United States History: Elections--18th Century

Figure 1.--k

There were only three presidential elections held in the 18th century. The first presidential poll in 1789 was the first national American election. As such it was the first of several semenal elections. Earlier elections had all been state elections, but the new Federal Constitution called for the election of national executive officers, the President and Vice-President. Very few people actually voted because of the choice of electors in state legislatures and the restrictive sufferage. The choice of General Washington as the first president was a virtua cornonation and there was also wide spread support for John Adams as vice presidemt. Political parties began to form with the debate over the Constitution. While dicouraged by Washington, they ha by the 1796 election became a substantial feature of American political life. The fact that they were not considered in the Constitution caused some complications in the 1796 and 1800 elections until corrected by the 12th Amendment (1804).

1789 Presidential Election

The election of 1789 was the only election where political parties did not play a role. The election was essentially a coronation. It was a foregone conclusion that Revolutional War hero General George Washington would be elected. He in fact was unique in that he was elected without opposition and received the unanimous endorsement of the Electoral College both times he ran for the presidency. The only question was who would be elected vice president. The Constitution established that the Vice President would be the person receiving the second largest numbers of electoral votes. The candidated did not run as ticket and individuals of different political parties which were already forming could be elected. This was a rare, but serious, defect in the Constitution. It resulted from the framers failure to address the question of political parties. It was a defect that would have to be changed by Constitutional amendment, the fitst of several amendments concderning elections and voting.

1792 Presidential Election

President Washington's handling of the office was generally admired during his first 4 years of office. Political issues had begun to divide the country, many associated with the Revolution that had broken out in France (1789). These political issues, however, did not affect the admiration that Americans had for Washington. And his careful, cautious handling of affairs gave only limited reason for criticism. Washington did not like party politics and did not see political parties as necessary or even appropriate for the new Republic. He held himself above the political divisions that were foming. The political divisions that had become apparent during the fight over the Constitution were becoming more formalized by 1792. The major faction wth which both Washington and Adams were un general agreement was the Federalists. Washington had originally intended to serve only one term and decided to run, in large part to help resist the growth of political parties. The Democratic Republicans while they disagreed with Washington vision of a strong central government and opposition to political parties did not oppose him. They trusted Washington to act with restraint, but were less sure about who would come after him. Also they realized that given Washington's popularity, open opposition to him would taint the Party. President Washington was reelected unanimously. Vice President Adams was also reelected, although the vote was more contested. Adams received 77 votes. The leading Democratic-Republican candidate was Govenor George Clinton of New York who received 50 votes. Another Democratic Republican, Thomas Jefferson. received only 4 votes.

1796 Presidential Election

President Washington had been unanimously elected in 1789 and 1792. He made the important decision in 1796 not to seek a third term not broken until Presidnt Franklin Roosevelt decided to run for a third term in 1940 duing the World War II crisis. Washington's decision mean that the 1796 election was the first contested campaign for preident. establishing the partisan pattern for future prsidential elections. The two most important candidates were Jefferson and Adams. The party picture was more complicated. Federalist leader Hamilton did not support his party's strongest candidate--Adams. Hamilton supported Thomas Pinckney, a diplomat. The Republicans were also split. Aaron Burr, a leader of the New York Tammany Society, contested Jeffereson's leadership. Most of New England strongly supported Adams, but were willing to follow Hamilton and support Pinckney for vice president. Some New Englanders decided to vote for Adams but not for Pinckney to make sure Adams would defeat him. Hamilton warned that this might result in Jefferson becoming vice president. New England strongly supported Adams and many refused to support Pinckney. The final vote was very close: Adams, 71; Jefferson, 68; Pinckney, 59; and Burr, 30. The result was notable that a president and vice president from different political parties was elected.


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Created: 5:23 AM 2/16/2007
Last updated: 4:27 PM 6/25/2007