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.


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