US History: The Election of 1788-1789: The First Election

Hello everyone and welcome to the first of many articles in my series looking over all of the presidential elections in U.S. history. In this series, I will be going through all of the elections in order from the very first election the way until 2020; Along the way, I will be giving some background info leading into the election, a summarization of the candidates involved, what’s going on in terms of campaigning in the election (if any) and also the results of the election itself.

And finally, I just want to mention that some of these pieces will be more detailed than others as you’ll see throughout this series… So with all that said, let’s talk about the first election, taking place in 1788-89.

Background Info

The first election of the United States was the only one to occur between two years as the first election went on from December 15th 1788 to January 10th 1789. No voting machines back then! 

In June of 1788, the United States Constitution was ratified into law by several states with the document listing out a number of articles that focused on topics giving legislative power to Congress, the roles of President and Vice President, the power of the Supreme Court and the power to add news states into the country among other important points.

While not all the states ratified the Constitution by the time of the first election, there were enough states that did ratify it and one of the things that were ratified in the Constitution was the idea of using an electoral college when it came to presidential elections as well as rules that said that electors could cast votes with the candidate with the most electoral votes becoming the President and the runner up becoming the VP, but there were no specifics at the time that differentiated who the electors voted for when it came to those roles.

Meaning that under these rules, if someone was looking to run for president and the other person was running for VP but the electoral results came back and said that the guy running for VP got the most votes that made that person president and the guy running for president would become the vice president if there wasn’t a tie. This of course will be a source of controversy in future presidential elections but will focus on that in future articles.

The Candidates

Thanks in large part to his bravery and success as a general in the Revolutionary War, George Washington was one of the most popular individuals in the early formation of the United States and despite some wanting him to become King he refused but instead was chosen to become the country’s first president even though Washington himself never wanted to be president.

With Washington looking like the obvious choice to win the presidency, the question fell upon as to who would become his vice president.

There were several names who ran for the VP spot like John Adams, John Jay, John Hancock and Samuel Huntington who were seen as Federalists aka those who supported the ratification of the Constitution while those didn’t support its ratification like VP candidate George Clinton were called Anti-Federalist but these politicians who disagreed with the Federalists will soon be known under the new name of Democratic-Republicans who have no connection to the Democratic or Republican party of today.

The Results

George Washington won as you all know, winning 69 electoral votes to become the first president of the United States; Washington became the only candidate in American history to ever win 100% of the electoral votes however there are some issues regarding a few states in the first election.

For example, Vermont wasn’t officially recognized as a state, some states like Connecticut didn’t have a popular vote and other states North Carolina and Rhode Island didn’t ratify the Constitution just yet so they were unable to vote in the first election, also as you could probably tell from looking at the map, New York had zero electoral votes which is strange but that’s due to the New York legislature being deadlocked with their votes.

John Adams came in second place receiving 34 electoral votes and thus becoming the first Vice President in American History.

Alexander Hamilton, who played a big part in the ratification of the Constitution persuaded enough people to throw their votes to other candidates to avoid a possible deadlock with the electoral votes or possibly John Adams becoming the accidental first president. 

All the other candidates who ran for vice president received much less than Washington or Adams, but just enough to prevent a deadlocked election. 

So, that’s it for the first election in U.S. history and be sure to come back next time when I talk about the election of 1792, be sure to follow me on Twitter @FullertonHakeem and leave your thoughts down below.

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