1796 Election Results - History

1796 Election Results - History

1796 Election Results Jefferson vS Adams

The presidential election of 1796 was the first disputed election. With Washington retiring, the two loosely organized parties; the Federalists and the Republicans, were ready to face off. The Federalist's natural candidate was Vice President John Adams. The Republican Vice Presidential candidate was Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. Neither of the two candidates took a direct part in the election. The two men remained on good terms throughout the presidential race. Their surrogates, however, became involved in a very nasty fight. Jefferson was attacked for not being religious and for his closeness to the French Revolution. Adams was attacked for being fond of the monarchy and for being too aloof. Adams won the election, receiving 71 votes to Jefferson's 68 votes. An oddity of this election came to light when the Electoral College met on February 1797. Two of the electors who were pledged to the Federalists voted for Jefferson. As was the case before the ratification of the 12th amendment in 1804, the runner up in electoral votes became the Vice President. Thus, Jefferson became the Vice President of his Presidential rival.


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The First Real Two-Party U.S. Presidential Election in 1796

Washington's inauguration at Philadelphia: George Washington arriving at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, March 4, 1793.

On the day in April 1789 that he took the oath of office at Federal Hall in New York City as the first president of the United States, George Washington noted in his diary: ‘I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express.

Washington, who embodied the virtues exalted by his generation, had been given the unanimous vote of the new nation’s electors. He had done nothing to promote himself as a candidate for the presidency and had agreed to undertake the mammoth task with the utmost reluctance. Whatever his personal misgivings, Washington’s first term in office went smoothly. It was so successful, in fact, that in 1792 he once again received the electors’ unanimous endorsement.

Such smooth sailing of the ship of state could not be expected to last, however, and during President Washington’s second term, the United States–and thus its chief executive–began to experience the kinds of problems that plague any government. Relations with the former mother country deteriorated until it seemed that another war with Great Britain might be inevitable. And on the domestic front, groups of farmers, especially those in the westernmost counties of Pennsylvania, protested and rebelled against the Washington administration’s excise tax on the whiskey that they distilled from their grain, eventually rioting in the summer of 1794.

The hero of America’s revolution also suffered personal attacks on his character. Rumors had it that Washington was given to gambling, reveling, horseracing and horse whipping and that he had even taken British bribes while he was commanding American troops.

During the last weeks of 1795, reports spread through Philadelphia–then the national capital–that Washington planned to retire at the conclusion of his second term. It was true that similar rumors had circulated three years before, as the end of his first term drew near, but this time it appeared that he was determined to step down. Nearing his mid-sixties–a normal life span for a man in the eighteenth century–the president longed to retire to the tranquility of Mount Vernon, his beloved home in Virginia.

Although Washington said nothing to John Adams regarding his plans for retirement, his wife Martha hinted to the vice president near Christmas 1795 that her husband would be leaving office. Ten days later, Adams learned that the president had informed his cabinet that he would step down in March 1797.* You know the Consequences of this, to me and to yourself, Adams, aware that he might become the second president of the United States, wrote to his wife Abigail that same evening.

Adams’s ascension to the presidency would be neither automatic nor unanimous. Before achieving that high office, he would have to emerge victorious from America’s first contested presidential election.

* The March 4 date for the beginning of new terms of office went back to tradition begun under the Articles of Confederation and codified by Congressional legislation in 1792. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1933, specified that henceforth Congressional terms would begin on January 3 and that an incoming president and vice president would take their oaths of office at noon on January 20 of the year following their election.

Eight years earlier, in September 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had considered numerous plans for choosing a president. They had rejected direct election by qualified voters because, as Roger Sherman of Connecticut remarked, a scattered population could never be informed of the characters of the leading candidates. The delegates also ruled out election by Congress. Such a procedure, Gouverneur Morris stated, would inevitably be the work of intrigue, cabal and of faction. Finally, the convention agreed to an electoral college scheme, whereby Each state shall appoint in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress. Presidential selection, therefore, would be decided through a state-by-state, rather than a national, referendum.

Each elector chosen by the voters or the legislature of his state would cast votes for two candidates, one of whom had to come from outside his state. The electors’ ballots would be opened in the presence of both houses of Congress.

If no one received a majority of the votes, or if two or more individuals tied with a majority of the electoral college votes, the members of the House of Representatives would cast ballots to elect the president.* Once the president had been decided upon, the candidate from among those remaining who had received the second largest number of electoral votes became the vice president.

* Not since 1824 has the winner of a presidential contest been decided by the House of Representatives. In that year, John Quincy Adams gained the presidency when one more than half of the members of the House cast their ballots in his favor, giving him the necessary majority.

The framers of the Constitution believed that most electors would judiciously cast their two ballots for persons of real merit, as Morris put it. Alexander Hamilton argued in Federalist 68–one of a series of essays penned by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to encourage ratification of the Constitution in New York State–that it was a moral certainty that the electoral college scheme would result in the election of the most qualified man. Someone skilled in the art of intrigue might win a high state office, he wrote, but only a man nationally known for his ability and virtue could gain the support of electors from throughout the United States. Indeed, the electoral college plan worked well during the first two presidential elections in 1788 and 1792, when every elector had cast one of his ballots for Washington. But by 1796, something unforeseen by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had occurred men of different points of view had begun to form themselves into political parties.

The first signs of such factionalism appeared early in Washington’s presidency. On one side were the Federalists who yearned for an American society and national government established on the British model. Skeptical of the growing democratization of the new nation, the Federalists desired a centralized national government that would have the strength both to aid merchants and manufacturers and to safeguard America’s traditional hierarchical society.

By 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Congressman James Madison–both, like Washington, from Virginia–had taken steps to fashion an opposition party. Jefferson became the acknowledged leader of the new Anti-Federalists, a group soon known as the Democratic-Republican Party because of its empathy for the struggling republic that had emerged from the French Revolution of 1789. This party looked irreverently upon the past, was devoted to republican institutions, sought to give property-owning citizens greater control over their lives, and dreamt of an agrarian nation in which government would be small and weak.

Members of both parties ran candidates in congressional and state races in 1792, but they did not challenge President Washington. Partisanship, however, did surface that year in the contest for the vice presidency. Some Republicans acted behind the scenes in support . . . of removing Mr. A, as the clerk of the House noted, mainly because Adams’s writings on government included positive statements about the British monarchy. The movement came to naught because it did not have the support of Jefferson, who had known and liked Adams for nearly twenty years. Other Republicans rallied behind George Clinton, the newly elected governor of New York.

