John Quincy Adams: Mr. Irrelevant (1825-1829)
John Quincy Adams won the 1824 presidential election, but lost the popular vote and did not earn enough electoral votes. The House of Representatives chose him over three other contenders. After his election, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who threw his support to Adams, became secretary of state. Adams’ opponents howled in protest. The method of Adams’ election and the elevation of Clay to the State Department combined to turn the president-elect into a lame duck before he assumed office. Andrew Jackson began his campaign for 1828 almost from the moment of his defeat. As a result, the Adams Administration accomplished very little.
Andrew Jackson: Federalism and Union (1829-1837)
Jackson created the modern presidency. His decisive action led to a renewal of the two-party system as his opponents organized into the Whig Party. The Whigs supported activist government in the economic realm. Jackson vociferously opposed the expansion of federal power. He killed the Bank of the United States by vetoing its charter and then removing its funds. This action led to his censure, but little more. The public loved Jackson’s attack on the bank. Although the president supported states rights and opposed federal power, he believed in the Union. When South Carolina threw a tantrum over the tariff and threatened secession, Jackson threatened to use the military. South Carolina quickly backed down. Jackson did everything to preserve the Union while limiting the national government.
Martin Van Buren: Martin Van Ruin (1837-1841)
Martin Van Buren considered the presidency a reward for his years of public service. One month into office, a depression hit the nation and Van Buren proved ill equipped to deal with the calamity. Banks failed and unemployment soared. The economy took five years to recover. Although he had nothing to do with the collapse, Van Buren struggled to address the problem. Meanwhile, his personal extravagance opened himself to Whig attacks. By 1840, Americans derided the president as “Martin Van Ruin” and revolted against the Democrats in the general election.
William Henry Harrison: death in office (1841)
William Henry Harrison ran the first modern presidential campaign. His forces completely out hustled, outworked, and outmaneuvered the Democrats. After his election, Harrison delivered the longest inaugural address in history. About three weeks after his inaugural, he grew ill. Medical treatment weakened the president and he died on April 4, 1841. His death upset Whig plans. Without a pliant Harrison, a Jacksonian ascended to the presidency and blocked Whig policies with his veto pen.
John Tyler: succession (1841-1845)
Some believed the vice-president served as an interim president when the “real” president died. John Tyler disagreed. Upon Harrison’s death, he assumed the presidency and fought for the right to serve in the office unfettered as though he was elected. This led to constitutional questions, but scholars, politicians, and voters came to accept Tyler’s interpretation. As a result, no one questions succession in the event of a president’s death. Since Tyler’s elevation, seven vice-presidents have become president upon their predecessor’s death.
James K Polk: The Mexican War (1845-1849)
James K Polk led the nation into the Mexican War and presided over a dramatically expansive victory. America and Mexico argued over the Texas border when Mexican forces opened fire. By the time the shooting ended, the United States added 1.2 million square miles of territory. Polk’s tremendous military victory cost national unity. As a result of the new territory, North and South began squabbling over slavery’s expansion. After Polk left office, the country marched to civil war.