January 10 marks 225 years since the conclusion of the United States of America’s first Presidential election.
It was a very fortunate circumstance that George Washington was an obvious choice to serve as the first leader of the newly formed country.
There was still a lot of work left to do when Washington took office.
One of the problems that was easy to identify was how the Vice President was selected. In college, I was prone to argue that a Vice President was unnecessary and served little actual purpose. In its current state, the Vice Presidency is nothing more than a would-be ambassador, Senatorial tie-breaker and electoral litmus paper.
At the time of the first election in 1788-1789 – it actually began in December and ended Jan. 10, 1789 – Having a member of the executive branch working with Congress was more important and obviously, medical care and security at the time made having a direct succession plan in place more important. (Did you know that the current succession plan enumerates the order that would give up to 17 people the presidency in case of some really bad stuff happening to the first 16? Fortunately, we have never made it past Vice President.)
In the first election, each elector was granted two votes. Both votes carried equal weight for the Presidency. If you do the math, if everyone voted for Washington – which they did – and everyone chose the same second choice, the two men would actually have tied for President.
To prevent that, Alexander Hamilton devised a scheme to ensure that this did not happen. Because of Hamilton’s diversion tactics, John Adams got about half of the votes Washington did and was chosen to serve as Vice President.
It was easier for Washington to build a consensus considering just over one percent of the nation’s population voted. Only six of the ten states who cast electoral votes used any popular voting method.
New York had ratified the constitution and had a right to choose electors but that state legislature deadlocked and no electors were selected – and you thought legislative incompetence was something new.
In 225 years, Presidential elections have changed a lot. The amount of controversy, conniving and corner-cutting has not.