The activity of the Republicans threw a scare into the Federalists. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, the acknowledged leader of the Federalists, was so worried that he urged Adams to cut short a vacation and campaign openly against those who were–as he said–ill disposed toward him. Adams, who regarded electioneering with contempt, refused to do so and remained on his farm in Quincy, Massachusetts, until after the electors had cast their ballots.

By March 1796, when Washington finally told his vice president that he would not seek reelection, Adams had decided to run for the office of president. His decision was no light thing, he said, since he knew that as president he would be subjected to obloquy, contempt, and insult. He even told Abigail that he believed every chief executive was almost sure of disgrace and ruin. While she had mixed emotions about his decision, she did not discourage him from running. In fact, she told him that the presidency would be a flattering and Glorious Reward for his long years of service. Ultimately, Adams decided to seek the office because, he asserted, I love my country too well to shrink from danger in her service.

As he began his quest, Adams expected formidable opposition, especially from Jefferson. He foresaw three possible outcomes to the election: he might garner the most votes, with Jefferson running second Jefferson might win and John Jay of New York, long a congressman and diplomat, could finish second or Jefferson might be elected president, while he was himself reelected vice president. That last scenario was not one Adams was prepared to accept. He decided that he would not serve another term as vice president if he finished second again, he declared, he would either retire or seek election to the House of Representatives.

Adams considered himself the heir apparent to President Washington, having languished in the vice presidency–which he described as the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived–for eight years, awaiting his turn. Furthermore, he believed that no man had made greater sacrifices for the nation during the American Revolution than he. In addition to risking his legal career to protest British policies, he sat as a member of the First Continental Congress for three years and served abroad from 1778-88, making two perilous Atlantic crossings to carry out his diplomatic assignments. During that ten years, his public service had forced him to live apart from his wife and five children nearly ninety percent of the time.

Jefferson often proclaimed his disdain for politics, even though he held political office almost continuously for forty years. As 1796 unfolded, he neither made an effort to gain the presidency nor rebuffed the Republican maneuvers to elect him to that office. When he resigned as secretary of state in 1793, Jefferson had said that he did not plan to hold public office again and would happily remain at Monticello, his Virginia estate. But, while he did not seek office in 1796, neither did he say that he would not accept the presidential nomination. Adams –and most Republicans–interpreted Jefferson’s behavior as indicating that he wanted to be president.

The Constitution said nothing about how to select presidential nominees. In 1800, the Republican Party would choose its candidates in a congressional nominating caucus in 1812, the first nominating conventions were held in several states and the first national nominating convention took place in 1832. But in 1796, the nominees seemed to materialize out of thin air, as if by magic. In actuality, the party leaders decided on the candidates and attempted to herd their followers into line.

The Federalists’ support centered on Adams and Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina. Pinckney, who had recently negotiated a successful treaty with Spain that established territorial and traffic rights for the United States on the Mississippi River, was chosen for the second slot on the ticket by the party moguls–without consulting Adams–in part because as a Southerner, he might siphon Southern votes from Jefferson.

On the Republican side, Madison confided to James Monroe in February that Jefferson alone can be started with hope of success, [and we] mean to push him. The Republicans also endorsed Senator Aaron Burr of New York.

All this transpired quietly, for Washington did not publicly announce his intention of retiring until the very end of the summer. Not that the parties’ plans were a mystery. Before Washington finally informed the nation of his decision on September 19, 1796, in his Farewell Address–which was not delivered orally but was printed in Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser–the keenly partisan Philadelphia Aurora declared that it requires no talent at divination to decide who will be candidates. . . . Thomas Jefferson & John Adams will be the men.

But Washington’s address, said congressman Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, was a signal, like dropping a hat, for the party racers to start. During the next ten weeks, the presidential campaign of 1796 was waged, as Federalists and Republicans–with the exception, for the most part, of the candidates themselves–worked feverishly for victory.

Adams, Jefferson, and Pinckney never left home. While their parties took stands on the major issues of the day, these men embraced the classical model of politics, refusing to campaign. They believed that a man should not pursue an office rather, the office should seek out the man. They agreed that the most talented men–what some called an aristocracy of merit–should govern, but also that ultimate power rested with the people. The qualified voters, or the elected representatives of the people, were capable of selecting the best men from among the candidates on the basis of what Adams called the pure Principles of Merit, Virtue, and public Spirit.

Burr alone actively campaigned. Although he did not make any speeches, he visited every New England state and spoke with several presidential electors. Many Federalist and Republican officeholders and supporters spoke at rallies, but most of the electioneering took place through handbills, pamphlets, and newspapers.

The campaign was a rough and tumble affair. The Republicans sought to convince the electorate that their opponents longed to establish a titled nobility in America and that Adams–whom they caricatured as His Rotundity because of his small, portly stature–was a pro-British monarchist. President Washington was assailed for supporting Hamilton’s aggressive economic program, as well as for the Jay Treaty of 1795, which had settled outstanding differences between the United States and Britain. The Philadelphia Aurora went so far as to insist that the president was the source of all the misfortunes of our country.

The Federalists responded by portraying Jefferson as an atheist and French puppet who would plunge the United States into another war with Great Britain. They also charged that he was indecisive and a visionary. A philosopher makes the worst politician, one Federalist advised, while another counseled that Jefferson was fit to be a professor in a college . . . but certainly not the first magistrate of a great nation. Newspapers such as the Gazette of the United States and Porcupine’s Gazette asserted that Jefferson’s election would result in domestic disorder.

Behind-the-scenes maneuvering included a plan by Hamilton, who felt that Pinckney could be more easily manipulated than Adams, to have one or two Federalist electors withhold their votes for Adams. Hearing rumors of the ploy, several New England electors conferred and agreed not to cast a ballot for Pinckney.

Even the French minister to the United States, Pierre Adet, became involved in the election by seeking to convey the impression that a victory for Jefferson would result in improved relations with France. As one historian has noted: Never before or since has a foreign power acted so openly in an American election.

Sixteen states took part in the balloting. The 138 electors were chosen by popular vote in six states and by the state legislatures of the remaining ten. Seventy votes were required to win a majority.

