US Presidential Election History

Due to the 2016 US Presidential election and the current appalling presidential campaigns in the US, many people raise the question “Have US Presidential elections always been this horrendous?”. Despite what people might be led to believe, the 2016 presidential election wasn’t the first rodeo America had faced in its 244-year history of being the world’s “greatest” democracy. To try and lighten everyone’s mood that they’ve been worse or at least to show that the US Presidential elections have always been bad, I would like to shed light on five other US Presidential elections that went horribly wrong.

The 1800 election was the fourth presidential election in US history. The two primary candidates were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who had previously faced off in the 1796 election which Adams won by a whisker. In theory this would’ve been a standoff between Adams and Jefferson, but that’s not how the US Presidential elections worked back then. Back then, there was one vote for both the Presidential elections and the Vice-president, which meant that the person with the highest amount of votes would be president and the runner-up would be vice-president. Depending on who you would ask, this lackluster system caused Jefferson to tie with his chosen VP Aaron Burr by chance or by plot, which led to the extremely rare occurrence of letting the House of Representatives decide the vote. This was the beginning of political parties in the US, so there was no particular hate between political groups, but there was one person who was loathed by both Jefferson, Burr and Adams, with the latter commonly referring to him as a “bastard brat of a scotch peddler”, Alexander Hamilton. So it would be, that it was down to Hamilton and his fellow federalists to have the decisive vote in the election. They end up opting to choose Jefferson as he had more experience in the matters of civil service. The twist is that unlike modern elections, the resentment following his lost election caused Aaron Burr to challenge Alexander Hamilton to a duel three years later and kill him (which was legal at the time).

(Illustration 1 and 2) portraits of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

The 1860 election was the most controversial election in US history. The two primary candidates were Abraham Lincoln (the anti-slavery Republican candidate) and Stephen Douglas(the Democratic candidate), yet there were also two other candidates, John Breckenridge (the candidate of a defective Southern branch of the Democratic party) and John Bell ( the candidate of the Union party). The vote had mixed and somewhat corrupt outcomes . Abraham Lincoln won in most of the Northern states and received 40% of the votes (not even appearing on ballots in the South), while Breckenridge won in the majority of Southern States with Douglas and Bell taking the states Breckenridge needed to win. The vote showed a clear boundary between the South and North of the US and only six weeks later North Carolina as the first of seven states left the US, creating the Confederate States of America in 1861 to prevent Lincoln’s abolishment of slavery in their states. This election didn’t just tear America apart ideologically, it literally tore the US into two separate political beings and caused a civil war which would last for the next four years.

Illustration 3. Map of America during the American Civil war

The 1912 election was an election filled with irony. The two primary candidates were Theodore Roosevelt (the Progressive party candidate, a symbol of US prowess) and William Taft (the Republican candidate) the third seemingly insignificant candidate was Woodrow Wilson (the Democratic candidate). The rivalry was very fierce between the three candidates (especially between Taft and Roosevelt, who had a falling out after Taft angered Roosevelt who handpicked Taft as his successor). The most famous occurrence of these campaigns was when Roosevelt made an 84 minute speech in Wisconsin after being shot in the chest by an assassin (his folded speech and glass case supposedly slowed down the bullet). Ironically, Taft and Roosevelt divided the Republican votes and Woodrow Wilson won the election, capturing a little bit less than 50% majority in most American states.

Illustration 4 and 5(from top to bottom): photographs of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft

The 1948 election was one filled with uncertainty. The two primary candidates were Harry S. Truman(the Democrat candidate) and Thomas Dewey(the republican candidate). These were the first elections in which Harry Truman ran for president. He had previously become president through undemocratic means, becoming President after the death of Franklin Roosevelt (due to him being Vice-president at the time). The election seemed liked the end of Harry Truman’s presidential career, he was unpopular in the South (because of his support for the African-American Civil Rights movement) and his opponent had barely lost to Franklin Roosevelt in the 1944 election (who was far more popular than Truman ever was). Like more modern politicians Truman based his campaign on claims that the Republicans would revoke something the people love, this being the key New Deal policy (which helped solve the Great Depression in the US to some degree), yet even that didn’t help him that much. Everyone though he had lost, with the Chicago newspaper going ahead and printing an article about Dewey beating Truman, yet contrary to everyone’s belief, Truman won, making a world famous picture with the aforementioned Chicago newspaper.

Illustration 6: photograph of president Harry Truman holding a pre-election newspaper after winning the election

The 2000 election was in a way similar to the 2016 election. The primary candidates were Alan Goore (the Democratic candidate) and George W. Bush( the Republican candidate). Despite one’s political affiliations a line can be clearly drawn between Donald Trump and George W. Bush (Jr.). Similarly to Donald Trump, George W. Bush (Jr.) had no political plan or agenda, instead basing his entire campaign on his Vice-President Dick Cheney (Mike Pence being Trump’s Dick Cheney). The election came down to the state of Florida, which gave Bush his victory by a whisker. The 2000 election similarly to the 2016 election was not wot won in a popular election, but by the Electoral college (with Goore having 500 000 more votes than Bush, but winning in less states). Despite being taken to the Supreme court for supposedly being an improper vote with missing ballots and names, the supreme court denied these claims and passed the outcome of the vote.

Illustration 7: Photo from a presidential debate in St.Louis, Missouri between Alan Goore and George W. Bush

As you can see, presidential elections have always been a source of not necessarily civil debate. There have also been far worse presidential campaigns than this year’s campaign and there certainly have been far more brutal post-election disputes. The US has always been a place of turmoil, so whoever wins on the 3rd November, let’s hope he’ll do the best job possible for the sake of the “western” world.

Antoni Janicki


Illustrations 1,2,4 and 5 fall under fair use as they have been taken from a free website named GoodFreePhotos and their authors can no longer claim copyright

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Illustration 3 – Crawford, D.M (date of publication unknown) “History-Page 3-Know it all” (date of access 14.10.2020)

Illustration 6- Nix.E 1.11.2018 “Dewey defeats Truman: The election upset behind the photo” of access 14.10.2020)

Illustration 7: Greenblatt. B 17.10.2000 “Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore talks to the audience while the Republican candidate Texas governor George W. Bush looks on” Hulton Archive CNBC (date of access 14.10.2020)

Pruitt, S (26.04.2016) “ 8 Most Contentious US Presidential Elections” History. Com (updated 08.21.2020)

Author unknown, date of publish unknown “9 insults that make the presidential debate seem civilized” Merrriam-Webster (date of access 14/10/2020)

Tikkanen, A (date of publish unknown) “United States presidential election of 1912” Britannica. Com (date of access 14/10/2020)

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