Q & A: What Did Condi Rice’s Nomination in the 21st Century Have in Common with Henry Clay’s in the 19th?

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 2-14-05

What Did Condi Rice’s Nomination in the 21st Century Have in Common with Henry Clay’s in the 19th?

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

On January 26, 2005 history was made when the Senate confirmed Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state by a vote of 85 to 13. No black woman had ever held the post. But the vote also made history in another, less fortunate way. As the Associated Press widely reported, more senators voted against Rice’s nomination than against any other secretary of state since 1825, when Henry Clay was up for the position and was confirmed by a vote of 27-14.

Even though Rice may have had the largest number of “no” votes for confirmation since Clay, in proportion to the total number of senators, she did better than he had. She received 13 “no” votes or 13 percent of the total; Clay received 14 “no” votes or 34 percent. Still the opposition they faced in the Senate shared remarkable similarities.

The fierce opposition in the Senate toward Henry Clay’s nomination as was a direct fallout from the 1824 presidential campaign and the “Corrupt Bargain” allegedly made between John Quincy Adams and Clay. In 1824, there were four candidates running for president; President Monroe’s secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, Senator Andrew Jackson, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and the incumbent Speaker of the House, Henry Clay. All the candidates were members of the Republican-Democratic Party, and voting loyalties were sectional. In the election Jackson won the popular vote, and had a plurality of the electoral votes but not the necessary majority. The precise breakdown showed that Jackson had 99 Electoral College votes and polled 153,544 popular votes (43.1 percent); Adams had 84 and 108,740 (30.5 percent); Crawford had 41 and 46,618 (13.1 percent), and Clay had 37 votes and 47,136 (13.2 percent). (John C. Calhoun had a clear majority for the vice presidency.)

Because no one enjoyed a majority of electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representative. As required under the Constitution, the House choose from the top three candidates, eliminating Clay, who’d come in fourth in electoral votes. The states that were up for grabs included Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio, which Clay had won, and the closely divided states of Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and New Jersey. Jackson seemed likely to win since he only needed the votes of two states in addition to those he had carried in the election. Adams, in contrast, needed six of the seven available states in addition to the six New England states he already had plus New York. In the end Adams won; according to Jackson and his supporters, Adams achieved victory by entering into a Corrupt Bargain with Clay, promising him the post of secretary of state in exchange for his support. Clay as Speaker of the House had the influence over congressional members to decide the outcome of the vote.

The position of secretary of state was at the time considered a stepping stone to the presidency; the last four secretaries of states in the country’s short history had risen to the presidency. The agreement was favorable to both parties; Adams would immediately get the presidency, and Clay would be the next in line. Clay a “typical Western gambler” gambled with his position as Speaker, and publicly supported Adams. Clay later wrote that Adams “was the best choice that I could practically make.” Clay delivered four Western states to Adams, including the three states he had won in the election: Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri. Adams also allegedly made an agreement with Daniel Webster to gain the vote of Maryland in exchange for the post of minister to Great Britain, but the appointment was never tendered. Adams was elected president by a vote of 13 to 11 states on the first ballot. (States voting for president in the House of Representatives vote as a group.)

Andrew Jackson vehemently opposed Clay, and the deal made with Adams that had cost him the election. It was a hatred that would resonate with Jackson until his death in 1845. Jackson swore he would do everything he could to thwart Clay’s presidential ambitions.

Jackson teamed up with John C. Calhoun, and William Crawford to create a Southern-Western axis in opposition to Clay. Clay nonetheless succeeded in lining up broad support for his nomination as secretary of state, but the “violent” friends of his enemies–Calhoun, Crawford and Jackson–remained opposed to his appointment. Clay persisted and his supporters argued that the West with a population of 3 million deserved representation, as they had not yet had a president or even a high level cabinet official. On February 17 Clay accepted President-Elect Adams’s offer of the position of secretary of state. The nomination increased Jackson’s fury. Fulminating, he raged: “So you see the Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive thirty pieces of silver. His end will be the same. Was there ever such a bare faced corruption in any other country before?”

After Adams’s inauguration on March 4, 1825 the president sent in three appointments for the Senate’s approval; at the top of the list was Clay’s nomination. Adams originally wanted to keep the Monroe Administration’s cabinet except for the admission of Clay, but Jackson’s opposition sabotaged Adams’s plan. When Clay’s nomination came up in the Senate, he believed that there would be little opposition to his appointment, with a maximum of 3 or 4 votes against him. He was shocked when 14 out of the 41 senators voted against him, thanks to Jackson’s opposition.

John Branch of North Carolina, voting against Clay, became the only senator to speak out in defense of his vote. He stated he opposed the nomination because of the “suspicion” of alleged wrong-doing. Jackson and two of his close partisans headed the campaign against Clay along with other Jackson followers who would go on to form the new Democratic Party. As Adams noted in his diary, “This was the first act of opposition from the stump which is to be carried on against the Administration under the banners of General Jackson.” The only Jackson follower that voted for Clay was Martin Van Buren, the leader in the Congress. On March 6 Clay resigned from his position in Congress and the next day signed his commission and was sworn in as secretary of state on March 8, 1825, amid a controversy that would haunt the one-term administration.

In the two elections–1824 and 2004–the losing presidential candidates in the Senate led the opposition to the appointment of a new secretary of state. In 1825 it was Andrew Jackson; this year it was John Kerry. In both cases the secretary of state faced questions that raised doubts about their character.

Comments (2)

Advertisements
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: