The House of Representatives Made the Call on John Quincy Adams

Congress decided the winner in the presidential election of 1824.

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Corrected on 2/15/08: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported when Congress first decided a presidential election and how the vice president was chosen. The 1824 election was the first time Congress decided the election of the president since the passage of the 12th Amendment in 1804, and John C. Calhoun was elected vice president by majority vote.

When no candidate in the 1824 presidential election won enough electoral votes to claim victory, Congress stepped in and decided the winner. During this period, the United States was dominated by one party, the Democratic-Republicans. During this period, the United States was dominated by one party, the Democratic-Republicans. As a result, all four candidates who vied for the presidency—Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay—were members of the same party. None of the four earned the majority of electoral votes, which is needed to win. As a result, all four candidates who vied for the presidency—Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay—were members of the same party. None of the four earned the majority of electoral votes, which is needed to win. In that case, the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution calls for the House of Representatives to elect the president. The House voted for Adams; John C. Calhoun was elected vice president by a majority vote of the electorate.

After the election, Adams and Jackson became political rivals. Together with their supporters they germinated new political parties. A coalition of working men from the North and South, as well as citizens from the emerging West, coalesced around Jackson to form the Democratic Party. Adams represented pro-business interests, which were largely from the North, forming the National Republican Party.

"The legacy of 1824 was that the one-party system was consigned to history," says presidential biographer Richard Norton Smith, now at George Mason University. "By 1828, you had two political parties. By 1832, you had a very polarized cultural, economic, and political" environment, says Smith. Another case of back to the future.