The Politics of Corruption examines the U.S. presidential election of 1824 as a critical contest in the nation’s political history, full of colorful characters and brimming with unexpected twists. This election inaugurated the transition from the sedate, elitist elections of the Jeffersonian era and propelled developments toward the showier yet also more democratized presidential races that came to characterize Jacksonian America.

The Republican Party fielded all five candidates in 1824, a veritable who’s who of early republic notables: treasury secretary William Crawford, secretary of state John Quincy Adams, secretary of war John C. Calhoun, speaker of the House Henry Clay, and War of 1812 hero Andrew Jackson. This book recasts the 1824 election—conventionally regarded as a dull, intraparty affair—as one of the most exciting contests in American history. Using the correspondence and diaries of the principals involved, Callahan chronicles the ways in which the five candidates innovated political practices by creating dynamic organizations, sponsoring energetic newspaper networks, staging congressional legislative battles, and spreading vicious personal attacks against each other.

In the end, Calhoun’s smear campaign fatally undermined front-runner Crawford, while self-styled political outsider Jackson successfully equated regular politics with corruption yet still lost the contest to Washington’s ultimate insider, John Quincy Adams. It was a defeat Jackson would not forget, animating him to fundamentally change the ways American politics was conducted ever after.