Newt Gingrich tweeted Friday:
“The more data comes out on vote anomalies that clearly are not legitimate the more it looks like 2020 may be the biggest Presidential theft since Adams and Clay robbed Andrew Jackson in 1824. State legislatures should demand recounts.”
He was right, except for one detail: the stolen election of 2020 is shaping up to be much worse than that of 1824.
Rating America’s Presidents explains that by that year, the Democratic-Republican Party, which was the party of the previous three presidents, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, now included virtually every politician of significance and had split into factions of its own. The congressional caucus that had chosen Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe bypassed the candidate whom many considered to be Monroe’s heir apparent, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Instead, the caucus picked a candidate who stood for the old Republican principles of strict adherence to the Constitution and a weak federal government: William Crawford, who had been a senator from Georgia, minister to France, and secretary of war and secretary of the treasury in the Monroe administration.
The caucus, however, didn’t have the influence in 1824 that it had enjoyed in previous years. Those who favored the positions that had initially been identified with the moribund opposition party, the Federalists, including a strong federal government that funded internal improvements, a centralized Bank of the United States, and high tariffs to protect American industry, were Adams and the speaker of the House, Henry Clay of Kentucky. Then there was General Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and, more recently, a senator from Tennessee. Jackson had genuine popular support, which was increasingly important, as more and more states were choosing electors by popular vote.
No one, however, knew exactly where Jackson stood on the issues. Adams, whom Jackson would soon count among his bitterest political enemies, actually supported him for vice president, albeit with a quip about Jackson’s volatile character: “The Vice-Presidency was a station in which the General could hang no one, and in which he would need to quarrel with no one.”
One reason why 2020 is worse than 1824 is that everyone in that race, like everyone for the first century and a half of the republic, had an America-first agenda. So there was nothing like the modern-day division of candidates on that score, and voters didn’t have to ask themselves which candidate was less likely to sell America’s interests to the highest international bidder.
What’s more, the positions that were truly best for America in the long run were distributed across factional lines; the Adams party held some, and the Jackson party held others. The gargantuan growth of the federal government today and its increasing interference in the daily lives of its citizens make one long for the era when politicians were determined not just to pay lip service to the idea of limiting its power. One need not acquiesce in that unrestrained and continually growing power in order to accept the Supreme Court’s declaration of the constitutionality of using federal funds for internal improvements as based on the Commerce Clause; nor does this require one to endorse the later abuse of that clause. The Bank placed control of the public funds in private hands, which was never wise, as it risked the possibility of an elected clique, rather than the people, setting the national agenda; we are seeing the consequences of that in other contexts today.
The question of Andrew Jackson’s fitness for office was a key issue in 1824, as it had been for no previous presidential candidate. Jackson was widely considered to be unsuitable to be president, as he had little political experience. Clay sneered, “I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy.”
Nevertheless, the election results had Jackson leading the field, winning ninety-nine electoral votes, with eighty-four for Adams, forty-one for Crawford, and thirty-seven for Clay. As none of the candidates had a majority, the election went to the House of Representatives, where the choice was between the three top vote-getters. Clay threw his support to Adams, who prevailed. Adams, as president, then chose Clay as the secretary of state, which was reasonable in light of their agreement on key issues. But Jackson and his supporters charged Adams and Clay with making a “corrupt bargain” to secure the presidency for Adams. Jackson raged: “So you see the Judas of the West [Clay] has closed the contract and will receive his thirty pieces of silver. Was there ever witnessed such bare faced corruption in any country before?”
So it was that the presidency of John Quincy Adams, a man who was distinguished throughout his long political career for his integrity, was tainted from beginning to end by charges of corruption and venality. Adams entered the White House under a cloud that never dissipated. In his inaugural address, Adams appealed to the goodwill of the American people: “Less possessed of your confidence in advance than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence.”
He didn’t get it. His victory was so tainted that his presidency was effectively crippled from the start. Of course, he didn’t have the weight of a complicit and compliant media and political establishment behind him. Compared to Donald J. Trump, John Quincy Adams had it easy.
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