The Election of George Washington
The original election procedures of the Constitution
Most people know that George Washington was elected unanimously in 1789,
but did you know that his election wasn’t based on popular vote? Did you know that the first president of the United States didn’t have to campaign at all? He was elected as the
unanimous electoral choice for president. The constitution had not allowed for
direct election of the president, but created the electoral system to
decide who would become president and vice president. Initially, our founding
fathers never anticipated that our president would ever be elected by popular vote.
The original United States Constitution was in effect during the election in 1789.
Each state was to chose electors, and each state’s legislature decided how they would choose their electors.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the
Constitution specifies how many electors each state is entitled to have and
that each state's legislature decides how its electors are to be chosen. U.S.
territories are not represented in the Electoral College. The Electoral College
is an example of an indirect election, as opposed to a direct election by
United States citizens (such as for members of the United States House of
II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution states:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as
the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole
Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in
the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of
Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
II, Section 1, Clause 4 of the Constitution states:
The Congress may determine the Time of
choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which
Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution provided for the original fashion
by which the President and Vice President were to be chosen by the electors. In
the original system, the candidate who received both the most votes and more
than half of all votes cast would become President, the candidate receiving the
second most votes would become Vice President.
In this first election in 1789, 69 electors each cast two ballots—one for
president, and the other for Vice President. All 69 electors cast one of their votes for
Washington making him president. The second place winner became the vice president. In order to balance regional power, federalist leaders generally agreed that John Adams—a Massachusetts resident would be the Vice President. Alexander Hamilton diverted a few votes from Adams to avoid an embarassing tie vote. Popular vote totals would not be retained until the Election of 1824.
Washington was sworn into office on April 30, 1789 in New York City, the site of the capital
for the next 18 months. North Carolina would not ratify the Constitution until November 1789 and Rhode Island until 1790.
Washington was re-elected in 1792 when partisan politics kept other contenders out of the
race. (No one wanted to lose to Washington again).
The Framers of the Constitution anticipated that this electoral system
would result with each state employing the district system of allocating
electors, each presidential elector would exercise independent judgment when
voting, and candidates would not pair together on the same ticket with assumed
placements toward each office of President and Vice President. The system was
designed so that it would rarely produce a winner thereby making it necessary for Congress to elect both President and Vice President.
As we will see with subsequent elections, the electoral system of
electing the President and Vice President would evolve into a system more like
the one we have today.
The Constitution of the United States Article
II Section I, Clauses 2, 3, and 4