Presidential Elections from Adams to Lincoln

By Patrick Spero

In the spring of 2012, a small cadre of Williams College students participated in an experimental history course on the American Presidents. Instead of producing papers, as is the norm in most history classes, the students created video campaign ads for the presidential elections from John Adams to Abraham Lincoln. 

There was a catch, though. The students could only use images, quotes, documents, and music from the era. They couldn't use anything that came afterward. An image of the White House burning in 1812 would not work for the election of 1808. They couldn't use images of Leutze’s famous Washington Crossing the Delaware, a product more reflective of the 1840s than the 1770s. Their assignment was to capture the spirit of the age – not the spirit of our historical memory.  

RealClearHistory hosted the entire series, with 12 segments in all, each with the best videos the students produced.  

We began with John Adams’ 1796 election and concluded with Lincoln's victory in 1860. Here's a complete list with links to each:

1796: John Adams (Federalist) vs. Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican)

1800: Thomas Jefferson (D-R) vs. John Adams (F)

1808: James Madison (D-R) vs. Charles Pinckney (F)

1812: James Madison (D-R) vs. DeWitt Clinton (F)

1816: James Monroe (D-R) vs. Rufus King (F)

1824: John Quincy Adams (D-R) vs. Andrew Jackson (D-R) and Henry Clay (D-R)

1828: Andrew Jackson (Democratic) vs. John Quincy Adams (National Republican)

1840: William Henry Harrison (Whig) vs. Martin van Buren (D)

1844: James Polk (D) vs. Henry Clay (Whig)

1848: Zachary Taylor (Whig) vs. Lewis Cass (D) and Martin van Buren (Free Soil)

1852: Franklin Pierce (D) vs. Winfield Scott (Whig)

1856: James Buchanan (D) vs. John Fremont (Republican) and Millard Fillmore (American) 

1860: Abraham Lincoln (R) vs. Stephen Douglas (D) and John Breckinridge (D)

Patrick Spero is Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and History at Williams College. He may be reached at patrick.k.spero@williams.edu.

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