By Christopher Grisham
Most students across Tennessee can probably list the three U.S. presidents that came from Tennessee. Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson are the only people from our state (so far) that have served in the highest office of government. But they are not the only people from Tennessee that ran for president. There have been a few others that came close but didn’t quite make it.
Okay, so this first one is a little bit of a cheat. He was just listed as a Tennessee president in the introduction. But did you know that he lost the first time he ran for president? In 1824, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay were all in the running. There were so many candidates that none of them had enough votes in the Electoral College to win the election. According to the Constitution, that means that the House of Representatives had to choose the winner from the top three candidates. That left Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, out of the running. Even though Andrew Jackson won the popular vote, the House chose John Quincy Adams as the sixth President of the United States. Jackson and his supporters didn’t believe that was fair. Jackson ran against Adams again in 1828 and was finally elected president.
Andrew Jackson’s top hat worn to his inauguration in 1829, Tennessee State Museum Collection 5.5152
Hugh Lawson White
Hugh Lawson White, a senator from Tennessee, ran for president in 1836. This was just after Andrew Jackson finished his two terms in the White House. Jackson’s vice-president, Martin Van Buren, ran to continue Jackson’s policies. Even though White was from Tennessee too, he did not agree with Jackson on many issues. Hugh Lawson White ran against Van Buren as a member of a new political party called the Whigs. The party was so new that they weren’t very organized. They didn’t even have many policies other than they disagreed with Andrew Jackson. Three Whigs ran for president that year: Hugh Lawson White, William Henry Harrison, and Daniel Webster. There were so many Whigs that none of them could get enough votes to beat Martin Van Buren. Van Buren goes on to become the eighth President of the United States.
Portrait of Hugh L. White, Tennessee State Museum collection 9.677
John Bell was a former House Representative and Senator from Tennessee and even served as the Secretary of War. He decided to run for president in 1860. Like the two stories above, this was another year with several people running. John Bell was representing a new party, the Constitutional Unionists. There were three other men running that year: Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, and Abraham Lincoln (you may have heard of him). The reason so many people ran for president in 1860 is that the issue of slavery had divided the country. Abraham Lincoln believed that it should not be allowed to spread to any new states. Stephen Douglas wanted to allow new states to choose whether to be for enslavement or not when they joined the Union. John Breckinridge believed that slavery should be allowed everywhere in the United States. John Bell and the other Constitutional Unionists did not officially take a position on the subject. Bell wanted to extend the Missouri Compromise line and only allow enslavement in new states below that. As you may know, Abraham Lincoln went on to win the presidency that year. The disagreement over slavery and secession led to the Civil War shortly after that.
Portrait of John Bell, Tennessee State Museum collection 1.836
Al Gore Jr.
Al Gore Jr. had been the vice president for eight years when he ran for president in 2000. He spent most of his adult life in politics. Gore had been a Representative and Senator for the state of Tennessee. His dad, Al Gore Sr., had been a well-known politician too. Gore ran against another man from a political family, George W. Bush. Bush was the son of former President George H. W. Bush. The election was very close. It came down to less than 600 votes in Florida to decide the winner. Ultimately, George W. Bush was announced as the next president. More people across the country voted for Gore than Bush, but Bush won more votes in the Electoral College than Gore.
Biography of Al Gore Jr., Tennessee State Museum collection 2004.21.3
Professional golfer Walter Hagen once said, “No one remembers who came in second.” These Tennesseans might not have become the president, but they do deserve to be remembered for their service to Tennessee or the unique times in which they lived.
Electoral College – According to the Constitution, the people of the United States do not elect the President. Each state selects “Electors” that go to Washington D.C., and they vote for the president. This group is known as the Electoral College.
Candidate – Someone who is trying to get elected to public office (ex. president, senator, representative, governor, or mayor).
Popular Vote – The popular vote is the total number of people who vote for a candidate. Most people are chosen by popular vote, but not the president.
Policies – These are the ideas that a candidate wants to do if they get elected.
Political Party – Political parties are made up of people that agree on the same policies and usually help each other to win elections.
Andrew Jackson was the first Tennessean to become President. What number president was he?
What state’s votes decided the election of 2000?
Why do you think someone would want to be the President of the United States?
What do you think would be an effective way to convince people to vote for you if you were running for office?
Design Your Own Campaign Poster
Campaigns use posters as a way to convince people to vote for a specific candidate. These posters need to be eye catching and convincing, but they can’t hold a lot of information. Use a sheet of paper or poster board to design your own campaign poster. Most campaign posters will have certain elements. Choose at least three of the following elements and include them in your poster:
- Your Name (required)
- A slogan
- An image or picture
- One thing that you would do when elected
- A symbol that represents your ideas
- One word that will catch viewer’s attention
Christopher Grisham is the K-12 Education Manager at the Tennessee State Museum.
TN State Standards
4.27 Explain how slavery became a national issue during the mid-19th century, including the significance of:
Missouri Compromise, Compromise of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, John Brown’s Raid (on Harper’s Ferry)
4.28 Compare and contrast the various sectional stances on states’ rights and slavery represented by the presidential candidates in the election of 1860, including Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.
5.52 Identify influential Tennesseans from the late 20th century, including:
Al Gore, Jr., Alex Haley, Dolly Parton, Wilma Rudolph, Oprah Winfrey
8.45 Examine the importance of the elections of 1824 and 1828, including: the corrupt bargain, the spoils system, and Jacksonian Democracy.
8.60 Explain the arguments presented by Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln on slavery in the Illinois Senate race debates of 1858.
8.61 Describe the election of 1860 and its candidates (i.e., John Bell, Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and John Breckinridge), and analyze how the campaigns reflected sectional turmoil in the country.
TN.24 Discuss the contributions of important figures during Tennessee’s “golden age”, including:
John Bell, Newton Cannon, William Carroll, David Crockett, Ephraim Foster, Sam Houston, James C. Jones, Sequoyah, Hugh Lawson White
“Albert Gore, Jr.: A Featured Biography.” United States Senate. https://www.senate.gov/senators/FeaturedBios/Featured_Bio_Gore_Al_Jr.htm
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia. "John Bell." Encyclopedia Britannica, September 6, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Bell-American-politician.
Cunningham, J. M.. "United States presidential election of 1836." Encyclopedia Britannica, June 26, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-1836.
Drexler, Ken. “Presidential Election of 1824: A Resource Guide.” https://guides.loc.gov/presidential-election-1824#:~:text=After%20no%20candidate%20received%20a,by%20the%20House%20of%20Representatives. Last updated August 2, 2022.
History, Editors of History.com. “Election of 1860.” History. https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/election-of-1860 . A&E Television Networks. Last updated January 28, 2022.
“Historical Presidential Elections.” 270 to Win. https://www.270towin.com/historical-presidential-elections/. Last updated in 2022.
“Statistics.” The American Presidency Project. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/statistics/elections/2000