5 Facts About The First U.S. Presidential Election

On this day in 1789, America’s first presidential election was held. As expected, George Washington won, and he would win a second term in the next election, but his rise to the presidency wasn't like the presidential campaigns of today.  Here are five facts about the first presidential election...


Washington Didn't Really Want to Be President # Image credit: By Gilbert Stuart - http://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/7577, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=591229. George Washington accepted the presidency out of a sense of duty—not out of desire. He actually didn't want to be president, citing his age, his preference for his farm and being retired, and the dual fears that people would oppose him and that his politics-retirement-politics back and forth would make people think he was too inconsistent to be president. However, when he was elected anyway—and he didn't do any campaigning before this—he accepted because he felt he had to answer to the will of the people.

He Was the Only President Ever Elected Unanimously # Image credit: By William L. Breton, artist and lithographer. All the electors in the electoral college voted for George Washington in that first election. Since then, there have been no unanimous electoral votes, though there have been some very close ones. For example, in 1984, Ronald Reagan won his re-election by capturing 49 states (only Minnesota went for his opponent, Walter Mondale).


Martha Washington Got Her Own Inaugural Celebration First ladies didn't have a formal swearing-in ceremony akin to the presidential inaugurations of today, but Martha Washington's arrival in New York capped off 11 days of celebrations along the route she took and included gun salutes, cheering crowds, ringing church bells, fireworks, serenades, parades, and receptions. And some shoe shopping; she wanted to send gifts back to two grandchildren who did not make the trip with her.

Washington Almost Ended up With the Title of "Your Highness" The word "president" is not a new one, but Washington's first term was the first time a country had had a president. Previously, presidents merely "presided" over meetings and similarly smallish events. No one had any idea of what title to use for Washington, with some even suggesting "Your Highness," which no doubt frustrated those who wanted to get away from monarchies. Eventually, someone came up with "president," which was low-key and non-royal enough to give Washington a title that indicated leadership without veering into monarchy territory.

Electoral Voters Chose Two Candidates Instead of One We're used to a presidential candidate choosing a vice-presidential candidate, and then both running on one ticket now. Yet in earlier elections, presidents and vice presidents were often elected separately, resulting in some contentious administrations. In the very first election, the electoral college voted for two candidates, with the majority winner becoming president. The voters did not specify who was to be president and who would be vice president, however—that was decided solely by the numbers of votes.

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