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.