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A Footrace, by David Claypoole Johnson, 1824

The 1824 presidential election was the first one to excite high public interest and participation.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

A Footrace, by David Claypoole Johnson, 1824

The House Elects a President, 1825

If no candidate wins a majority in the electoral college, the Constitution specifies that the House of Representatives selects a president from among the top three candidates.

In 1825, no candidate won a majority. Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee received the most votes, followed by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts and Treasury Secretary William Crawford of Georgia. House Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky, who finished last, threw his support behind Adams. The House followed Clay's lead. But when the victorious Adams named Clay as Secretary of State (a traditional stepping-stone to the White House), Jackson supporters accused the two of a "corrupt bargain." Four years later, that slogan helped Jackson defeat Adams—with a clear majority.