In 1819, a year before the political campaign that would elect a new president, the Missouri Territory petitioned to join the Union as a state. At the time, America was evenly split into states that did permit slavery and those that did not, with 11 on each side. The Constitution had stated that the issue of whether or not to allow slavery was up to each individual state.
Republican Congressman James Talmadge of New York, however, suggested that Missouri’s petition to join the Union contain an amendment stating that no additional slaves could be brought into the state and that those that were already there would be eventually be set free.
This proposal launched a fierce debate in Congress and set up an issue that would loom large in the upcoming political campaign. Southern congressmen argued that each state had the right to decide whether or not to permit slavery. The debate was finally resolved with a compromise in March 1820. Missouri could join the United States as a slave state, but Maine would also join as a free state. Additional laws were passed to ban slavery in all remaining territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, north of a specific line of latitude.
Many political figures–including John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson–saw the Missouri Compromise as a dangerous sign of division within the United States, where lines that separated slave states from free states were drawn.
Today, the Missouri Compromise is viewed as a political mistake. In 1820, however, when president James Monroe was running a political campaign for reelection, his administration’s policies were viewed favorably–so favorably, in fact, that the Republican members of Congress felt that it was not necessary to discuss nominations; Monroe was the clear choice as the candidate who would run the best campaign and be most likely to win on election day.
Planning for the monumental political campaign of 1804 was set up early, much like the presidential races of today. Party organizations were set up in each state. By October 1801, instructions had been given out to party organizers in each town. These political campaign committees were told to make up a list of all those eligiblde to cote in their towns, especially those likely to consider themselves Republican. The committees were told to hold a private meeting with these Republicans to discuss with them the importance of ensuring that Republican principles were maintained in local government. The committees were also told to try to make sure that Republican newspapers were circulated in their towns. These early campaign organizations formed the basis of party structure at the local level.
In 1804, when Thomas Jefferson sought reelection, his party reminded voters of the failures of Federalist president John Adams and provided a list of Jefferson’s accomplishments during his four years in office. These included reduction of taxes, elimination of several thousand unnecessary government jobs, reduction of the national debt, maintenance of peace, and the purchase of the Louisiana territory. It is an interesting note that, apart from the Louisiana Purchase, many similar claims feature in modern presidential political campaigns.
Adams and the Federalists were also linked–unfavorably–to Great Britain. The Revolutionary War was still recent history, and voters were reminded that Great Britain had been America’s greatest enemy not long ago. Federalists responded by linking their party to George Washington. They organized a large public campaign celebration of George Washington’s birthday and described a vote for the Federalist as a vote for the “Washington ticket.”
In the end, Jefferson was overwhelmingly successful in this political campaign bid for reelection. He won every state except for Delaware and Connecticut.