Adams expected to receive all of New England’s 39 votes, but he also had to win all 12 of New York’s votes and 19 from the other middle and southern states to win. He concluded that was impossible, especially after learning of Hamilton’s machinations. On the eve of the electoral college vote, Adams remarked privately that Hamilton had outgeneraled all the other politicians and stolen the election for Pinckney.

The electors voted in their respective state capitals on the first Wednesday in December, but the law stipulated that the ballots could not be opened and counted until the second Wednesday in February. And so for nearly seventy days, every conceivable rumor circulated regarding the outcome of the election. By the third week in December, however, one thing was clear, Jefferson could not get seventy votes. Although 63 electors were Southerners, the South was a two-party region, and it was known that Jefferson had not received a vote from every Southern elector. In addition, because the Federalists controlled the legislatures in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, it was presumed that Jefferson would be shut out in those states.

Beyond that, nothing was certain. Many believed that Pinckney would win, either because of Hamilton’s supposed chicanery or because all the Jeffs, as Ames called the Southern Republican electors, supposedly had cast their second ballot for the South Carolinian in order to ensure that a Southerner succeed Washington. A good number of Americans fully expected that no candidate would get a majority of the votes, thus sending the election to the House of Representatives.

By the end of December, better information arrived in Philadelphia when Ames informed Adams that he had at least 71 electoral votes. On December 28, Jefferson wrote Adams a congratulatory letter and at Washington’s final levee in 1796, the First Lady told the vice president of her husband’s delight at his victory. Persuaded that he was indeed the victor, an ebullient Adams wrote his wife at year’s end that he had never felt more serene in his life.

Finally, on February 8, 1797, the sealed ballots were opened and counted before a joint session of Congress. Ironically, it was Vice President Adams, in his capacity as president of the Senate, who read aloud the results. The tabulation showed that Adams had indeed garnered 71 votes. Every New England and New York elector had voted for him. The tales about Hamilton’s treachery had been untrue ultimately, the former treasury secretary found the prospect of a Jefferson administration too distasteful to risk the subterfuge necessary to defeat Adams, who also got, as expected, all ten votes from New Jersey and Delaware. And in a sense, Adams won the election in the South, having secured nine votes in Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Jefferson, who finished second with 68 votes, automatically became the new vice president.* One Federalist elector in Virginia, the representative of a western district that long had exhibited hostility toward the planter aristocracy, voted for Adams and Pinckney, as did four electors from commercial, Federalist enclaves in Maryland and North Carolina. Whereas Adams secured enough votes in the South to push him over the top, Jefferson did not receive a single electoral vote in New England or in New York, New Jersey, or Delaware. Pinckney, not Adams, was the real victim of Hamilton’s rumored duplicity. To ensure that the South Carolinian did not obtain more votes than Adams, 18 Federalist electors in New England refused to give him their vote.

* This first contested presidential election demonstrated a flaw in the Constitution’s electoral college scheme since the country now had a Federalist president and a Republican vice president. Four years later, the two republican candidates, Jefferson and Burr, each received 73 electoral votes. Although it was clear during the election campaign that Jefferson was the presidential candidate and Burr the vice presidential, Burr refused to concede, forcing a vote in the House of Representatives that brought Jefferson into office. To correct these defects the Twelfth Amendment, which provided for separate balloting for president and vice president, was adopted in 1804.

Had Pinckney received 12 of those votes, the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives. Instead, he finished third with 59 electoral votes. Burr polled only thirty votes. Southern Republicans–perhaps sharing the sentiment of the Virginia elector who remarked that there were traits of character in Burr which sooner or later will give us much trouble–rejected him.

Even among the enfranchised citizens, few bothered to cast ballots in this election. In Pennsylvania, a state in which the electors were popularly chosen, only about one-quarter of the eligible voters went to the polls. But the contest in Pennsylvania was an augury of the political changes soon to come. The Republicans swept 14 of the state’s 15 electoral votes, winning in part because they outpoliticked their opponents by running better-known candidates for the electoral college and because Minister Adet’s intrusive comments helped Jefferson among Quakers and Philadelphia merchants who longed for peace. Many voters had rejected the Federalist Party because they thought of it as a pro-British, pro-aristocratic party committed to an economic program designed to benefit primarily the wealthiest citizens.

And what occurred in Pennsylvania was not unique. Jefferson won more than eighty percent of the electoral college votes in states outside New England that chose their electors by popular vote. In an increasingly democratic United States, the election of 1796 represented the last great hurrah for the Federalist Party.

On March 4, 1797, America’s first orderly transferal of power occurred in Philadelphia when George Washington stepped down and John Adams took the oath as the second president of the United States. Many spectators were moved to tears during this emotional affair, not only because Washington’s departure brought an era to a close, but because the ceremony represented a triumph for the republic. Adams remarked that this peaceful event was the sublimist thing ever exhibited in America. He also noted Washington’s joy at surrendering the burdens of the presidency. In fact, Adams believed that Washington’s countenance seemed to say: Ay! I am fairly out and you fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest.

This article was written by By John Ferling and originally published in the December 1996 issue of American History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to American History magazine today!


Jefferson’s vision for the United States was that it would become an agrarian nation, composed of white yeoman farmers who owned their own lands. He viewed European societies, especially Great Britain, as corrupt, controlled by moneyed interests and afflicted with the problems that he saw as endemic in urban settings.

Hamilton’s vision of America’s future challenged Jefferson’s ideal of a nation of farmers, tilling the fields, communing with nature, and maintaining personal freedom by virtue of land ownership. Alexander Hamilton offered a remarkably modern economic vision based on investment, industry, and expanded commerce.


Thomas Jefferson: Campaigns and Elections

From 1794 to 1797, Thomas Jefferson operated as the informal leader of what would become the nation's first opposition political party, the Democratic-Republicans. This party vocally challenged Hamilton's political views. When Washington declined to run for a third term in 1796, Jefferson allowed his name to be nominated by a caucus of Democratic-Republican leaders who were against John Adams's run for the presidency. Adams served as vice president under Washington. As was the aristocratic custom of the day, neither Adams nor Jefferson personally campaigned. Rather, the campaign battles were waged between the political party newspapers, a propaganda device rooted in the anti-British pamphlets of the American Revolution. These publications mercilessly criticized their respective opposing candidates.

