Craziest Presidential Elections

|| by Will Galloway ||

Columbia– Before I start writing this article, I want to take a moment and say how thankful I am for this blogs loyal readers and followers. It’s truly an honor to have so many people read this web page.

Believe it or not, 2016 is not the strangest election in American history. Here are 5 that make this cycle look like any other.

Jefferson vs. Adams (vs. Burr) 1800

Only the third Presidential election in American History, this one was no doubt one of the strangest.

This was the first two-party election, with Adams’ center-left Federalists and Jefferson’s center-right Democratic-Republicans as the main political force.

It was also the first smear campaign. Jefferson spread rumors that Adams both acted and looked like a woman. Adams responded by saying that Jefferson wanted to ban Christianity. When the votes came in, it looked like a rout for Jefferson.

The one problem came during the electoral college. This was the first election in which electors voted separately for President and Vice President (Previously, the top vote getter became President, second vote-getter became VP). Unfortunately, the electors did not specify which office they were voting for, and Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr were tied at 73 electoral votes. Burr refused to concede, and this threw the election to the House of Representatives. Adams despised Burr and knew that he had no chance at winning in the House, so he threw his support behind Jefferson.

Jefferson would go on the become America’s third president. Burr would go on to kill Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel.

J.Q. Adams vs. Jackson vs. Crawford vs. Clay (1824)

This election has drawn parallels to 2000, where Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush won the election.

In this case, there was only one political party contesting, the Democratic-Republicans, who failed to nominate a candidate at convention. Four candidates claimed to be the party’s true nominee: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, war hero and Tennessee Senator Andrew Jackson, Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay.

Jackson dominated on election day, winning 11% more votes, 5 more states, and 15 more electors than his nearest rival, but because of the huge number of candidates he did not reach an electoral majority. This plunged the election once again to the House of Representatives. Pursuant to the 12th amendment, only the top three candidates were on the House Ballot. Clay, the fourth candidate and Speaker of the House, endorsed Adams, partially because of an agreement on Tariff policy and partially because of Jackson’s actions during the Battle of New Orleans.

Jackson was livid, and waged a victorious vendetta campaign in 1828.

Lincoln vs. Douglas vs. Breckenridge vs. Bell (1860)

At this time, a war over slavery seemed almost certain. Whether slavery would advance into the new U.S. territories divided the Congress along cultural lines, and Presidents Buchanan and Pierce only served to escalate those tensions. The issue came to a head when, at the Democratic Convention, southern, pro-expansion democrats led a walkout against the  northern, anti-expansion democrats. The northern democrats nominated Senator Steven Douglass, the Senator John Breckenridge (Who would go on to serve as Confederate Secretary of War).

Two new political parties also emerged on the scene; the Abolitionist Republicans, who nominated first term congressman Abraham Lincoln, and the anti-secession Constitutional Union party, which nominated Senator and former House speaker John Bell. Neither candidate initially thought he would win, and sought to simply raise awareness for their party. Lincoln, however, emerged as a real contender after the Democratic convention.

Had the Democrats remained united, they would have seen a resounding victory. The divided ticket split voting and paved the way for Lincoln to win, even though he received no popular votes in five southern states. By the time Lincoln was sworn in as president, seven states had seceded from the Union.

One lasting contribution of this election was the tradition of debates. Lincoln and Douglas traveled around the country to debate the merits of the expansion of slavery.

Tilden vs. Hayes (1876)

This was the first election since before the civil war in which Southern States were able to vote freely.

The General Election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden was incredibly contentious; only one electoral vote separated the two, but four states were unresolved. In Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina, both parties claimed their candidate was victorious.

The parties agreed to create a non-partisan Electoral Commission to determine the results of these four states. Incumbent Republican President Ulysses S. Grant ensured that the commission was dominated by Republicans, who ensured that all 20 electoral votes went to Hayes.

In what became known as the Compromise of 1877, Democrats agreed not to question the commission’s findings, and Republicans agreed they would remove Union troops out of the majority democratic south, thus ending the Reconstruction period.

Truman vs. Dewey vs. Thurmond (1948)

During the primary campaign, Harry Truman promised that he would ensure civil rights protections would be included in the Democratic Platform. Southern Democrats, the dominant force in the south and a key group of democrats at this time, were adamantly opposed to this. During the convention, dozens of southern democrats, led by then-Governor Strom Thurmond, walked out and formed the States Rights Democratic Party, which had the single goal of denying Truman re-election.

Truman, the would-be favorite, was kept in a horse race with the Republican candidate, New York Governor Thomas Dewey, by Thurmond’s candidacy.

On election day, results were unclear for several hours after polls closed. The Chicago Tribune even famously printed the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”. In reality, Truman won by 3 million votes and over 100 electoral votes.

BONUS: Nixon vs. McGovern (1972)

This election is unique on this list, as it was a rout for Republican Richard Nixon. The Democratic Party was in shambles and their candidate, far-left Senator George McGovern, only won 17 electoral votes out of the 538 cast. The strangeness of this election was only revealed by The Washington Post in 1974.

George McGovern’s vice presidential nominee, Thomas Eagleton, resigned after embarrassing medical records surfaced. After a half dozen high profile democrats, including Ted Kennedy and  Hubert Humphrey, declined the post, McGovern turned to the nationally unknown ambassador to France, Sargent Shriver.

The real scandal was on Nixon’s side. While investigating the Watergate Burglaries, two young reporters discovered that Nixon’s Committee To Re-Elect The President (aka CREEP), had orchestrated the wiretapping of the Democratic Campaign Headquarters as well as ok’d slush funds for members of the committee.

The scandal eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency.


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