Party Like It’s 1829

The campaign had been one of the nastiest and most grueling in presidential history. On one side, a former Secretary of State: a candidate with decades of experience in diplomacy and public service, a track record of progressive ideals and visionary foreign policy practices, and a prominent political family lineage, now running for re-election to the presidency. On the other side, a militia leader from Tennessee, with only “brief and undistinguished” Congressional service, a hot temper and tendency to violence, zero White House or diplomatic experience and (very! bigly!) poor written English.

The latter had captivated voters with his anti-elitism and business deals military accomplishments, calling out the corruption in aristocratic Washington, elevating the “common man” and farmers, and threatening violent force against anyone who challenged him, including the statesman who said he was “unfit for office” due to his “habitual disregard of laws and constitutional provisions.”

Sounding a little familiar?

I bet! You must be thinking of the 1824 election. That’s right, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson had gone head-to-head before for the presidency, in a bizarre test of the Electoral College. Due to two additional candidates, Henry Clay and William Harris Crawford, no candidate won enough electoral votes to win the presidency, so the vote was thrown to Congress, who picked Quincy Adams (who had won the popular vote). For the next four years, Jackson told anyone who would listen that he had been robbed of the office through a “corrupt bargain.” Yep — “it was rigged.”

After stewing on this loss for the duration of the Quincy Adams administration, Jackson came back with a vengeance in 1828. He won the election after a cruel campaign on both sides, and was the first “outsider” candidate elected: all previous presidents had been from aristocratic families in Massachusetts or Virginia. Quincy Adams’ presidency had involved progressive change and significant overreach of the executive powers, fueling the fire for Jacksonian voters who felt “left behind.” (!!!) Jackson successfully campaigned on promises of glory and power for the poor folks on the frontier. And while he didn’t go on a victory tour when he won, nor take to Twitter in a midnight rant, he used his presidential inauguration to make it clear to all of Washington that he didn’t give one hooting toot about their ideas of proper decorum and presidential behavior.

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Jackson’s inauguration, via Library of Congress

Keeping with precedent, Jackson hosted an inaugural ball at the White House that was open to the public. But because there had been no peaceful transfer of security, since the Jackson administration refused to work with the previous inhabitants, the White House had no security on hand. That’s right: the chaperones, essentially, were out of town. Over 20,000 people crowded into the White House, from dignitaries and celebrities to the “unwashed masses” of impoverished fans from the frontier.

And just like every high school movie has shown us, what began as a celebration turned quickly into a boisterous, drunken mob, with alcohol flowing freely and guests raiding cabinets and spilling food and drink onto the White House carpet. Daniel Webster called it “a monstrous crowd…they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger.” Dishes were broken, work boots tore up nails in the floors, fights broke out, and the scent of tobacco nestled deep into the walls as Jackson’s supporters celebrated, believing that as taxpayers the White House belonged to them, too.

4402173_origJackson made himself scarce, still in mourning from the death of his wife Rachel a few months earlier. After nearly being crushed by adoring fans, he eventually escaped through a second-story window and spent the night at a boarding house nearby.

In the end, White House staffers placed tubs of orange punch on the lawn in order to lure partygoers out of the house. Historians have since claimed that the damage to the White House was not, in the end, terribly extensive, but that Republicans exaggerated the party in order to sustain fears about Jackson’s direct populism and affiliation with mob violence. Indeed, this wild affair earned Jackson the nickname “King Mob,” replacing his earlier nickname, “Jackass,” which he quite liked – and which gave the Democratic party it’s symbol.

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Despite the parallels in campaign promises and the electorates that voted them into office, this year’s inauguration is likely to be a gold-plated formal affair, with more expensive watches than coonskin caps and, I would venture to guess, more vodka than whiskey. (Get it? Because Russia.) But in case you find yourself wanting to celebrate or wallow with a cocktail in hand, the Wall Street Journal writer Eric Felten has put together a recipe resembling the very Orange Punch served in 1829, which you can recreate for yourself and even drink out of a tub on your front lawn, if you’re feeling truly Jacksonian.

To America!

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