All attention was on the mid-Atlantic states because it was clear that Jefferson would carry the South while the New England states would certainly go to Adams. In those days, most southern states chose presidential electors to the Electoral College by direct vote. In the mid-Atlantic states, however, state legislatures selected the presidential electors, and the election of 1796 would be decided by the political scheming within those assemblies. In the Electoral College balloting, Jefferson came in second to Adams (71 to 68 votes), principally because Adams had won the behind-the-scenes battle for the New York legislature. While the vice president received only two electoral votes south of the Potomac, Jefferson won only eighteen votes outside of the South, thirteen of which came from Pennsylvania.

In those days, the candidate receiving the second-highest vote became the vice president. In a scheme to deny Adams the presidency, Alexander Hamilton influenced South Carolina's Federalist electors to withhold their votes from Adams. This would have made Adams's running mate, Thomas Pinckney, President, with Adams as vice president. But New England Federalists, learning of the scheme, withheld their votes from Pinckney to counter Hamilton's ploy. As a result of the Federalist intraparty conflicts, Jefferson compiled more votes than Pinckney for second place and became vice president.

Although Jefferson strained under the largely ceremonial duties of the vice president, he fulfilled his responsibilities as presiding officer of the Senate efficiently and fairly. In his spare time, Jefferson wrote A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, which remained the guiding text for congressional meetings for years to come. He also pursued his renaissance interests in architecture, astronomy, botany, animal husbandry, mechanical engineering, gardening, natural history, classical languages, and book collecting.

Most importantly, Jefferson—although vice president—did little to inhibit, and in fact encouraged, the growing Republican opposition to the Adams administration. When Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, designed to curb Republican opposition to his foreign policy, Jefferson authored the Kentucky Resolution of 1798. Jefferson's statement presented a compact theory of the Constitution, challenging these federal laws enacted under Adams as unconstitutional. James Madison joined Jefferson by writing a similar resolution adopted by Virginia. Both resolutions established the states' rights position that was employed in the nineteenth century to oppose high tariffs, the Second Bank of the United States, and the abolition of slavery. By the end of Adams's term of office, a raging debate, which was presented in brutal and uncivil political cartoons and newspaper articles, swept over the land. It was in this atmosphere of undeclared political war that Jefferson sought and won the presidency in the 1800 election.

The Campaign and Election of 1800

Jefferson approached the 1800 presidential election well organized for victory and determined to win. One factor that elevated Jefferson's chances of becoming President was the general mood of the country. During the Adams presidency, public discontent had risen due to the Alien and Sedition Acts, a direct tax in 1798, Federalist military preparations, and the use of federal troops to crush a minor tax rebellion led by John Fries in Pennsylvania. Consequently, Jefferson enjoyed quite a lot of popular support for his opposition to Adams's policies.

The Federalist candidate, the incumbent John Adams, led a split party. Many of his party's members opposed his candidacy because of his refusal to declare war on France—when a naval war did occur, Adams used diplomacy to end it when many Federalists would have preferred the war to continue. Jefferson understood that to win he would have to carry New York, thus his running mate, Aaron Burr of New York, was brought onto the ticket. When the New York legislature turned out its Federalist majority in 1799, prospects looked good for Jefferson.

Given the intense rivalry and conflict involved, it is not surprising that the 1800 election reached a level of personal animosity seldom equaled in American politics. The Federalists attacked the fifty-seven-year-old Jefferson as a godless Jacobin who would unleash the forces of bloody terror upon the land. With Jefferson as President, so warned one newspaper, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes." Others attacked Jefferson's deist beliefs as the views of an infidel who "writes aghast the truths of God's words who makes not even a profession of Christianity who is without Sabbaths without the sanctuary, and without so much as a decent external respect for the faith and worship of Christians."

The luckless Adams was ridiculed from two directions: by the Hamiltonians within his own party and by the Jeffersonian-Republicans from the outside. For example, a private letter in which Hamilton depicted Adams as having "great and intrinsic defects in his character" was obtained by Aaron Burr and leaked to the national press. It fueled the Republican attack on Adams as a hypocritical fool and tyrant. His opponents also spread the story that Adams had planned to create an American dynasty by the marriage of one of his sons to a daughter of King George III. According to this unsubstantiated story, only the intervention of George Washington, dressed in his Revolutionary military uniform, and the threat by Washington to use his sword against his former vice president had stopped Adams's scheme.

When the electoral votes came in, Jefferson and Burr had won 73 votes each. Adams and his running mate, Charles C. Pinckney, the brother of Thomas Pinckney who ran in 1796, won 65 and 64 votes respectively. No one had expected these results, although the possibility was perfectly plausible—if all Republican electors cast their votes in unison for the two Republican candidates, which they did in this case, the result would be a tie. In those days, the U.S. Constitution contained no means for electors to differentiate between their choices for President and vice president, yet in 1804, the nation ratified the Twelfth Amendment, which required electors to vote separately for President and vice president.

With no clear majority, the vote was thrown into the Federalist-controlled U.S. Congress. After much intrigue and arguing, and thirty-five ballots, Alexander Hamilton, who despised Burr as an unprincipled scoundrel, convinced a few Federalists who had supported Burr in the balloting to turn in blank ballots rather than vote for either Republican candidate. This move on Hamilton's part gave the victory to Jefferson. Hamilton's support for Jefferson, his old enemy, enraged Burr. Several years later, Burr killed Hamilton with a shot to the chest during a duel over mutual insults.

The Campaign and Election of 1804

In his first inaugural address in March 1801, Jefferson pleaded for national unity, insisting that differences of opinion were not differences of principle. Then he said, with much hope, "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists." His landslide 1804 reelection suggested that his words were more prophetic than wishful. Largely due to a relatively peaceful first term on both the domestic and foreign scenes, along with prosperity, lower taxes, and a reduction in the national debt, it appeared to most astute observers on the eve of the election that Jefferson was unbeatable.

In February 1804, more than 100 Republican congressmen met in Washington and nominated Jefferson and George Clinton of New York by acclamation. It was the first official nominating caucus in the nation's history. The Federalists, demoralized and too disorganized to hold a caucus, agreed informally to back Charles C. Pinckney, the vice-presidential candidate in 1800, and Rufus King, the Federalist senator from New York.

