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A SIGN FROM GOD

February 21st, 2010

The presidential election of 1824 did not give a majority to any of the

Stephen van Rensselaer

candidates. There also was no majority in the Electoral College. Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were the major contenders. Henry Clay of Kentucky and William H. Crawford of Georgia were the other two candidates.

The Twelfth Amendment (adopted in 1804 following the disputed Election of 1800) provided that elections in which no candidate received a majority should be decided by the House of Representatives from among the top three candidates. Clay was out of contention and Crawford was an unlikely prospect because of a serious illness.

Jackson clearly expected to win, figuring that the House would act to confirm his strong showing. However, Clay, as Speaker of the House, used his influence to sway the vote to Adams. Although they were not close, Clay knew that he and Adams shared a common political philosophy; Clay also knew that Jackson was an avowed opponent of the Bank of the United States, a vital component of the American System. Clay also was not interested in doing anything to further the career of the hero of New Orleans, his main rival in the West. [1]

In spite of Clay’s influence, the House of Representatives was divided and it came down to the vote of single representative from upstate New York, Stephen van Rensselaer III. Van Rensselaer was born in New York City, the eldest child of Stephen Van Rensselaer, the ninth patroon (1742–1769, a great-grandson of Mayor of New York Stephanus Van Cortlandt) and Catharina Livingston (daughter of Philip Livingston). His family was very wealthy, and the Van Rensselaer Manor House was a rich childhood environment for the young boy to grow up in. However, his father died in 1769, when van Rensselaer was only five, and the heir to his father’s estate. Van Rensselaer was raised by his mother and his stepfather, the Rev. Eilardus Westerlo, whom his mother married in 1775. [2] He served in the New York State Assembly (1789) and Senate (1791) , as lieutenant governor of New York State (1795), general of the state militia, as a member of the United States House of Representatives (1822-29). He was the founder of Renssselaer Polytechnic Institute. [3]

Each state was given one-vote in the House of Representatives. Adams had the support of twelve states, one short of what was needed. When Representative van Rensselaer entered the Chamber for the vote, he was ushered into the speaker’s room where Clay and Daniel Webster tried to persuade him to vote for Adams. They were unsuccessful in convincing him, but the combination of two of the best persuaders in American history still had its effect. Before voting, van Rensselaer bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes the first thing he saw was a slip of paper with Adam’s name on it. Accepting it is a sign from God, he put the slip of paper into the ballot box, making John Quincy Adams the sixth president of the United States. [4]

[1] U-S-History.com
[2] Stephen Van Rensselaer, Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Van_Rensselaer_III
[3] Stephen Van Rensselaer III, by Stefan Bielinski, New York State Museum
[4] On This Day, Dr. Paul E. Barkey, self-published