This Day in Revisionist History

This is a Wednesday column, so why is it running on Thursday? Well, while on assignment in the Middle East, Jake was captured by Afghanis. They have since released him after he quickly volunteered a few national secrets (don’t worry–not our national secrets…stupid terrorists.) But enough already. Let’s leave the revising of events to the column itself:

December 1

“Oh, come on…is that an actual rule?”

–Delaware Congressman Louis McLane, after learning that because none of the candidates had won a majority of electoral votes, the 1824 presidential election would be decided by the House of Representatives.

The 12th amendment has never been very popular, and its only saving grace has been the persistence of the two-party system in the United States. But know that on this day in 1824, due to the dissolution of a unified Federalist party, there was only one party, which had distributed its electoral support among four candidates. Although Andrew Jackson received the highest number of votes, he did not receive a majority, which required what today we would call a run-off, in which the top three candidates would vie for votes in a House of Representatives election.

Congressman Louis McLane, the widely adored representative from Delaware, was supremely irritated by this arrangement, as he was a staunch opponent of elections. His objection came as no surprise—especially not to the people of Delaware, who after electing him several times had been subjected to his multiple condemnatory victory speeches: “Look, it’s obvious you guys want me to be Congressman. This is my fourth term. Why keep making a whole thing out of it? Seriously, guys, enough is enough.” Although it hadn’t passed, he had introduced into the Delaware legislature the “McLane Fiat” bill, which would have done away with incumbent re-elections when “everyone knows who would win anyway.” McLane naturally blamed the defeat of his bill on the state legislature’s customary vote, and would later express his bitter frustration in a letter to his associate Nathaniel Barlow: “If I had simply ordered it, these people wouldn’t have been all up in arms about it, but it seems that by granting them a choice I have miraculously engendered opinions where before only passivity resided.”

McLane’s highly unorthodox view of democracy notwithstanding, his incredulity reflected the general unrest within Congress, which had grown so weary of disputed presidential elections that it had barely given McLane a slap on the wrist for surreptitiously attempting to attach a rider to the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which in intentionally vague and confusing language would have ultimately increased the presidential and congressional terms by a factor of ten by adding several strategically placed zeroes to the existing constitutional text. And so, on this day, Congress was faced with the task of electing a president. John Adams had garnered only the second highest total, but he soon won over Congress by publicly announcing for the first time that his middle name was Quincy, which everyone thought was really cool.

No one seemed to mind this reasoning, severely excepting Andrew Jackson, who didn’t even have a middle name, and so it was decided. From that day on, whenever anyone brought up that election around Andrew Jackson, who would go on to win the presidency four (and not forty) years later, everyone would just get real quiet and Jackson would stand there, angry and motionless, like an old hickory, leading an upstart fellow by the name of Charles Dickinson to dub him “Crybaby Jackson,” but Jackson killed him in a duel and started making everyone call him Old Hickory.

History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean I have to, although I did say that last week. Tune in next week for an all-new “This Day in Revisionist History”!


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