US history

America’s first presidential election

That was then (1781–1789)

During its first years as a fledgeling country, the United States was governed by a parliamentary system of government. The Congress of the Confederation enacted all legislation, and one of its elected members was designated President of the United States in Congress Assembled, who served a one-year term. The Presidents whose served under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, John Hanson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair and Cyrus Griffin.

And then (1789)

The system of government changed radically on March 4, 1789, the date the Constitution of the United States, which had been created September 1787 and ratified June 1788, came into effect. According to the provisions of the new constitution, there were to be three branches of government. The President of the United States would no longer be a member of Congress but a member of the executive branch of government separate from the Congress.

The first presidential election was held from December 15, 1788, to January 10, 1789. The framers of the Constitution had assumed that the first President of the United States would be George Washington. Less than 1.8% of the population voted in the first presidential election, and only six out of the ten states sending electors to the electoral college chose their electors on the basis of the popular vote.  The states of Connecticut, New Jersey, Georgia and South Carolina did not hold popular elections at all. New York, Rhode Island and North Carolina did not hold elections or participate in the electoral college.

When the electoral college met on February 4, 1789, its task was to choose which candidate would be President and which of the remaining candidates would become the Vice President. The new constitution provided that whichever candidate came in second would be declared Vice President. The candidates in that first election were John Adams, George Clinton, John Hancock, John Jay, Samuel Huntington, John Rutledge, Benjamin Lincoln, and George Washington. All of the candidates except for Clinton had voted for ratification of the new constitution. Clinton, along with Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, opposed the new constitution on the grounds that it gave too much power to the centralized federal government, taking authority away from the individual states; Clinton eventually served as the fourth Vice President of the United States, serving under both James Madison and James Monroe.

Each of the 69 electors at the electoral college was given two votes, one of which was to be cast for George Washington, the second of which was to be cast for a candidate from a state other than the one the elector was representing. When the votes of the electoral college were tallied, Washington of course received 69 votes, and was therefore unanimously elected President. Adams received 34, and the other 35 votes were distributed among all the other candidates. Adams therefore became the nation’s first Vice President. If such an election were to be held today, it would probably be described as rigged.

The inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States was held on April 30, 1789 in New York City, which was the the nation’s capital. John Adams was sworn into office as Vice President nine days earlier. In his first inaugural address to the nation, Washington said:

There exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.

Washington served two terms as President. In his farewell address to the nation on September 19, 1796, Washington said:

The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.

This is now (2017)

In the 2016 Presidential election on November 8, some 138.9 million Americans cast a ballot, which is about 55.3% of the eligible voting population. 48.03% of the popular vote went to the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, while 45.94% went to her Republican opponent, Donald Trump. When the electoral college votes were counted, Trump received 304 votes to Clinton’s 227. Colin Powell received three electoral college votes, and one vote each went to Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul and the Native American activist Tunkan Inajin Win (known in the English-speaking world by her English name Faith Spotted Eagle).

In his inaugural address, Donald Trump said:

Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction—that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves.

These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public. But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge. And the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

Further on in his inaugural address, Trump said “America will start winning again, winning like never before.” What the world is now waiting to see is whether America will win as much during the Trump presidency as it won during the Washington presidency—and whether America’s winning will come at the cost of the rest of the world’s losing.



Author: Dayamati Richard Hayes

Jemez Springs, NM, USA

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