Jefferson called the Federalists a prigarchy, a play on the words "prig" and "aristocracy," because of their unwillingness to open the party to populist elements. The Federalists denounced Jefferson's immensely popular Louisiana Purchase (see Foreign Affairs section) as unconstitutional. They also desperately exposed the President's alleged relations with his slave, Sally Hemings, as a national scandal. Jefferson kept a public silence on his relationship with Hemings.

The avalanche of presidential electors voting for Jefferson returned him to the White House with 162 votes to Pinckney's 14. Only Connecticut, Delaware, and two Maryland electors stood firm against the wave of republicanism. Jefferson was overjoyed. He wished only that George Washington had lived to see the day when the divisive factions of party had become a new unity of mind and politics for the nation.


Presidential Election of 1796: A Resource Guide

The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a variety of material associated with the presidential election of 1796, including manuscripts, letters, and government documents. This guide compiles links to digital materials related to the presidential election of 1796 that are available throughout the Library of Congress Web site. In addition, it provides links to external Web sites focusing on the 1796 election and a selected bibliography.

1796 Presidential Election Results [1]

Political Party Presidential Nominee Electoral College
Federalist John Adams 71
Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson 68

  • On February 8, 1797, the Electoral College votes for the presidential election of 1796 were counted by a joint session of Congress and reported in the Annals of Congress, as well as in the House Journal and Senate Journal.
  • James Madison to James Madison Sr., November 27, 1796, "From the general prospect, as far as the elections are known or conjectured, the Ultimate choice is extremely uncertain. Unless great unanimity prevails in the Southern States, the chance is in favor of Mr. Adams." [Transcription] , "It is not possible yet to calculate with any degree of certainty whether you are to be left by the Electors to enjoy the repose to which you are so much attached, or are to be summoned to the arduous trust which depends on their allotment. It is not improbable that Pinkney will step in between the two who have been treated as the principals in the question. It is even suspected that this turn has been secretly meditated from the beginning in a quarter where the leading zeal for Adams has been affected." [Transcription] , "The returns from N. Hampshire, Vermont, S. C., & Georga are still to come in, & leave the event of the Election in some remaining uncertainty. It is but barely possible that Adams may fail of the highest number. It is highly probable, tho' not absolutely certain, that Pinkney will be third only on the list You must prepare yourself therefore to be summoned to the place Mr. Adams now fills." [Transcription]
  • James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1796, "Unless the Vermont election of which little has of late been said, should contain some fatal vice in it, Mr. Adams may be considered as the President elect. Nothing can deprive him of it but a general run of the votes in Georgia, Tenissee and Kentucky in favor of Mr. Pinkney, which is altogether contrary to the best information." [Transcription]

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

    , "The public & the papers have been much occupied lately in placing us in a point of opposition to each other. I trust with confidence that less of it has been felt by ourselves personally. In the retired canton where I am, I learn little of what is passing: pamphlets I see never: papers but a few and the fewer the happier. Our latest intelligence from Philadelphia at present is of the 16th inst. but tho' at that date your election to the first magistracy seems not to have been known as a fact, yet with me it has never been doubted." [Transcription] , "I can particularly have no feelings which would revolt at a secondary position to mr. Adams. I am his junior in life, was his junior in Congress, his junior in the diplomatic line, his junior lately in our civil government." [Transcription]
  • Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., January 9, 1797, "It seems probable from the papers that the 2d. call will fall on me&mdashas between Mr. Adams and myself the vote has been little different from what I always expected. It stands as 68. and 71. but was in reality 69. and 70. It is fortunate Powell gave the vote he did because that has put the election out of question. Had his vote been otherwise, a very disagreeable question might have arisen, because the 15th. elector for Pensylvania, really elected attended and tendered his vote for me, which was refused, and one admitted to vote for Mr. Adams, who had not been really elected." [Transcription] , " The idea that I would accept the office of President, but not that of Vice President of the US. had not it&rsquos origin with me. I never thought of questioning the free exercise of the right of my fellow citizens to marshall those whom they call into their service according to their fitnesses nor ever presumed that they were not the best1 judges of these." [Transcription]

The American Presidency Project: Election of 1796

The American Presidency Project Web site presents election results from the 1796 presidential election.

Jeffrey Pasley talked about the creation of American political parties, the issues they disagreed on, and the media wars they waged in 18th century newspapers.&enspThe election of 1796 was the first time American voters had to choose between candidates from competing political parties.&enspProfessor Pasley spoke about the tactics used by the Federalist Party and Democratic-Republican Party to sully the reputations of candidates John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

The National Archives, through its National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), has entered into a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia Press to create this site and make freely available online the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

A searchable collection of election returns from 1787 to 1825. The data were compiled by Philip Lampi. The American Antiquarian Society and Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives have mounted it online with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Coxe, Tench. The Federalist: Containing Some Strictures upon a Pamphlet Entitled, The Pretensions of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency Examined and Charges Against John Adams Refuted, which Pamphlet was First Published in the Gazette of the United States in a Series of Essays under the Signature of Phocion. Philadelphia: Re-published from the Gazette of the United States by Mathew Carey . November, 1796. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]

Ferling, John. "1796: The First Real Election." American History 31, no. 5 (November 1996): 24.

Heidenreich, Donald E. "Conspiracy Politics in the Election of 1796." New York History 92, no. 3 (Summer2011 2011): 151-165.

Pasley, Jeffrey L. The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013. [Catalog Record]

Scherr, Arthur. "The Significance of Thomas Pinckney's Candidacy in the Election of 1796." South Carolina Historical Magazine 76, no. 2 (April 1975): 51-59.

Smith, Page. "Election of 1796," in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, eds. Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Fred L. Israel. 3 vols. I, 29-48. New York: Facts On File, 2012. [Catalog Record]


John Adams: Campaigns and Elections

Throughout Washington's presidency, Vice President Adams regarded himself as the heir apparent. Indeed, that alone explains his willingness to endure eight years in the vice presidency, an office devoid of power. When Washington, in his Farewell Address, published in September 1796, announced his intention to retire, the nation faced its first contested presidential election. The Federalist members of Congress caucused and nominated Adams and Thomas Pinckney, a South Carolinian who had soldiered and served President Washington as a diplomat, as their choices for President. The Democratic-Republicans in Congress likewise met and named Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr of New York, who had served in the Continental army and as a United States senator early in Washington's presidency, as their choices. Each party named two presidential candidates, for under the original Constitution, each member of the electoral college was to cast two ballots for President. The winner of the presidential election was the individual who received the largest number of votes, if it constituted a majority of the votes cast. The person receiving the second largest number of votes, whether or not it was a majority, was to be the vice president. In the event that no candidate received a majority of votes, or that two candidates tied with a majority of votes, the House of Representatives was to decide the election, with each state, regardless of size, having a single vote.

