There was no real presidenial campaign in 1788. There was no opposition to Washington. 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 elkectoral votes. The candidated did not run as ticket and individuals of different political parties which were a;ready forming could be elected. This was a defect in the Constitution that would have to be changed by Constitutional amendment, the first of several amendments concerning elections and voting.
The American Federal Constitution is the first important written plan crafted to establish a new republic. Madison came to the Convention armed with a carefully crafted plan which came to be called the Virginia Pln. Madison's role at the Convntion has resulted in him being seen as the "father" of the Constitution. It was conceived to limit the powers of the Federal government by creating three independent braches of government, in part a reflection of American experience with what the founders considered to be King George III's unfettered executive power. Guaranteeing power to the states further limited the power of the Federal Government. There were many inperfections in the Constitution, including a failure to address slavery. There were also limits on democratic government. The fact that even in 2002, President Bush was relected with fwer votes than Vice President Gore is a reflection of these limits. The new Constitution was hotly debated throughout America after the Convention approved it. Dpite the imperfections, it was as Franklin observed, as close to perfect as could be achieved. Madison and Hamilton argued for its ratification in a brilliant series of political essays now called the Federalist Papers. The principal concern threatening ratification was fear--fear of the political unknown and dangers of both democratic rule and the political unknown. One noted scholar writes, "The Constitution was writtennot by hard-nosed, conservative political bosses detrminned to rverse the melirist enthusiasm of the early years, but by idelaists ... who had come to recognize, reluctantly, the need to create the dangerous instruments of centralized power." [Bailyn]
The election of 1789 was the only election where political parties did not play a role. The basis for te first two American parties, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists (Republicans) had began to form in the debates over the new Constitution in the different states. The actual organization was, however, not yet formal and general agreement on the first president defused the partisan debate. A few Anti-Federalits electors were chosen, but te election was dominated by the Federalists.
There was no real presidenial campaign in 1788. Americans agreed that the office should be filled by George Washington and there was no opposition to him.
The 1789 was the first real American elections. Earlier elections had been held in the states which sent representatives to Congress. Under the Articles of Confederation there were no national officers. The election was held a little out of sync with all subsequent elections. It could not be held in 1788 because the Constitution had not yet been ratified. Only 10 of the 13 states participated in the election. Two states had not yet ratified the Comstitution (North Carolina and Rhode Island). The New York legislature deadlocked when they attempted to choose their 8 electors. It was not a very democratic election. Many of the electors were chosen by the state legislatures. There were 6 states that organized a popular vote. Only about 1.3 percent of the population voted in these elections. Women and slaves were excluded. And even among adult white males there were a variety of restrictions on the sufferage, primrily property standards.
The election of 1789 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 (all 69 electors) both times he ran for the presidency.
The only question was who would be elected vice president. John Adams received the next greatest largest number, 34 votes, and became the first vice president of the United States. There was no campaigning for the office, Adams' selection was simply an indication of the high esteem with which Adams was held. His vote was far below that of Washington in part because the electors did not think Adams should be awarded te same overwealming vote. The other votes were spread among several individuals led by John Jay who received 9 votes.
At the time there were no political parties and running mates. Adams unlike modern vice-presidents was not chosen by Washington. The new Federal Constitution created an Electoral College, chosen by state legislators. A state was assigned one elector for each representative and senator. The electors in February 1789 voted for the first president and vice president. The electors in the early presidential elections actually cast two votes. The person who received the most votes became president and the person with the next highest number became vice president. (This illconceived system almost resulted in a dissaster in 1800 when Democratic Republican vice presidential candidate Araon Burr nearly defeated presidential candidate Thomas Jeffereson in the Electoral College voting. The electoral system was of course later changed to enable the separate selection of the president and 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 defect in the Constitution that would have to be changed by Constitutional amendment--the 12th Anendmebnt. It as the first of several amendments concerning elections and voting.
Electing the 1st Congress was a complicated matter. The states set the election dates and election methods and thus they did not conincide with the national presidential elections or the Congressional ekections in other states. Another probelm that several states were late to ratify and thus hold elections. There were other differences. Many of the new Congressment were chosen by at large voting rather han a vote in their districts. One of the more interesting contests occurred in Virginia. As occurred in many other states, many individuals who supported ratification contested Congressional seats with those who had opposed ratification. James Madison and James Monroe contested a Congressional seat in Virginia. Madison had been a central figure at the Constututional Convention, he in fact authored a substantial part of it. Monroe had been on of the leading opponents in the fight for ratification. He believed that the states had surrendered too much power to the national government and there was no guarantee for fundamental rights. Madison contended thst without the Consitution, the country could not survive. One historian writes, "Both candidates were highly motivated to win the election. James Madison's shining career of public servicehad not been interupted since Charles Porter's bribery of the voters ... had cost Madison his place in the first Virginia House of Delegates. And James Monrie muchb preferred public service to the law practice he had had to resort to when he failed to return to Virginia to campaign in person for the 1786 House of Delegates election. But each man believed ... much more was at stake than their personal careers. The future of the Constitution and the new government it establioshed hung in the baklance." [Derose] The elections were held throughout 1788 and 1789. Political parties did not yet exist, but the elected Congressmen began to be judged as pro-Administration (pro-Washington) and anti-Administration. The two sides primarily separated along lines of who had supported or oppsed ratification of the Constitution. The Constitutiin was niw rtified, bu that does not mean tht the concernof those who opposed ratification had gone away. The Administration had aubstanhtial majority. The first session of the first House of Representatives came to order in Philadelphia, but a quoram was not yet present (March 4, 1789). This finally occurred a month later (April 1, 1789). The first order of business was the election of a Speaker of the House. The Congressnen chose Frederick Muhlenberg Speaker. The rest of the session was largely devoted to establishing legislative procedure rather than any policy issues.
As the first national election, the presidetial election of 1789 has to be considered a semenal election. It elected the president and Congress that would put the Constitution into operation. It was, however, more like a coronation for Washington. The actual operation of the political process would require political parties, institutions not forseen in the Cobstitution. These parties would lead to the next semenal election--the election of 1800. This would be a majpr step because it would involve a transfer of power. This is a step that many fledgling republics never achieve.
Bailyn, Bernard. To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders (Knopf: 2002), 185p.
Derose, Chris. Fouding Rivals - Madison vs Monroe: The Bill of Rights and the Election that Saved a Nation (2012), 320p.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main U.S. election page]
[Return to the Main U.S. presidential page]
[Return to the Main U.S. political party page]
[Return to the Main U.S. history page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Children] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Essays]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[ Boys' Clothing Home]