying as well as despising him."

"Pity!" said Mr. L[owry] --"I have no pity for a wretch like him. If he had not strength to do his duty, why did he not confess it then one would have pitied without blaming him, but to lie--to betray--to give his solemn and voluntary word of honor and five minutes afterwards to violate that word of honor--showed him as destitute of honesty, as he is of strength--such a fellow I cannot pity. . . .

"No, no," said another gentleman, "But Clay, the grand mover, tempter rather--whispered in his ear, some one told me he saw him leave his chair and go and whisper a few words, just after Van Buren left him."

"That is not so," said another. "I heard it was Webster."

"No, not Webster," said Mr. Vale, "I was in the gallery and with my own eyes saw all that passed, just after he had taken his seat in the New York delegation, and a few minutes before the Ballot box was handed him I saw Scott of Missouri go and whisper in his ear, and some delay certainly did take place when the Box was handed to the N. Y. delegation."

"Well it comes to the same thing," said Mr. Lowry, "it was Clay after all, for Scott was a mere emissary of his, and had previously by his arts secured the votes of this one too. Scott was irresolute, until Clay got hold of him, he had him with him until late last night. And altho his inclination led him to vote for us, Clay had power to persuade him to vote for Adams. 'Ah,' as John Randolph observed after counting the ballots, 'it was impossible to win the game, gentlemen, the cards were stacked.'"

"And that," said Mr. Cobb, nodding his head, "is fact and the people have been tricked out of the man of their choice."

When the news of his election was communicated to Mr. Adams by the Committee and during their address, the sweat rolled down his face--he shook from head to foot and was so agitated that he could scarcely stand or speak. He told the gentlemen he would avail himself of the precedent set by Mr. Jefferson and give them his answer in writing. One of the Committee told me from his hesitation, his manner and first words, he really thought he was going to decline. If success, thus discomposed him, how would he have supported defeat?

The day of the election was a heavy snow-storm--this was a fortunate circumstance, as it prevents the gathering together of idle people, who when collected in crowds, might have committed some foolish violence. Indeed in one ward of the city, Mr. Vale told me, an effigy of Mr. Adams had been prepared and had it not been a stormy day, his opponents among the lower citizens would have burnt it. This would have excited his friends, (particularly the negroes, who when they heard of his election were the only persons who expressed their joy by Hurras) some riot might have taken place. Among the higher classes of citizens, no open expressions of exultation took place. Respect and sympathy for the other candidates, silenced any such expression.

Is there any other country, in which such earnest and good feelings would have governed the populace?

The clapping in the Gallery of Congress, was short as sudden--it was silenced by loud hisses, before the order of the Speaker to clear the Galleries could have been heard--silenced by popular feeling. And a simple order, without the application of any force, instantly cleared them. How admirable are our institutions. What a contrast does this election by the House of Representatives form to the elections of the Polish Diet. They were surrounded by foreign armies, controlled by foreign powers. In Washington on the 9th of February not a sign of military power was visible and even the civil magistrates had nothing to do.

While the electoral votes were counting, (which was done by the Senate and House conjointly) foreign ministers, strangers of distinction and General Lafayette were present. But when the Senate rose and the house formed itself into a Body of States to elect the President, the Senators withdrew from the floor, and all other persons from the House. "What even General Lafayette?" said I, "Yes," replied Mr. Lowry, "and had General Washington himself been there, he too must have withdrawn." The delegation of each State, sat together and after ascertaining by ballot which candidate had the majority in the State, appointed one of its delegation, to put the ballot for that candidate into the Ballot box.

The whole proceeding was conducted with silence, order and dignity, and after the Ballots were collected Mr. Webster and Mr. Randolph were appointed the Tellers. It was Mr. Webster who with an audible and clear voice announced J. Adams elected.

Such a scene exhibited in perfection the moral sublime.

The succeeding day, Thursday, citizens and strangers crowded to pay their respects, not only to the President-elect, but to Mr. Crawford and Genl. Jackson.

[Source: Margaret Bayard Smith, The First Forty Years of Washington Society . . . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906]

Return to PRIMARY DOCUMENT LESSON: "Jacksonian Democracy"

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