When the contest began in full force in the late summer of 1796, only Aaron Burr, out of the four candidates, waged an active campaign. Supporters of the four candidates, however, campaigned vigorously. The Federalist press labeled Jefferson a Francophile, questioned his courage during the War of Independence, and charged that he was an atheist. Adams was portrayed as a monarchist and an Anglophile who was secretly bent on establishing a family dynasty by having his son succeed him as President.

Adams also had trouble in his own camp. Rumors swirled that his chief rival for leadership among the Federalists, Alexander Hamilton, secretly favored Pinckney, as he would be more malleable than Adams. Many believed that Hamilton sought to have some Federalist electors withhold their votes from Adams so that Pinckney would outpoll him.

In the end, Adams won by a three-vote margin. Although virtually all of Adams's votes came from northern electors (while virtually all of Jefferson's were from southern electors), Adams won largely because of the votes of two southern electors. A Virginia elector, from a county with a strong tradition of opposition to planter aristocrats, voted for Adams, as did an elector from a commercial district in coastal North Carolina. Jefferson received the second largest number of votes, making him the vice president. Thus, the nation would have a President from one party and a vice president from the other party.

Seven states permitted popular voting in this election. In the remaining nine states, the state legislatures elected the members of the electoral college. Thus, popular opinion is difficult to fathom in this vote, although Adams appears to have received some support in recognition of his long and sacrificial service during the American Revolution. The northern states also thought their time had come to have a President, as a Virginian had held the office during the new nation's first eight years. In addition, the vocal support for Jefferson by the French minister to the United States probably swung some electoral ballots to Adams.

It fell to John Adams, the vice president and presiding officer of the Senate, to count the ballots cast by the electoral college delegates. When he finished his count, he announced that "John Adams" had been elected to succeed George Washington. The final electoral college tally was 71 votes for Adams to 68 for Jefferson.

The Campaign and Election of 1800

Adams faced a difficult reelection campaign in 1800. The Federalist Party was deeply split over his foreign policy. Many had opposed his decision to send envoys to Paris in 1799, some because they feared it would result in national humiliation for the United States and others because they hoped to maintain the Quasi-War crisis for partisan ends. Furthermore, early in 1800, Adams fired two members of his cabinet, Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, and James McHenry, the secretary of war, for their failure to support his foreign policy. Their discharge alienated numerous Federalists. In addition to the fissures within his party, the differences between the Federalists and the Republicans had become white-hot. Jeffersonians were furious over the creation of a standing army, the new taxes, and the Alien and Sedition Acts.

As in 1796, the Federalist members of Congress caucused in the spring of 1800 and nominated Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, an officer in the Continental army, a member of the Constitutional Convention, and a part of the diplomatic commission that Adams sent to France in 1797. The Federalists did not designate a choice for the presidency but asked their presidential electors to cast their two votes for Adams and Pinckney. The Democratic-Republicans meanwhile nominated Jefferson and Burr, their candidates in the previous presidential election, but designated Jefferson as their choice for President.

In the campaign that followed, the Federalists depicted Jefferson as a godless nonbeliever and a radical revolutionary he was often called a Jacobin, after the most radical faction in France during the French Revolution. His election, it was charged, would bring about a reign of terror in the nation. The Republicans cast Adams as a monarchist and the Federalist Party as an enemy of republicanism, including the greater egalitarianism promised by the American Revolution. The level of personal attack by both parties knew no bounds. At one point, Adams was accused of plotting to have his son marry one of the daughters of King George III and thus establish a dynasty to unite Britain and the United States. The plot had been stopped, according to the story, only by the intervention of George Washington, who had dressed in his old Revolutionary War uniform to confront Adams with sword in hand. Jefferson, meanwhile, was accused of vivisection and of conducting bizarre ritualistic rites at Monticello, his home in Virginia.

One of Adams's greatest foes in this election was Alexander Hamilton, a member of his own party. In October, Hamilton published a pamphlet in which he argued that Adams should not be reelected. He charged that the President was emotionally unstable, given to impulsive and irrational decisions, unable to coexist with his closest advisers, and generally unfit to be President. It is unlikely, however, that Hamilton's attack cost Adams any electoral votes.

Failing in that endeavor, Hamilton schemed to elect Pinckney. He worked to persuade all the Federalist presidential electors from the North to vote for the party's two nominees, Adams and Pinckney, while he tried to convince some southern electors to withhold their vote for Adams. That would enable Pinckney to outpoll Adams.

Hamilton's scheme failed, however. Not only did numerous New England Federalists, who were pro-Adams, withhold their second vote from Pinckney but the Federalist ticket was outpolled by their Democratic-Republican rivals. Pinckney finished fourth in the balloting, and Adams stood third in electoral votes, while Jefferson and Burr tied for first place with seventy-three votes each.

The nation had divided once again along sectional lines. Eighty-six percent of Adams's votes were cast by northern electors nearly three-fourths of Jefferson's votes were from the South. Party discipline was much improved over that of the election of 1796. In the 1796 election, nearly 40 percent of electors had refused to adhere to the recommendations of their party's caucus. In 1800, however, only one elector broke ranks—a New England Federalist elector withheld his second vote from Pinckney.

Public opinion in 1800 is difficult to gauge. Only five states—down from seven in 1796—permitted the qualified voters to elect the members of the electoral college. State legislatures made the choice in the remaining eleven states. Moreover, several states abandoned the election of electors in districts and instituted a winner-take-all system. Virginia adopted the at-large format, enabling Jefferson to win all twenty-one votes from his home state had the election been by district, Adams likely would have won up to nine votes. In addition, Adams was the first presidential candidate to be victimized by the infamous three-fifths compromise agreed to in the Constitutional Convention. That decision, which permitted the counting of 60 percent of the slave population for purposes of representation in the House and the electoral college, enhanced the clout of the South—Democratic-Republican territory—in this contest. Had no slaves been counted, Adams likely would have defeated Jefferson by a 63-61 margin. Ultimately, the election turned on the outcome in New York. The Democratic-Republican Party won control of the New York legislature in the May elections of that year, principally by winning every contested seat in New York City. Control of the assembly meant that Jefferson would receive all twelve electoral votes from New York, whereas Adams had won those votes in 1796.

