Thursday, February 07, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Six, The Gathering Storm

I'm a little swamped this week, so if we're looking at President Numero Six-o, that would be John Quincy Adams and... okay, let's just label him Active-Negative and such.  Gotta keep packing!  Gotta get movin' on!


(gets gang-pressed back into service) Damn it all! Fine... I'll give you more info...

The Election of 1824 remains THE original controversial Presidential election (the elections of 1876 and 2000 may be more controversial, but 1824 is definitely in the Top Five).  Unlike 1800, where the controversy was over Jefferson or Burr being the true choice on a party ticket, 1824 was the first time the Electoral system worked the way the Founders intended.  A divided result between a multitude of candidates each of them with enough Electoral votes to prevent one from winning it all.

Why is this a bad thing?  Because the Founders wanted the choice for President to be decided by the House of Representatives, not the voting public: they wanted results that would not leave a clear Electoral winner and leave the choice of the Executive to Congress.  The Founders felt it was a check and balance by having the President owe his office to Congress' largess.  They also figured the House would be smart enough to choose the winner based on the guy who got the most votes anyway: they just wanted Congress to have a final say, a seal of approval as it were.

What the Founders failed to realize was that the partisan nature of the House by this time would create factions favoring one side or fearing another.  And it didn't help that one of the FOUR candidates for President from the SAME PARTY - this was before primaries took over caucuses as the means of winnowing down party choices to one clear candidate - was an ambitious mofo by the name of Henry Clay.

The results were that Andrew Jackson won 11 states, 99 Electoral, and 41 percent of the popular vote.  John Q. won 7 states, 84 Electoral, and 30 percent.  William Crawford of Georgia - once viewed as Monroe's most able successor, but suffering from failing health hurting his support - was third with only 2 states, 41 Electoral and 11 percent.  Clay was fourth with 3 states, 37 Electoral and 13 percent (the Electoral is the count that matters at this point).  Clay was clearly out of the running, but he had enough pull in the House to switch his supporters over to the candidate he preferred: John Quincy Adams.  Clay agreed with Adams on most arguments, and felt his viewpoint and power base would nurture and grow under an Adams' tenure.

Problem was, Andrew Jackson had more public support, and more states.  Adams came into office under the worst of circumstances: a minority President (not an ethnic minority, but a minority in terms of voter numbers, think Benjamin Harrison, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) with only 30 percent of the nation as his voter base.  And with an angry, vindictive sonofabitch like Jackson screaming on the sidelines about a "Corrupt Bargain".  It didn't help that Clay accepted Adams' offer to be Secretary of State, which at the time was the stepping stone to becoming President.

Why did Adams Junior (son of John Adams, making him the first President to follow in a relative's footsteps) even consider offering Clay a prominent Cabinet seat, knowing full well Jackson was out there ready to pounce on anything that reeked of a deal (there has never been any physical or eyewitness evidence that Clay and Adams bargained for the results)?  As smart as Adams was - he read, spoke four languages (at least), and was one of the brightest foreign policy minds of the era - he had to know giving Clay any sign of a prize would rile up Jackson's side of the aisle.  But he still offered (that Clay accepted is moot to the argument: this is Clay we're talking about, and Clay was an ambitious man).

This is the only solid evidence of John Quincy (should I go with John Q. or John Quincy?  Typing out his full name is gonna be overlong) being a Compulsive character, the key trait of an Active-Negative.  A better word would be Uncompromising.  He probably felt Clay was the best choice for State and that was that, and to hell with Jackson's ire.

There is little else to report about John Q.'s administration.  He openly noted he was serving at the displeasure of the majority of citizens (and Congress) and did what he could to work with Congress to pass ambitious public projects such as a national university and more public roads and canals.  Some of the canal projects were passed but nearly everything else John Q. attempted to get through Congress failed.  The congressional blocking crimped his foreign policy endeavors as well.  In the face of growing settler unrest in the Mississippi areas against native tribes already living there, Adams did what he could to enforce existing treaties to protect those tribes, which upset the expansionist factions in the Democratic-Republican party (i.e. Andrew Jackson).

But there was little else John Q. could do.  Political opposition in Congress was fierce, and Jackson essentially became the first man to begin running for the Presidency a full FOUR YEARS before the next election.  The uncompromising nature of Congress can have an outside effect on the President's actions: much of the Negative (or limited enforcement of powers) of John Q.'s administration was external rather than internal.  This kind of makes it hard to truly gauge John Quincy Adams for the character charts as an Active-Negative.  I'm leaning that way because of how he handled the Electoral crisis and opening himself up to public ridicule by his enemies.

Next up: work!  I'm off to work on Monday!  Voot!

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