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The Election of 1812: Madison vs. Clinton

Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Lace ‘Em Up’s Presidential Election series. Today we will be going over the Election of 1812 it’s the first election in U.S. History to take place during wartime and incumbent James Madison has got a lot on his plate including a popular challenger in the Mayor of New York, DeWitt Clinton.

The War Of 1812

battle new orleans

Before we talk about the presidential election, let’s first talking about the major issue that’ll be at the forefront of the race and that would be the War of 1812.

As mentioned before in this series, Great Britain had been a thorn in the side of the United States for some time as the British were taking former British soldiers who had joined the Americans while also disrupting the U.S.’s overseas trading with France as America was in support of France during that country’s war with the British.

Tensions would continue to grow as the British decided to work with and even supply groups like the Barbary Pirates and Native American tribes in the lead-up to this war with both sides preventing America from its continuing pursuit of expansion and trade.

In June of 1812, President James Madison asked Congress to declare war against the British, which of course they did, however many in Congress (particularly the Federalists) refused to support the idea of going to war as the naval fleets of Great Britain were more dominate than America’s in the early stages of the war.

A Party Divided

gerry in faulkner mural

With Congress split over the idea of going to war and the President’s continuation of acquiring new territories in the years following the previous election, many American’s including those within the Democratic-Republican Party were getting sick and tired of James Madison

When the time came for the Democratic-Republicans to nominate a candidate during their congressional caucus the Southern Wing of the party nominated James Madison, however the Northern Wing of the party was instead thinking about nominating Madison’s Vice President and former Governor of New York, George Clinton for a time but that doesn’t go anywhere as Clinton would die in April of 1812.

Madison would get the nomination by the Southern section of his party with Massachusetts Governor John Langdon nominated as his running mate, but Langdon decided not to accept due to his old age; Instead, Madison’s running mate would be Founding Father Albridge Gerry who is famously known today as the man that created the art of ‘Gerrymandering’ aka redistricting areas that would give political parties the edge in certain elections.

DeWitt Clinton


The Northern section of the Democratic-Republicans was not happy with Madison winning the party’s nomination once again and as such they tried to find a candidate who could compete with the incumbent president; Their candidate came in the form of DeWitt Clinton who was the nephew of George Clinton and the current Mayor of New York City.

After accepting the nomination by the Northern Wing of his party, Clinton had to find a way to appeal to a number of Americans who were ‘Warhawks‘ aka people in favour of war and supported James Madison.

DeWitt’s strategy was to simply promise many of the Warhawks that he’ll be in favour of the war while also promising to do the opposite when confronted by those who were against the war. Clinton’s rationale for favouring both sides of the same issue was to gather support from both sides of the Democratic-Republicans with neither side knowing where Clinton’s really stood on the issue until it was far too late.

The Federalists Candidate?

Old Cartoon 1812

The Federalist Party were feeling better good about their chances going into this election as the Democratic-Republicans were divided and some Americans were against the war, so Federalists felt that this was the perfect time to reclaim the White House.

John Marshall who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at first was favoured to win the Federalist Party’s nomination for president as Marshall’s influence as a Chief Justice was legendary and he could potentially win the Northern and Southern states like Virginia, Connecticut and perhaps even New York which were filled with Federalists and Anti-Madison supporters.

However once DeWitt Clinton was chosen as the candidate by the Northern section of the Democratic-Republicans, many Federalists decided not to run a candidate and they also didn’t publicly endorse Clinton either as the party believed that by throwing their support to DeWitt, it would hurt his chances of winning states in the South and it could lead to an easy victory for James Madison.

Some Federalists quietly supported DeWitt Clinton as his promises of wanting to get out of the war resonated with them and he was seen as the closest thing to a candidate the Federalists had in terms of getting back into the White House. Others in the Federalist Party instead nominated Rufus King who was the running mate for Charles C. Pinckney in the elections of 1804 and 1808.

The Federalists did decide to nominate Jarod Ingersoll from Pennsylvania as Clinton’s running mate which Clinton accepted as Pennsylvania was a key state that could help him win the race, but will that be enough for Clinton to win or will Madison be able to keep his position as President?

For the answer to that question, let’s take a look at the electoral results.

The Results of the Election of 1812

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Going into this election the candidates will need 109 votes or more to win the race and when the results are all counted, it becomes clear that James Madison won re-election receiving 128 electoral votes with DeWitt Clinton not being too far off with 89 electoral votes. 

The popular vote was just as close with Madison receiving 50.4% of the popular vote to Clinton’s 47.6%, meanwhile, Rufus King got no electoral votes but did get 2% of the popular vote.

This election marked the first time an incumbent president won re-election with less of the electoral or popular vote that they had previously as Madison’s popular vote percentage in 1808 was 64.8, so his popularity dropped by 14.4%.

Be sure to come back for the next Presidential Election, as the War of 1812 will be coming to an end and an Era of Good Feelings will be on the horizon.

If you are interested in learning more about U.S. political history on this site, be sure to check the links below to read more about that:

The Election of 1808: Madison vs. Pinckney

The Election Of 1808: Madison Vs. Pinckney | Lace ‘Em Up (laceemupmedia.com)

The Election of 1804: Jefferson vs. Pinckney
The Election Of 1804: Jefferson Vs. Pinckney | Lace ‘Em Up (laceemupmedia.com)

The Election of 1800: Adams vs. Jefferson

The Election Of 1800: Adams Vs. Jefferson | Lace ‘Em Up (laceemupmedia.com)

The Election of 1796: The Federalist vs. Democratic-Republicans:

The Election Of 1796: The Federalists Vs. Democratic-Republicans | Lace ‘Em Up (laceemupmedia.com)

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