Jefferson's victory in 1800 also stemmed from the disunion of the Federalist Party and, more importantly, the superior party organization of the Democratic-Republicans, which enabled the party to capture both the presidency and Congress. The Democratic-Republicans started several new newspapers and created committees of correspondence to direct the distribution of campaign literature and plan meetings and rallies. Their victories were due to four years of party organizing, sophisticated political campaigning, and the shaping of a party machine that responded to the temper and mood of the electorate.

With the election a tie, the decision was remitted to the House of Representatives, as specified by the Constitution. Every Democratic-Republican delegation in the House stood by Jefferson however, some northern Federalists favored Burr, whom they found more palatable than their longtime nemesis from Virginia. After thirty-five ballots and five days of voting, the House was deadlocked. Each vote had ended with Jefferson receiving eight votes to Burr's six. The delegations from two states, Vermont and Maryland, were deadlocked and could not cast a ballot. Burr refused to step down even though it was understood that he had run as a vice presidential candidate in the general election.

Throughout the long battle, Alexander Hamilton had urged the election of his old rival, Jefferson. He viscerally disliked Jefferson and objected to his democratic and egalitarian principles, but he feared and mistrusted Aaron Burr as an unprincipled opportunist. In the end, however, the outcome in the House appears to have hung on Federalist bargaining with both Jefferson and Burr. In return for their vote, Federalist House members sought a commitment from one or the other to preserve Hamilton's economic program, keep the enhanced Navy intact, and leave Federalist officeholders in their jobs. Burr appears to have refused to bargain. Jefferson, ever after, denied making such a bargain, although several Federalists claimed that he had agreed to their terms. The truth can never be known. What is clear is that on the thirty-sixth ballot, a sufficient number of Federalists broke from Burr and gave their votes to Jefferson. The final House vote was Jefferson with ten states and Burr with four states while two states (South Carolina and Delaware) abstained. With that, Jefferson became the third President of the United States.

When Jefferson assumed office, his opponents stepped down peacefully. This return to domestic tranquility established a powerful precedent for the future. Although it is true that Adams tried to entrench Federalist power in the new administration by appointing Federalist judges in the last weeks of his term, this was viewed as acceptable politics by most observers, yet Jefferson's refusal to honor these last-minute "midnight appointments" led to the landmark Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison.


Candidates

  • Governor Samuel Adams
  • Aurora Editor Benjamin Franklin Bache
  • Governor Josiah Bartlett
  • Senator Aaron Burr
  • Former Governor George Clinton
  • President Pro Tempore of the Senate Oliver Ellsworth
  • Secretary John Jay
  • Former Senator Samuel Johnston
  • Senator Alexander Hamilton
  • Speaker Richard Henry Lee
  • Secretary Robert Morris
  • Congressman Charles Coatesworth Pinckney
  • President George Washington

Decline to Run


Thomas Jefferson accused of having an affair, Oct. 19, 1796

On this day in 1796, during the nation’s first contested presidential election, the Gazette of the United States published an article accusing Thomas Jefferson, a former secretary of state, of carrying on an affair with Sarah “Sally” Hemings, one of his slaves.

At the time, Jefferson was seeking the presidency as a Democratic-Republican, a political party he had co-founded with James Madison. His rival for the office was John Adams, vice president during George Washington’s two terms and a Federalist.

The article was the work of Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s former treasury secretary. It was one of 25 that Hamilton wrote for the newspaper from Oct. 15 to Nov. 24, assailing Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. They appeared under the byline of Phocion, an ancient Athenian politician.

During the American Revolution, Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Hamilton had worked in tandem to end British colonial rule and found the new nation. But after Washington declined to serve a third term, the political climate turned nasty. The Federalists accused the Democratic-Republicans of supporting the French Revolution, which had grown violent, while their rivals accused the “aristocratic” Federalists of favoring monarchism.

Adams won the election, carrying nine states to Jefferson’s seven, with 71 electoral votes to Jefferson’s 68. Having come in second, Jefferson became vice president. The contest was the only one in U.S. history in which a president and vice president were elected from opposing tickets. Subsequently, adoption of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution precluded this procedure from occurring again.

Hemings was the half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife, Martha, by their father, John Wayles. Most historians have concluded that, as a widower, Jefferson may have had as many as six children with Hemings, maintaining a 38-year relationship with her until his death in 1826.

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Hemings (1773-1835) lived in Paris with Jefferson and two of his daughters from 1787 to 1789, while he was the American envoy to France. Her duties included serving as a nursemaid-companion to Jefferson’s daughter Maria (1784-1787), lady’s maid to daughters Martha and Maria (1787-1797), and working as chambermaid and seamstress for the Jefferson family.

The account of their illicit relationship re-entered the public arena during Jefferson’s first term as president, which began in 1801. It has since remained a subject of discussion for more than two centuries.

In September 1802, James Callender, a political journalist, a disaffected former ally of Jefferson, wrote in a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper that Jefferson had for many years “kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves." "Her name is Sally," Callender continued, adding that Jefferson had "several children" by her. The Federalist camp picked up the story and disseminated it widely, hoping in vain to deny Jefferson a second presidential term. Jefferson offered no public response to the accusation and, so far as is known, made no public or private comments about it.

SOURCE: “ALEXANDER HAMILTON,” BY RON CHERNOW (2004)

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Faithless electors: Could they impact 2020 election results?

Robert Alexander, a political science professor and author of 'Representation and the Electoral College', discusses faithless electors and their impact in an election.

LOS ANGELES - In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, which resulted in Joe Biden being projected as the winner after narrow victories in key battleground states, many may wonder whether the results could be changed by faithless electors come January.

The United States has a total of 538 electoral votes up for grabs — equal to the number of representatives and senators the states have in Congress. Each state is guaranteed at least one seat in the House and two in the Senate.

But when voters cast a ballot on Election Day, they are not actually voting for the president. “We’re actually voting for these electors — a slate of electors chosen by the political parties,” Robert Alexander, a political science professor at Ohio Northern University and author of “Representation and the Electoral College,” said.

