Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Campaigns and Elections

The Campaign and Election of 1816

When James Madison announced his decision to continue the custom of serving only two terms as President, James Monroe stood in a commanding position for the Democratic-Republican nomination as Madison's heir apparent. He encountered opposition, however, as some people chafed at the prospect of yet another President from Virginia—of the first four Presidents, three had been from the Commonwealth.

Monroe's main opposition came from William H. Crawford, a former senator from Georgia who had also served in Madison's cabinet. Although Crawford had a lot of support in Congress, he lacked a national constituency. By contrast, Monroe had great support throughout the country. Crawford held back from waging a full campaign for the nomination for fear of alienating Monroe and losing the possibility of a cabinet seat following a Monroe victory. When Republicans in Congress caucused to choose their presidential nominee, they selected Monroe by a vote of 65 to 54. They also nominated New York Governor Daniel D. Tompkins to run as vice-president.

The Federalists, who had all but disappeared as a political entity in the aftermath of the War of 1812, did not formally nominate a presidential candidate. Federalist opposition to the war and public perceptions of the party as unpatriotic and possibly treasonous led most members to abandon the party name altogether. The opposition candidate with whom old-time Federalists identified and informally endorsed was Rufus King of New York, who had had a long and distinguished public career.

Before the election, a few of King's supporters restated Monroe's diplomatic failures, but few newspapers openly criticized Monroe or suggested that King would make a better President. In fact, Monroe's popularity carried the day. He was respected as the "last framer" of the Constitution, even though he had opposed its ratification. Supporters also painted him as the man who had fought alongside General Washington and as the last of the Revolutionary generation to be President of the United States. Monroe ended up winning a majority of electoral votes in sixteen states: Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. King won only three states: Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts. The total Electoral College vote came in at 183 for Monroe and 34 for King.

The Election of 1820

After four years in office, Monroe's renomination was such a foregone conclusion that few Democratic-Republicans attended the congressional nominating caucus in April 1820. Not wanting to embarrass the President with only a handful of votes, the caucus declined to make a formal nomination. Neither did the few remaining Federalists bother to endorse an opponent. As a result, Monroe and Vice President Tompkins ran unopposed.

This was the first time since the election of President Washington that a presidential election went uncontested. Even former President John Adams, founder of the Federalist Party, came out of retirement to serve as a Monroe elector in Massachusetts. Only one of the electors, Governor William Plumer of New Hampshire, did not vote for Monroe, casting a vote for Secretary of State John Quincy Adams instead.