The United States Presidency has a weird history that confuses both Americans and foreign observers.
The presidency’s history is so weird that it confounds many people including some historians. However, the presidency’s history is so bizarre it is entertaining.
Some Weird Historical Facts about America’s Presidency include:
Presidential candidates did not start campaigning until the early 20th Century
During the 19th Century voters expected presidential candidates to adhere to a weird political theater. To explain, candidates were not supposed to act like candidates or even campaign.
Instead, the parties and surrogates campaigned for the candidate. Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois) spent the 1860 presidential election practicing law in Springfield, Illinois. Likewise, generals and presidential candidates Ulysses S. Grant (R-Illinois), Zachary Taylor (W-Kentucky), and Winfield Scott (W-Virginia), stayed on active duty in the Army during their elections.
Pundits condemned 19th Century presidential candidates; such as Stephen Douglas (D-Illinois) and William Henry Harrison (W-Indiana), who actively campaigned. Thus, most presidential candidates went out of their way not to campaign and refused to attend party conventions.
The first major presidential candidate to campaign aggressively was William Jennings Bryan (D-Nebraska) in 1896. The first sitting President to campaign was Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York) in 1904.
However, the first sitting president to campaign for reelection was Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) in 1916. To clarify, Roosevelt ascended to the presidency after William McKinley’s assassination in 1901, so 1904 was TR’s first presidential run.
The last winning presidential candidate not to campaign was Warren G. Harding (R-Ohio) in 1920. Since then, every presidential candidate has campaigned aggressively. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D-New York) even took time out from leading America in World War II to campaign in 1944.
Only One President Survived a Reelection Defeat
Only one of America’s 45 presidents survived an electoral defeat and served two nonconsecutive terms. That President was Grover Cleveland (D-New York).
Cleveland won in 1884; lost the 1888 presidential election to Benjamin Harrison (R-Indiana) but won the 1892 election. Thus, Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th United States President. Consequently, Cleveland is the only president with two numbers in front of his name.
Four Presidents were Elected without a Majority of the Popular Vote
Under the United States Constitution, an unelected body called the Electoral College elects the President.
However, Americans also hold a popular presidential election every fourth November. The winner of the popular vote usually wins the Electoral College.
Conversely, four presidents won office by winning the Electoral College after losing the Popular Vote. Those presidents were:
1) Andrew Jackson (D-Tennessee) won the popular vote by a margin of 153,544 to 108,740 in 1824. Jackson also won the Electoral college by a margin of 99 to 84. However, the U.S. House of Representatives decided the election by election John Quincy Adams (R-Massachusetts) as President. The election went to the House, because two other candidates William H. Crawford and Henry Clay (R-Kentucky) won 78 electoral votes. Jackson went to win an overwhelming victory in 1828.
2) Benjamin Harrison (R-Indiana) in 1888. Harrison won 233 Electoral College Votes to President Grover Cleveland’s (D-New York) 168 Electoral College votes. However, Cleveland won the popular vote by a margin of 5.54 million to 5.439 million.
3) George W. Bush (R-Texas) in 2000. Bush won the Electoral College by 271 to 266 votes. However, his opponent Albert Gore, Jr. (D-Tennessee) won the popular vote by a margin of 50.997 million to 50.456 million.
4) Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) in 2016. Trump won the Electoral College by a margin of 304 to 227 votes. Conversely, Trump lost the popular vote by a margin of 65.845 million to 62.98 million.
No Third-Party Candidate has won enough votes to Affect a Presidential Election’s Outcome since 1912
Despite all the attention the media pays to third-party candidates, no third-party presidential candidate has received enough votes to affect an election’s outcome since 1912.
To explain, in 1912 popular ex-President Theodore Roosevelt (New York) received 88 Electoral College Votes and 4.119 million popular votes on the Progressive or Bull Moose ticket. That allowed Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) to win the election by a margin of 435 Electoral College and 6.293 million popular votes.
Since 1912 there have been several prominent third-party candidates including Socialist Eugene Debs (Indiana), Henry Wallace (P-Iowa), Dixicrat J. Strom Thurmond (South Carolina), George Wallace (D-Alabama), and H. Ross Perot (Reform-Texas). However, data shows none of those candidates received enough votes to affect the election’s outcome.
For example, J. Strom Thurmond (D-South Carolina) received 39 Electoral College votes in 1948. However, President Harry S. Truman (D-Missouri) won the Election by a margin of 303 Electoral College votes. Meanwhile, Governor Thomas E. Dewey (R-New York) lost with a margin of 189 Electoral College Votes.
In 1968, George C. Wallace (D-Alabama) won 46 Electoral College votes running on the American Independent Party ticket. In contrast, Richard M. Nixon (R-California) won the Election with 301 Electoral College Votes. Meanwhile, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minnesota) lost the election with 191 Electoral College votes.
In 1992, Ross Perot won no Electoral College votes. Instead, William Jefferson Clinton (D-Arkansas) won the Election with 370 Electoral College Votes. Thus, President George H. W. Bush (R-Texas) lost the election with 168 Electoral College votes.
Consequently, the popular belief that third parties can affect presidential election outcomes is an urban legend. In reality, third parties have had no substantial effect on American presidential elections since before World War I. Thus any effort or money invested in third party presidential campaigns is a waste. Likewise, voters waste their ballots by voting for third-party presidential candidates.
America has had only one unelected President under the Current Constitution
Only one American President was not elected by the Electoral College, or chosen by the House of Representatives: Gerald R. Ford (R-Michigan).
They named Ford;, the U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader, Vice President on 12 October 1973. They appointed Ford because Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (R-Maryland) resigned because of a bribery scandal.
When President Richard M. Nixon (R-California) resigned because of the Watergate Scandal on 8 August 1974, Ford became president. Ford ran for a full term as president in 1976 but lost to Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia).
The Electoral College or Congress selected every other president since 1789 as either President or Vice President.
George Washington was not the first President of the United States
Instead, John Hancock of Massachusetts served as the First President of the Second Continental Congress and President of the United States during the Revolutionary War.
To clarify, George Washington was the first chief executive of the United States under the present constitution. The present Constitution went into effect in 1789.
Thus, the history of the American Presidency is stranger than most people know. Understanding that weirdness can clear up some confusion about the presidency.