How George Washington Turned President of america: It Was Weirder Than You Suppose


After serv­ing two phrases as the primary Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, George Wash­ing­ton refused to con­tin­ue on to a 3rd. We now see this motion as start­ning the tra­di­tion of peace­ful relin­quish­ment of pow­er that has con­tin­ued kind of ever since (inter­rupt­ed, as lately, by the occa­sion­al trou­bled tran­si­tion). On the time, not each­one anticipate­ed Wash­ing­ton to step down, his­to­ry hav­ing most­ly provided examination­ples of rulers who held on till the bit­ter finish. However the brand new repub­lic’s cre­ation of not simply guidelines however cus­toms consequence­ed in a vari­ety of unusu­al polit­i­cal occasions; even Wash­ing­ton’s elec­tion was “bizarre­er than you assume.”

So declares his­to­ry Youtu­ber Pre­mod­ernist in the video above, an expla­na­tion of the very first Unit­ed States pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 1789. “There have been no offi­cial can­di­dates. There was no cam­paign­ing for the workplace. There have been no polit­i­cal par­ties, no nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions, no pri­ma­ry elec­tions. The complete elec­tion sea­son was very quick, and the main concern of this elec­tion was the Con­sti­tu­tion itself.” It additionally happened after thir­teen pres­i­dent-free years, the U.S. hav­ing been not a sin­gle coun­attempt however “a col­lec­tion of thir­teen sep­a­charge colonies,” every tied extra shut­ly to Britain than to the oth­ers; there had­n’t even been a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment per se.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion modified that. Draft­ed in 1787, it professional­posed the exec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive, and judi­cial department­es of gov­ern­ment, whose names each Amer­i­can who’s tak­en a cit­i­zen­ship examination (and each immi­grant who’s tak­en the cit­i­zen take a look at) remem­bers. Set­ting up these department­es in actual­i­ty would show no simple activity: how, to call only one prac­ti­cal ques­tion, would the exec­u­tive — the pres­i­dent — actu­al­ly be cho­sen? Con­gress, the leg­isla­tive department, might the­o­ret­i­cal­ly do it, however that will vio­late the now prac­ti­cal­ly sacred prin­ci­ple of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. The vot­ers might additionally elect the pres­i­dent direct­ly, however the framers reject­ed that possibility as each imprac­ti­cal and unwise.

Enter “the well-known elec­toral col­lege,” a physique of spe­cial­ized vot­ers cho­sen by the indi­vid­ual states in any man­ner they please. Hav­ing reject­ed the Con­sti­tu­tion itself, North Automobile­oli­na and Rhode Island did­n’t par­tic­i­pate within the 1789 elec­tion. Every of the oth­er states selected their elec­tors in its personal approach (exem­pli­fy­ing the polit­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ry of Amer­i­can fed­er­al­ism as orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived), although it did­n’t go clean­ly in each case: the extensive­unfold divi­sion between fed­er­al­ists and anti-fed­er­al­ists was professional­nounced sufficient in New York to cre­ate a lifeless­lock that pre­vent­ed the state from choos­ing any elec­tors in any respect. The elec­tors that did make it solid two votes every, with the first-place can­di­date becom­ing Pres­i­dent and the sec­ond-place can­di­date becom­ing Vice Pres­i­dent.

That final proved to be a “unhealthy sys­tem,” whose mechan­ics encour­aged quite a lot of schem­ing, intrigue, and strate­gic vot­ing (even by the sub­se­quent­ly estab­lished stan­dards of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics). Solely with the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the twelfth amend­ment, in 1804, might elec­tors sep­a­charge­ly des­ig­nate their alternative of Pres­i­dent and Vice Pres­i­dent. In 1789, after all, “Wash­ing­ton eas­i­ly obtained all 69 elec­toral votes,” and went on reluc­tant­ly to pre­vail once more within the subsequent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which newer­ly grew to become the sub­ject of its personal Pre­mod­ernist video. Each of them mer­it a watch on this par­tic­u­lar second, because the run-up to the U.S. con­take a look at of 2024 will get into full swing. This elec­tion cycle cer­tain­ly received’t be as quick as 1789, but it surely might be as bizarre.

Relat­ed con­tent:

George Wash­ing­ton Writes to the First Jew­ish Con­gre­ga­tion of New­port, Rhode Island: “The Gov­ern­ment… Offers to Huge­otry No Sanc­tion, to Per­se­cu­tion No Assis­tance” (1790)

Sal Khan & the Mup­pets’ Grover Clarify the Elec­toral Col­lege

A Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca (1861): Fea­tures George Wash­ing­ton Punch­ing Tigers, John Adams Slay­ing Snakes & Oth­er Fan­tas­tic Scenes

Elect­ing a US Pres­i­dent in Plain Eng­lish

George Washington’s 110 Guidelines for Civil­i­ty and First rate Behav­ior

Based mostly in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His initiatives embrace the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the ebook The State­much less Metropolis: a Stroll by Twenty first-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video collection The Metropolis in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­ebook.