The oddities of the first American election – Kenneth C. Davis

The oddities of the first American election – Kenneth C. Davis

Translator: tom carter
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar Lawn signs sprouting everywhere. Round-the-clock ads on radio and television. The phone rings. It’s a robo-call from the president, or his opponent, asking for your money, and your vote. And while you’re at it, watch their YouTube videos and like them on Facebook. Election time. We all know the look and feel of modern campaigns. But what was it like in the early days of the Republic, when, say, George Washington ran for office? Well, in fact, he didn’t run. When Washington became the first president in 1789, there were no political parties, no conventions or primaries, no campaign, no election season. Not really any candidates. Even the year was odd. Literally. 1789 was the only presidential election ever held in an odd year. After the framers invented the constitution and the presidency 225 years ago, the country set about the business of choosing its first executive. Agreeing with Ben Franklin, many people thought “The first man at the helm will be a good one,” and by that, Franklin meant George Washington. Greatest hero of the Revolution, Washington presided over the convention that created the constitution, rarely speaking. He never discussed the job of president, or of wanting it. And when the first presidential election took place, it was a crazy-quilt affair, with many hands stitching the pattern. Under the new constitution, each state was given a number of electors. who would cast a vote for two names. The man with the most votes would be president, the second-place finisher was vice president. Ah, but who picked the electors? That was left up to the states. Six of them let the people decide, or at least white men over 21 who owned property. In New Jersey, some women voted, a right later taken away. But in other states, the legislature picked the electors. At that time, many people thought democracy was one step away from mob rule and a decision this important should be left to wiser men. These electors then voted for president. All the states had to do was get their votes in on time. But there were glitches. Only 10 of the 13 states voted. Rhode Island and North Carolina hadn’t ratified the constitution and couldn’t vote. New York missed the deadline for naming its electors, and also was not counted. When the votes were tallied, it was unanimous. George Washington won easily. John Adams trailed far behind, finishing second, and became the vice president. Told of his victory, George Washington was not surprised. At Mount Vernon, his bags were already packed. He moved to New York City, the nation’s temporary capital, and he would have to figure out just what a president was supposed to do. Since that first election, American democracy and elections have come a long way. The constitution has been changed to open up voting to more people: black men, women, Native Americans, and eighteen-year-olds included. Getting that basic right extended to all those people has been a long, hard struggle. So when you think you can’t stand any more of those lawn signs, and TV ads, just remember: the right to vote wasn’t always for everyone, and that’s a piece of history worth knowing.

61 thoughts on “The oddities of the first American election – Kenneth C. Davis

  1. Don't we still have some of Abe Lincoln's gum tissue preserved in a jar after he was assassinated? Can't we clone him?

  2. it is not a right it is a privilege that can be taken away if you are convicted of a felony. If you are convicted of a felony you then lose your "right" to vote. Thus one of the most important measures we could and should have is lost, the ability to change laws. As example, convicted drug users cannot vote, cannot participate in voting to change drug laws. Sure they can organize and petition or even get laws on ballots, but their"right" their official voice no longer counts.

  3. "By the power invested in me by this giant bald bird
    The President shall not be the shiniest of two turds!
    You, I wanna like you; don't talk about change, just do it!
    I fought for what was on my brain until a bullet went through it!
    And you, moneybags, you're a pancake: you're flip-floppity!
    It's a country, not a company. You can play, like, Monopoly!
    I'll properly reach across the aisle and bitch-smack you as equals!
    Of the people, by the people, for the people
    Eagle!" – ERB#23

  4. "we all know" … well, this America centrism is really starting to get on my nerve. Because "we" all live in the US, right? Yeah well, greetings from that theme park that uses the metric system aka the rest of the world.

  5. Democracy is a nice idea but this country was bought and paid for long ago. All you're voting for is which mouthpiece you want to deliver what the 1% wants anyway.

  6. You didn't explain WHY the first election was the only one held in an odd year. i.e. Why the first term just lasted 3 years.

  7. Fair point. The election should have been held in 1788, but was delayed as this was all being improvised.Other elections since then have taken place in even years. But the new term still begins in the year following; so Washington served 1789-through 1792 a full four year term, was reelected that year and his second term began in 1793 and ended in 1797, when Adams was inaugurated as the 2d president.

