In 1828, Andrew Jackson fought a bitter race with John Quincy Adams for the White House—one that would set the pattern for how modern-day presidential campaigns are waged. The race is a focal point of a new CNN original series that features Daniel Feller, a history professor at UT.
“1828 introduced the idea of a presidential election as a great popular referendum—the idea that the president should be chosen by the majority of ordinary people, and therefore, when elected, should be the spokesman of the people,” said Feller, an Andrew Jackson expert and one of the episode’s commentators. “The 1828 campaign also pioneered new techniques of generating enthusiasm and of image-making.”
Race for the White House is a six-part series narrated and co-produced by actor Kevin Spacey. Each hour-long episode tells the story of one iconic presidential campaign using archival footage, interviews, and stylized dramatizations. The series captures the drama of a high-stakes presidential election— from powerful speeches to dirty tricks and schemes—and its impact on politics today.
The Jackson-Adams presidential race was fought in the wake of the 1824 election, which Jackson lost in the House of Representatives after no candidate secured an electoral majority. Jackson believed the voice of the people had been thwarted and that Adams had engineered his victory through a corrupt bargain with his new secretary of state, Henry Clay.
“The stigma of a brokered election and the fear of doing something that looks like an insider deal to thwart the will of the people came out of the 1824 election,” Feller said. “That’s why the rematch in 1828 ranks among the key precedent-setting elections.”
In 1828, Jackson ran again. His character became a leading issue in the campaign. Supporters touted him as a true man of the people and heroic victor at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, and attacked Adams as an out-of-touch aristocrat and Washington insider. Adams’s men in turn assailed Jackson as uncontrollably violent in private life and bloodthirsty, insubordinate, and tyrannical as an Army general.
Jackson’s followers used new methods of publicity to drum up grassroots excitement and win him a decisive victory, ushering in the beginnings of today’s Democratic Party and of modern presidential campaigning, Feller said.
The 1828 episode of Race for the White House was screened privately in early March at the Hermitage in Nashville, the residence of Andrew Jackson. In attendance were Governor Bill Haslam and other guests.
Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, email@example.com)