The Elections of 1836 and 1840

 1836: Martin Van Buren (170 Electoral Votes)
           William Henry Harrison (73 Electoral Votes)
           Hugh White (26 Electoral Votes)
           Daniel Webster (14 Electoral Votes)

1840: William Henry Harrison (234 Electoral Votes)
          Martin Van Buren (60 Electoral Votes)

The new Whig Party was unable to settle on a single candidate to oppose Jackson’s Vice President, Martin Van Buren, in 1836.  Rather, the anti-Jacksonians nominated three regional candidates.  William Henry Harrison, an elderly hero of Indian fighting and the War of 1812, challenged Van Buren in the West.  In the South, the Whig candidate was a states’ rights senator, Hugh Lawson White.  Northern Whigs supported nationalist Daniel Webster.  Party leaders hoped that these regional candidates might deny Van Buren a majority in the Electoral College, but the strategy failed.  Van Buren immediately faced bank crisis and economic depression, with which his administration was unable to cope.  The Whigs seized their opportunity in 1840, when they coalesced around Harrison, the strongest of their regional candidates from 1836.  Harrison won in the first campaign to succeed by purposely elevating sloganeering (“Tippecanoe and Tyler too”) above platform.  The Whig triumph was fleeting, however.  When Harrison died after just a month in office, a disgruntled former Jacksonian, John Tyler, replaced him.  Tyler vetoed the Whig legislative program of promoting internal improvements and reviving the national bank.

The Elections of 1828 and 1832

1828: Andrew Jackson (178 Electoral Votes)
          John Quincy Adams (83 Electoral Votes)

1832: Andrew Jackson (219 Electoral Votes)
          Henry Clay (49 Electoral Votes)

The election of 1828 was a grudge match.  Jackson’s supporters continued to accuse Adams of reaching the presidency through a corrupt bargain with Henry Clay.  Adams’ partisans accused Jackson of adultery for marrying his second wife before her divorce was final.  (The marriage had taken place before the divorce was final, but the couple had made the error inadvertently.)   Jackson easily won the Electoral College majority that eluded him in 1824.  John Quincy Adams became the most distinguished American ex-President, returning to politics as a member of the House of Representatives, where he led the opposition to rules requiring the suppression of antislavery petitions.  Jackson pursued policies of limiting government (vetoing internal improvements and renewal of the charter for the Bank of the United States) and promoting a more democratic politics (at least for white men).  In 1832, Jackson faced his other nemesis from 1824, Henry Clay (perhaps the greatest American statesman never to reach the presidency), and easily won a second term. The followers of Jackson and Clay coalesced into the parties that would dominate the next two decades, the Democrats and Whigs.

The Election of 1824

Andrew Jackson 99
John Quincy Adams 84
William Crawford 41
Henry Clay 37

Party conflict may have ceased in the Era of Good Feelings, but factionalism endured within the surviving Republican Party.  Four major candidates from the Republican Party competed in the election of 1824.  Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay drew most their support from the West.  Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford were strong in the New England and the South, respectively.  Jackson won a comfortable plurality of the popular votes for electors in the states (this was the first year in which the popular votes for electors were tabulated) and a plurality of the vote in the Electoral College itself, but for the second (and, to date, the last) time the election had to be decided in the House of Representatives.  Clay threw his support to Adams in the House, and was subsequently appointed Secretary of the State in the new administration.  Jackson’s supporters suspected that a “corrupt bargain” had thwarted the popular will, and organized to prepare for the election of 1828.  Adams sought to promote a vigorous program of national development, but his administration never escaped the controversy provoked by his election.

The Elections of 1816 and 1820

1816: James Monroe 183
Rufus King 34

1820: James Monroe 231
John Quincy Adams 1

Near disaster in the War of 1812 did not prevent Virginia Republicans from extending their dominance of the presidency in the election of 1816.  The Republican caucus again nominated the incumbent Secretary of State to succeed the retiring president.  James Monroe was elected easily against weakening Federalist opposition, and reelected four years later with all but one electoral vote.  The first American party system came to an end with the demise of the Federalists.  While partisanship temporarily subsided in the “Era of Good Feelings,” sectional crisis erupted over the admission of Missouri as a slave state and the status of slavery in the territories of Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.  The rise of Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson, foreshadowed the development of a new party system.