  8. Quite a contradiction. But even today it's not exactly like "the people" is ruling. It's more like a traffic of influence, money and all sorts of power plays. Maybe we should just quit calling it a democracy and change the name to something less hypocritical. Or actually create mechanisms to make it not so easily corruptible. Democracy is (or it should be) so much more than giving people the right to vote (as important as that is). I wonder what future generations will read in History e-books.

  9. Voting between puppets is useless, seeing that the puppeteer is always the same, thus voting is useless. If you vote for something other than a puppet, he won't be there for long.

  10. The right to vote is STILL not universal. We still practice taxation without representation. A 16 year old who can work, be taxed and can't vote (yes I know they are mostly tax exempt), what about the products that we purchase. We are taxed on those but non citizens and once again children do not have any say in these taxes.

  11. It's perfectly in context: electors don't have to vote with the popular vote. The whole point of sending electors to vote was based upon how fast information could be sent. Since we are able to carry information "on beams of light and fiber optic cables rather than on the backs of heard animals", having the current electoral college is outdated and pointless. The system doesn't even promote small states over large. Swing states are a sad fact of this inadequacy.

    -CGP Grey quote

  12. You have the right to vote but does it matter? It's like saying you have the right to choose a paint color for your room but the guy mixing the paint chooses his favorite color.

  13. The right to take the red pill or the blue was not always there… because people didn't acutally care and got on with there lives. Ha. But Democracy has not changed much with all the new current technology more people should be able to edit laws and the mob is the people of the country it isn't crazy people. These days if you can learn to write a law you should be able to edit bills passed and changes laws to suit people. 🙂

  14. "…many people thought democracy was one step away from mob rule", no it IS mob rule, at least in it's pure form. That's why there are no true democracies in the world, to have one there would be no such thing as president or senators or congressmen, a vote would be held for every single decision the government would make. It's far too inefficient, and a small group of people could rig it and screw everyone over.

  15. it's like when 12 people eat a pizza, every one get a piece. But When 100 people eat a pizza, each person have to stand in line a long time, and what they get is almost nothing.

  16. elections haven't changes as much as you would thin by how many people gets to vote. The voice of the wealthy white land owner is still the only voice that matters.

  17. Interesting how the electors used an "approval voting" system; GW was voted unanimously, but John Adams also received some votes.

  18. Would you seriously allow our government to decide who the "wise" men are? There is bound to be corruption… Don't tell me that we can more easily determine who is wise and who is not through our current public "education" evaluation system. If our decision were left to "wiser men" there is no doubt we will be one step closer to fascism.To a government and any bureaucracy in general, a wise man is: one who can easily conform, one with little mind of his own, and one who can ONLY work when told.

  19. I actually agree, if the system wasn't so corrupt now. I still think the Senators should be elected by the legislatures still, not directly by the people, so maybe they'd quite worrying about losing their seat if they vote for something that is good but my have bad consequences for them.

  20. American Republicanism not Democracy. Democracy is a form of government that is ran by a omnipotent majority. Republic's are governments where the people (not the majority nor the minority but both collectively) choose the representatives who's power is controlled by law.

  21. The Electoral College was put in place in 1787 to make sure the wrong man didn't take office . Secret ballots are SECRET for a reason .

  22. It wasn't that they thought that having everyone voting was a mob rule, it was more the fact that many people were uneducated and owned little land, so only the richer white men could really get an education, and the older in age factor comes in with just having more time to collect more land, and this was a factor because if you had more land you had more property to risk, "more skin in the game" so you just mattered more.

  23. An interesting fact to note is when women (aka the first feminists) were campaigning for womens sufferage, the people allowed to vote were people that owned property, so some rich women could vote and some poor men could not, that is why I believe it was not right for feminists to only campaign for womens sufferage.

  24. Geo. "wining" by a unanimous vote can only mean many electors cross party & abstained from voting . (47) Madison/Monroe by 99% !

  25. Franklin once said "We always chose Washington as our leader because any time we all got together, we has always the tallest one in the room." (That's a slight paraphrase).

  26. wait if the first election is in a odd year, and it happens every four year, how did it ever become even?

  27. I am a women btw 😉 but I like when he says about the women voting & something about that going away or being ruled out & the men just do a look over like "ohh well were did they go" so reallll, lol….funny thx…

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