Ready for a challenge? The 1820 election was virtually uncontested, as the nation’s relative harmony, and the decline of the Federalist Party, made us virtually a one-party state for a short period of time. As such, James Monroe’s near unanimity was all but guaranteed. However, about 20% of the population voted against Monroe, with New York Governor DeWitt Clinton as the leading default candidate. Clinton had previously been a fusion candidate for an alliance between Federalists and Republicans (sometimes called Democratic-Republicans) favoring internal improvements and a national bank.
This election allows for many what-if scenarios:
- What if Republicans (later called Democratic-Republicans by some historians) challenged Monroe’s reelection. While popular, he frustrated the two wings of his party. Those favoring modernization (mostly Northerners) felt that he was too inactive as a president and the conservative Old Republican wing believed that Monroe, like Jefferson and Madison before him, had betrayed the values of the 1798 resolutions. Among the potential challengers are: General Andrew Jackson, Sec. John C. Calhoun, Sec. William H. Crawford, Rep. John Randolph, Gen. William Henry Harrison, VP Daniel Tompkins, US Speaker Henry Clay and Sec. John Quincy Adams.
- What if the Federalists had mounted an organized challenge? The party had lost all credibility following the War of 1812. Additionally, with stronger cries of democracy on the rise, a party in favor of ruling elites was clearly out of style. However, could Federalist superstars, such as Chief Justice John Marshall and former Chief Justice John Jay, strengthen the party? Could a young Federalist like 38-year-old former Rep. Daniel Webster reinvent the party for the current generation? Or, could the Federalists once again settle on New York Senator Rufus King?
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