Posts Tagged ‘Electoral College’

America’s first two elections were basically uncontested.  Everyone knew George Washington would be elected to the top post, and his 100% tally in both Electoral College votes bore that out.  The election of 1796, won by John Adams, was the first election that showed just how divided a country, recently united by Revolution and victory, could become.  It also gave us some insight into the power of a muck-raking press not conditioned to the niceties of 21st-century subtlety.

Which brings us to the election of 1800, which may have been the most dramatic in the country’s history.  There was little doubt who wasn’t going to win.  President John Adams had been demonized by the Anti-Federalist Party and marginalized by his own Federalist Party.  The threat of open war with France had split the powers in government into two camps.  The Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, wanted peace with France…the Federalists, war.

President Adams’ envoys to France brokered peace, but the “slow boat to America” brought news of the treaty too late to act as the catalyst that almost surely would have garnered Adams another term.  So it came down to Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.  Everyone knew the election would end in an Electoral College tie, and that was verified when the ballots were opened on February 11th, 1801.  The vote would go to the House of Representatives, a chamber dominated by Federalists, which spelled doom for Jefferson.

But not so fast.

Aaron Burr was a pretty unpopular fellow amongst those in power.  And one of his biggest rivals was Alexander Hamilton.  The two had engaged in an on-again-off-again cycle of trust, distrust, collaboration, and outright hatred that boggles the senses.  Hamilton saw Burr as a two-faced hypocrite, who swapped allegiances and ideologies to suit whatever constituency gave him the most power.  He (correctly) saw Burr as a man of exceeding ambition who, if he couldn’t gain power by rightful election, was capable of using any means necessary.

Burr, for his part, was initially gracious about the tie, stating that “It is highly improbable that I shall have an equal number of votes with Mr. Jefferson, but if such should be the result, every man who knows me ought to know that I should utterly disclaim all competition.”  Some Federalists were inclined to favor the ever-ambitious Burr over Jefferson.

Alexander Hamilton was horrified. He and Thomas Jefferson had also been bitter rivals for years, but in this case, Burr was the bigger evil, as we’ll begin to unravel in a few days.  As always, he let his pen do the talking, writing to Congressional Federalists that “As to Burr, there is nothing in his favour…He is bankrupt beyond redemption, except by the plunder of his country.  His pubilc principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement…If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power…”

The irony here is startling…Hamilton defending Jefferson by saying of Burr the same things Jefferson said of Hamilton…read that carefully.  President John Adams, relegated to spectator status in this and a recipient of Hamilton’s ire just prior to the election, laughed at the situation.  “The very man – the very two men – of all the world that he was most jealous of are now placed above him.”

Thirty-five ballots were cast in the House over a week’s time.  And thirty-five times the deadlock remained.  The politiking in the House grew as electors looked for any leeway that could break the deadlock.  That leeway came to Delaware’s James Bayard.  Possibly influenced by Hamilton’s constant letters to Congress, this anti-Jefferson Federalist met with Jefferson supporters and set forth a few requirements which, if promised by Jefferson, could likely win Bayard’s vote.

What Bayard heard in response must have been enough, because the thirty-sixth vote, taken on February 17, 1801, saw Bayard cast a blank ballot, removing Delaware from Burr’s column.  Thomas Jefferson had a new title…President of the United States.

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton

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Wow!  I can’t believe it’s been a week.  There have been a lot of things happening and Today’s History Lesson, unfortunately, hasn’t been one of them.  Hopefully, I won’t go a week between postings again.  Let’s see if we can’t get back into the swing of things.

On February 9, 1825, John Quincy Adams was elected the 6th President of the United States.  Now right away, you should notice that U.S. Presidents are normally chosen during the November elections, so something’s out of place.  There was an election, but it didn’t end with any one candidate garnering a majority of the available Electoral Votes.  Voting was split between Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay.

What makes this result a little more interesting is that all four candidates were from the same party.  In fact, they were from the only party.  The Federalist Party, the party of Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams, and John Quincy himself, had collapsed some years before, leaving just the Democratic-Republican party.  So it might be said that, during this period of time, the U.S. was blessed (if that’s the right word) with a one-party system, which probably made the conventions unworthy of TV coverage.

Anyways, while the “popular vote” was not really tallied in the 1824 election like it is now, Andrew Jackson was the clear winner, collecting more than 40% of the votes to Adams’ 31%.  He also had 99 Electoral Votes under his name, more than Adams’ 84.

But 131 Electoral Votes were required and so, as stipulated by the Constitution’s Twelfth Amendment, the election issue was passed to the House of Representatives.  Clay, who finished 4th in the voting, was ineligible.  Crawford, having garnered 3rd place despite suffering a massive stroke way back in 1823, was deemed unfit.  So it came down to Adams and Jackson.

Clay’s position as House Speaker gave him pretty heavy influence in the proceedings, and he carried with him a strong personal dislike for Andrew Jackson.  Furthermore, his own policies aligned more closely with those of Adams, so all his support was thrown to John Quincy, who carried the day and was named President on the first ballot.

Then Adams chose Henry Clay as his Secretary of State, and the fur began to fly.  An outraged Jackson accused the two of collusion, and the collapse of the one-party system had begun.  As it would turn out, Adams’ Presidency was much like his father’s.  Both men were of unquestioned integrity, but both lacked to political savvy to garner support in Washington, both allowed dissension to remain in their Cabinets, and both did little to promote themselves for re-election.

John Quincy Adams would be soundly trounced by Andrew Jackson four years later.  And by then, the battle lines in the Democratic-Republican Party had been drawn, with Jackson taking the “Democrat” side, and Adams the “Republican”.

The two-party system was back in American politics…this time to stay.

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February 4, 1789 marks the first time that the Electoral College was called upon to do its duty:  elect the President of the United States.  And for one of only two times in the history of U.S. elections, the vote was unanimous.  George Washington, Virginian, hero of the French and Indian War and the War of Independence that brought freedom to the Colonies, received 100% of the Electoral Votes.

Not that there were all that many Electors, as the Union on this day in 1789 comprised just 11 States.  But still, Washington had received his mandate to lead the new nation through its infancy.  And when he took the Oath of Office in April, he did so without any party affiliation or allegiance…the only President that has been really able to say that.

And the other unanimous selection?  That would be Washington again, four years later, when the country (now 14 States in all) begged him to serve a second term, a request he reluctantly accepted.

Recommended Reading: His Excellency: George Washington

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