By Kathryn Moore on TheAmericanPresident.US November of any presidential election year makes historians wax
nostalgic; they dust off the volumes detailing past elections and ponder what parallels can be drawn between those of yesterday and today. Most presidential elections pass relatively peacefully and simply become statistics of popular and electoral votes. A few, however, make their own historic mark for various reasons. The ones considered most unusual are the elections of 1800, 1824, and 1876, and 2000.
The election of 1800 resulted in a tie vote in the electoral college between Democratic-Republican candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. (At this time, there were no party tickets, the winner was president, and the runner-up became vice president.) Such a dilemma meant the election fell to the House of Representatives. There, the House tied 35 times. On the 36th ballot, the tie broke and Thomas Jefferson became the young nation’s third president. (His vice president Aaron Burr would ultimately become the only one in that high office to kill a man in a duel -- Alexander Hamilton -- and later be accused and stand trial for treason. He was acquitted.)
Five elections passed with scarcely a hiccup in the process. But that ended with the 1824 election. Rather than a tie as in 1800, this election ended with no candidate receiving a majority of electoral votes. Hence, the House of Representatives was called upon to decide yet another election. The candidates were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, or William Crawford. With the leadership of the country at stake, House Speaker Henry Clay seized an opportunity to further his own fortune. Although both Adams and Clay later insisted that no deal occurred, Andrew Jackson announced that there had been a “corrupt bargain” when he and the American people learned that John Quincy Adams was the new president and his appointee for the post of Secretary of State was Henry Clay.
For over fifty years, the country managed to stage presidential elections with no unusual fanfare -- even though the Civil War intervened. Its aftermath, though, threatened the election of 1876. Former Civil War colonel Rutherford B. Hayes and Republican nominee opposed Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden. Hayes appeared to have lost the election but once the electoral votes came in, Tilden was short of a majority by one vote. Moreover, trouble arose when the electoral votes of three states--South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana -- were disputed. Since such a problem did not occur to the founding fathers, no procedure is outlined in the constitution. Troubled that a crisis could spell disaster, Congress reacted in typical fashion and created a committee to decide the winner. Seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one independent formed the group, but when the independent dropped, he was replaced by a Republican. Electoral votes from each state were scrutinized, debated and allotted. Ultimately Hayes won with a vote of 185 to Tilden’s 184. Such a victory came at a cost. To pacify the Democrats, Hayes and the Republicans agreed to end the South’s Reconstruction and federal troops were removed.
Over a century of elections occurred before America witnessed yet as controversial an election -- 2000 when Democrat Al Gore opposed Republican George W. Bush. Florida’s vote tally was in the spotlight again since without its electoral votes, neither candidate had a majority. But this time the results were not decided in the House of Representatives but rather in the U.S. Supreme Court. An extremely tight electoral count meant that every vote truly mattered. All eyes turned to Florida where Bush won with just three hundred votes. Florida state law indicated that the entire state had to be recounted, but Gore pushed for only four heavily Democratic counties to be recounted. Thus began the court battle that ultimately led to rounds in Florida courts and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the matter twice. In Bush v. Gore, the Court ruled that the recount should end, so that Florida could certify its winner in time for the December 12 electoral election. The state’s Republican legislature approved its electors to vote for Bush. With Florida in his column, George W. Bush became the forty-third president with 271 electoral votes - one more than the required number.
Most elections do not result in any major court battles or special election commissions but are historic nonetheless. Whenever people take the time to stand in long lines to vote, they fulfill the promise of democracy. Whenever that happens, it is an historic event.