The Elections of 1808 and 1812

1808: James Madison 122  Charles Pinckney 47

1812:  James Madison 128  DeWitt Clinton 89

In 1808, Jefferson reinforced Washington’s precedent by voluntarily retiring after two terms.  The Republican congressional caucus nominated Jefferson’s protégé and Secretary of State, James Madison, to succeed him.  The major issue of the election was foreign policy, especially the American stance in the long-running war between Great Britain and Napoleonic France.  Jefferson and Madison had persuaded Congress to enact an Embargo Act, which closed American ports to foreign shipping in order to compel the belligerents to respect American neutrality.  The act caused economic hardship at home, especially in commercial New England, without inducing the European powers to a greater respect for American neutrality.  The continuing disputes over respect for neutrality on the high seas led to war with Great Britain, which the United States entered with naïve hopes of conquering Canada.  The American military suffered early disasters in War of 1812; despite this, Madison was reelected in the first presidential election conducted during wartime.  The war ultimately confirmed American independence.

The Elections of 1800 and 1804

1800:  Thomas Jefferson 73 Aaron Burr 73 John Adams 65 Charles Pinckney 64

1804: Thomas Jefferson 162  Charles Pinckney 14

Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of Thomas Jefferson 1805-1807, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine

The election of 1800 established the third great precedent in presidential elections: the peaceful transfer of office from one partisan faction to its rival.  But factional intrigue, seizing on the opportunity posed by a flaw in the original method of casting electoral votes, nearly thwarted the precedent.  The electors pledged to Jefferson and Burr, who were running as a slate for President and Vice President, each cast one vote for Jefferson and one for Burr, causing a tie.  The election then went to the lame-duck House of Representatives, which still had a majority of the defeated Federalists.  Initially, most of the Federalists were unable to resist the temptation to cause mischief by casting their votes for Burr.  Only the statesmanship of Alexander Hamilton, who urged his fellow Federalists to vote for Jefferson over Burr, prevented “intrigue and cabal” from defeating the popular will.  It still took thirty-six ballots to break the deadlock in the House.  The Twelfth Amendment, providing for separate ballots for President and Vice President, was ratified by the states in time for the 1804 election, in which Jefferson was easily reelected.  Meanwhile, Jefferson celebrated the triumph of constitutional order over partisanship in his first inaugural address: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”  He went on to a triumphant first term (the Louisiana Purchase) and a disastrous second term (the notorious Embargo Act).

The Election of 1796

Candidates: John Adams 71  Thomas Jefferson 68  Thomas Pinckney 59

Opponents of the Constitution had argued that the new Federal executive might degenerate into an elected monarchy.  “The President,” said Virginian George Mason, “is elected without rotation… He will be continued in office for life.”  George Washington’s voluntary retirement in 1796 after two terms forestalled that possibility: after Washington, no president sought a third term until 1940.  The principle of peaceful and voluntary rotation in office became an informal, but effective, feature of the new institution.  But the rivalry between Vice President Adams and former Secretary of State Jefferson to succeed Washington reflected the beginnings of faction and partisanship in the politics of the new republic.  Adams and the Federalists leaned toward Great Britain and against France in the struggle between the two powers over the consequences of the French Revolution.  Jefferson and his Republican followers sympathized with France.  Adams won a very narrow victory in the election of 1796, and the partisan struggle intensified during his administration as each camp prepared for the inevitable rematch in 1800.  The Federalists responded to Republican criticism with repressive measures like the Alien and Sedition Acts.   Jefferson and Madison countered with the Virginian and Kentucky Resolutions positing states’ rights and nullification of unconstitutional acts of Congress.


The Elections of 1789 and 1792

Most of you remember the contentious election of 2000. The period between election day and Inauguration Day say court battles, recounts, and acrimonious public debate. During that difficult period one of our staff members decided to check the history of presidential elections in this country and share with us some interesting events of our history.  In the next few weeks we will be posting these entries and sharing them once again with you.  Come along with us and travel the past.

1789: George Washington 69  John Adams 34

1792: George Washington 132  John Adams 77  George Clinton 50

It took almost a year after the ratification of the new Constitution to organize the first presidential election.  The new American presidency was an unprecedented institution.  The Constitution proposed selecting an executive to preside over a large country without application of the dynastic principle or, as Hamilton put it in The Federalist Papers, resort to “cabal, intrigue, and corruption.”  While the first election was a success, it was not without its problems.  Because of a dispute between the two houses of the legislature about the method for selecting the state’s presidential electors, New York forfeited its ten votes.  Two other states, North Carolina and Rhode Island, had not yet ratified the Constitution and did not participate.  Electors met in the remaining ten states in February 1789 to cast their ballots.  George Washington’s election was a foregone conclusion.  (What would happen after Washington left the scene — and for that matter whether he would leave the scene by dying in office or by voluntary retirement — was, at this point, anyone’s guess.)  There was, however, considerable political maneuvering (although nothing like the campaigning with which we are familiar) for the office of Vice President.  Every elector cast one of his two votes for Washington.  John Adams was elected Vice President with the second greatest number of votes: 34 of the 69 electors cast one of their two votes for him.  Washington was reelected in 1792 with another unanimous vote in the Electoral College.