Actions Have Consequences: The Election of 1831

Henry Clay

Crockett's perceived tight associations with Clay and the Whigs helped contribute to his 1831 election defeat.

“Heaven knows that I have done all that a mortal could do, to save the people, and the failure was not my fault, but the fault of others.”

           The election of 1831 would not go Crockett’s way.  His split with Jackson over the Indian Bill and his inability to get the land bill passed would work against Crockett and for his opponent William Fitzgerald. Crockett knew this and issued several letters to editors that outlined his attempts to pass the land bill and placed blame at the feet of the Tennessee delegation for failing to go along with his plans and amendments.[1]

            Fitzgerald ran on a platform that did not exactly line up with Jackson but was not as openly anti-Jackson as Crockett’s.  He was for internal improvements and figuring out a solution to the land issue, but against nullification and tariffs.[2]  Based on the election results it is probable that this platform was more palatable to the people of Crockett’s district.  Fitzgerald ran a campaign that attacked Crockett’s voting record, his voting absences, and his seemingly tight relationship with Henry Clay and the Whigs. There were several instances where Fitzgerald and his campaign staffers scheduled appearances for Crockett without his knowledge, and when the crowd would show up, the Fitzgerald people would take the stage and rail against Crockett.[3]

            Crockett ended up losing this election, in part, because of his stance on the Indian Bill.  However, it certainly did not help his case that several newspapers and the president himself[4]came out against him and for Fitzgerald.  This led to a more bitter tone from Crockett due to the feeling of being unfairly attacked for his independent advocation of his constituents.  Where in the past Crockett was able to come off as a backwoodsman who really understood his people, in the election of 1831 his rhetoric came off as angry and incendiary. This anger was perhaps justified however and does not contradict the idea of Crockett being a true common man politician.  By being attacked from so many angles because of his independence and losing the election, Crockett knew that his constituents were losing their best advocate and the best chance they had at advancing their interests.

            Officially Crockett lost the election by 586 votes, a close margin.[5]  He would later, unsuccessfully, challenge the results of the election displaying more bitterness and anger.[6]  However, this is not the last Washington would see of Crockett.  In 1833 he would win the congressional election and head to Congress for what would be his last term.  

[1]David Crockett to The Editor of the Southern Statesman, January 6, 1831, in Crockett in Congress, edited by James R. Boylston and Allen J. Wiener (Houston: Bright Sky Press, 2009), 197.

[2]Boylston and Wiener, Crockett in Congress, 81.

[3]Crockett, Narrative, 207-208.

[4]Davis,Three Roads, 181-182.

[5]“Miscellaneous,”Niles Weekly Register, October 22, 1831, 150.  

[6]Boylston and Wiener, Crockett in Congress, 218.