During the first week in January — approximately six weeks after the presidential elections — the acting vice president presides over a meeting of the House and Senate, where the electors’ votes are counted.

“My research over the past 5 presidential elections finds that electors are regularly lobbied to change their votes in the time between the general election is held and when they cast their votes in the Electoral College,” Alexander said. 𠇊lmost all electors were lobbied in 2008 and in 2016. Some of that lobbying is very aggressive as several electors reported getting death threats.”

The nominee who reaches 270 electoral votes is declared the winner and ultimately president of the United States.

But what happens if an elector casts a vote not in accordance with the state’s popular vote?

The term �ithless electors’ defined

Electors who cast a vote for someone other than their state party’s nominee are often referred to as �ithless electors.”

While states generally side with the candidate their state picks as the corresponding party’s presidential nominee, occasionally they do not.

Over the course of American election history, a total of 165 electors have cast �viant votes” of some sort.

According to FairVote.com, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to electoral reform, 90 electors have cast deviant votes which were not ordinary votes for the presidential nominee of the elector’s political party. Meanwhile, there have been 75 instances of deviant votes for vice president.

Chart highlighting categories of deviant votes among faithless electors (FairVote)

More than two-thirds of the 90 deviant presidential votes cast were for another candidate due to the death of the nominee.

Of the remaining 27 deviant votes, 24 were cast for another candidate (three were canceled or retracted due to the operation of state law).

Who was the first faithless elector?

Samuel Miles of Pennsylvania is considered the first faithless elector, in 1796. Miles, who promised to vote for Federalist candidate John Adams instead voted for Thomas Jefferson.

Since 1900, there have been 16 faithless electors who chose to vote for other presidential candidates.

The closest Electoral College margin was in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush received 271 electoral votes compared to 266 for Democratic candidate Al Gore. One openly faithless elector, Barbara Lett Simmons from Washington, D.C., left her ballot blank.

Simmons, a longtime Democratic activist, claimed that the District was the only region that paid federal taxes but did not have a vote in Congress, the Washington Times reported.

"Taxation without representation is tyranny," Simmons said in remarks given after she cast her blank ballot, according to the Times.

Chart showing number of deviant votes during each presidential election

But perhaps the most notable instance of faithless electors was in 2016, when 10 electors cast votes for other candidates.

𠇊lthough it did not impact the outcome, the 2016 election between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton included an abnormally high number of electors breaking with their political party and casting a deviant vote for President,” FairVote said.

In fact, it was the largest number of individual deviance by electors in a U.S. presidential election.

“There were ten electors in 2016 that tried to cast faithless votes. Seven of them were successful. Two were Republicans the rest were Democrat,” Alexander explained. “They were unsuccessful in their attempt, but for many Americans, that is denying them the right to vote what they thought they would get back in early November.”

Of the seven faithless electors in 2016, four came from Washington, a state won by Clinton.

Three voted for former Secretary of State and Republican Colin Powell, while a fourth cast a ballot for a Native American elder named Faith Spotted Eagle.

Bret Chiafalo, who voted for Powell, said he was “ready to pay a fine of up to $1,000 if the state decides to enforce the law on faithless electors,” according to the Associated Press.

One faithless elector, David Mulinix, a Democrat from Hawaii, cast his vote for Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton.

Two Texas electors — Christopher Suprun and Bill Greene — voted against their party’s decided candidate. Suprun voted for John Kasich, while Greene voted for Libertarian Ron Paul.

While the 2016 electors cast a significantly higher number of deviant votes in comparison to previous election years, it also illustrates that those who voted against their state’s choice did not vote for the opposing party’s presidential candidate (i.e. voting Clinton instead of Trump and vice-versa).

Even so, deviant votes are still an effort to try and keep a president-elect from the 270 Electoral College votes needed to officially become the nation&aposs president.

2020 Supreme Court ruling

In July 2020, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a state may require presidential electors to follow the state’s popular vote result in the Electoral College.

A state may instruct 𠇎lectors that they have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her majority opinion. "That direction accords with the Constitution — as well as with the trust of a Nation that here, We the People rule,” Kagan wrote.

SCOTUS affirmed that state laws binding electors were constitutional. This ruling left in place laws in 33 states and the District of Columbia that bind electors to vote for the popular-vote winner.

FULL INTERVIEW: Political science professor discusses the Electoral College

Robert Alexander, a political science professor at Ohio Northern University and author of 'Representation and the Electoral College' breaks down the history and representation of the Electoral College.

“While there are 33 states (plus DC) that have laws requiring pledges of electors, there are only 14 states that have a sanction to remove an elector if they vote contrary to expectations,” Alexander explained.

“So while most have pledges, less than half have any means of forcing electors to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their states. This amounts to 121 of the 538 electoral votes. So technically over 400 electors could go rogue if they chose to do so,” Robert said.

Could faithless electors ultimately change the 2020 election results?

While faithless electors have existed in the past, they have never been critical to the outcome, nor have they had the capacity to overturn an election.

But deviant voting among electors has become increasingly concerning in recent years, especially after 2016’s presidential election. Many wonder if a close race could be altered by faithless electors.

Biden and Trump’s projected electoral vote count stands at 290 for Biden compared to 214 for Trump, according to FOX News projections. A closer race could be a bigger concern, and it is not common for faithless electors to cast a vote for the opposing party’s candidate. In fact, it has only happened once before in American election history, according to FairVote.

�ithless electors have never changed the outcome of a presidential election. To date, only one elector has cast a vote for the opposite party’s nominee instead of his own in a close contest. In the 1796 election - the very first contested presidential election - Samuel Miles, a Federalist elector from Pennsylvania, voted for Democratic-Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson instead of Federalist candidate John Adams,” FairVote said.

And with more states required to side with their state’s popular vote result due to this year’s Supreme Court ruling, the option is becoming increasingly difficult and looked down upon.

“It happens infrequently, but our studies have found that a number of electors actually consider that as an option more than most would think,” Alexander said. “On average, my research finds that around 10% of electors give some consideration to voting contrary to expectations.”

“Most are strong party loyalists, but they may have issues with their party&aposs candidate or they may simply wish to use the opportunity as a platform for a pet issue. Of course, very few choose to go rogue and I expect we will see few faithless electors this year�rtainly not enough to change the results of the election,” Alexander said.


Watch the video: The American Presidential Election of 1796