PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & ELECTIONS
OVERVIEWS & CHRONOLOGIES: 1796
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Election Year: 1796
Election Day Date:
Prior to 1845, 34 day period before the first Wednesday of December
Winning Ticket: John Adams (61, Unitarian) Massachusetts, Federalist 71 51.4%
Vice President: Thomas Jefferson (53, no denomination) Virginia, Democratic-Republican 68 49.3%
- Thomas Jefferson (53, no denomination), Virginia, Democratic-Republican 68 49.3%
- Thomas Pinckney (56, Episcopalian ) South Carolina Federalist 59 42.8%
- Aaron Burr New York (41, Presbyterian) Democratic-Republican 30 21.7%
- Samuel Adams (74, Congregationalist) Massachusetts Federalist 15 10.9%
- Oliver Ellsworth (51, Congregationalist) Connecticut Federalist 11 8.0%
- George Clinton (57, Presbyterian) New York Democratic-Republican 7 5.1%
- Other – - 15 10.9%
Main Opponent 68
Total Number of Electors 138
Total Electoral Votes Cast 276
Number of Votes for a Majority 70
Maryland had only 10 electoral votes, but one elector cast his two ballots for Jefferson and Adams.
Voter Turnout: As high as 25% in Pennsylvania
Election Law/Campaign Finance Changes:
Incumbent President and Vice President on Election Day:
George Washington, John Adams, No Party Designation, 1789-1797
Population: 1796: 4,701,000
Nominal GDP (billions of dollars): $0.41 Real GDP (billions of 2005 dollars): $6.15
GDP Deflator (index 2005=100%) 6.71 Nominal GDP per capita (current dollars): $88 Real GDP per capita (year 2005 dollars): $1,307
Number of Daily Newspapers: 1800: 178 weeklies; 10 semi-weeklies; 3 tri-weeklies; 24 dailies
Method of Choosing Electors:
The public voted for presidential electors in six of the sixteen states that were then part of the Union. In ten states, the legislature named the electors.
- Electors chosen by state legislature: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont.
- Electors chosen by popular vote (General Ticket system, usually winner take all): Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia
Method of Choosing Nominees: Congressional Caucus (Prominent Congressional members chose the nominees to represent their party)
Central Issues (Nomination/Primaries):
- Anger over the Jay Treaty with England
- Intense debate over French Revolution
- Continuing division between Jefferson’s agrarian perspective and Hamilton’s more urban and industrial approach.
Leading Candidates (Nomination/Primaries):
- Charles Pinckney, a South Carolinian was the Federalist choice for Vice-President
- The Republicans favored Aaron Burr of New York for Vice-President
- John Adams, Vice President of the United States (Massachusetts)
- Samuel Adams, Governor of Massachusetts
- Aaron Burr, U.S. Senator (New York)
- George Clinton, former Governor of New York
- Oliver Ellsworth, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (Connecticut)
- John Henry, U.S. Senator (Maryland)
- James Iredell, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (North Carolina)
- John Jay, Governor of New York
- Thomas Jefferson, former Secretary of State of the United States (Virginia)
- Samuel Johnston, U.S. senator (North Carolina)
- Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, former major general (South Carolina)
- Thomas Pinckney, U.S. Minister to Great Britain (South Carolina)
Major Personalities (Nomination/Primaries): Thomas Jefferson; Alexander Hamilton;
General Election Controversies/Issues: Jay Treaty; Federalists viewed as overly pro-British, Republicans pro-French
- Avoid “self-serving electioneering”; Party workers were in charge of the campaigning worked with partisan presses; work on the campaign through letter writing from behind the scenes.
- Federalists organized meetings and rallies in support of the Jay Treaty and President Washington.
- John Adams professed to “hate speeches, messages, addresses and answers, proclamations, and such affected, studied, contraband things … levees and drawing rooms.
- In Pennsylvania, Republicans produced 50,000 Republican ballots, to distribute the week before the election, part of the blizzard of paper in that state and the rest of the country.
Major Personalities (General Election): Alexander Hamilton; Charles Pinckney (Federalist candidate for vice-president)
Turning Points (General Election):
- Thomas Jefferson remained at Monticello, John Adams remained at Peacefield, appearing dignified and passive amid the fray.
- Aaron Burr spent six weeks touring the New England states boosting his own candidacy
- With the electors free to vote for any candidate, the electioneering intensified after the November election.
- Because the original Constitutional scheme did not differentiate a vote for President and Vice President, Hamilton tried to get Southern electors committed to an Adams-Pinckney ticket to throw away some Adams votes, so that Pinckney would get more votes than Adams and become President rather than Vice President.
- Instead, hearing of the plot, some New England Federalist electors did not vote for Pinckney after they voted for Adams so Pinckney had fewer votes..
- In late October, Pierre Adet, the French minister to the United States, campaigned against Adams and denounced the Federalists foreign policy and position towards France, and announced that French-American relations would improve if Jefferson were President. The Republicans tried to distance themselves from Adet’s comment, but the Federalists were outraged and used it as an opportunity to tangibly link Jefferson to French sympathies
- Strong support for the French Revolution and Democratic-Republicans led to the election of Jefferson as Vice-President.
Campaign Song: John Adams: Adams and Liberty
Influential Campaign Appeals or Ads:
- Federalists denounced Jefferson as a Jacobin, an Atheist, a demagogue, a coward, a traitor, and his supporters as “cut-throats who walk in rags and sleep amid filth and vermin.”
- One Republican pamphlet read: “Thomas Jefferson is a firm republican – John Adams is an avowed monarchist.”
- John Adams mocked as “His Rotundity.”
- With each elector voting twice for President under the rules at the time, and with the runner-up elected Vice-President, electors would try to ensure fewer votes for the Vice-President of choice. The electors tried to manipulate the vote; one electoral vote per state at least would go to another Vice-President candidate, however slow communication methods of the time made it difficult to coordinate especially when elections where held on the same day.
- Many split ticket votes; All South Carolina (8) electors and one Pennsylvania elector voted for Thomas Pinckney and Jefferson; 3 North Carolina electors voted James Iredell; one elector in Maryland voted Adams-Jefferson
- “Remain with us at least while the storm lasts, and until you can retire like the sun in a calm, unclouded evening.” John Jay to George Washington
- “Washington’s Farewell Address was a signal, like dropping a hat, for the party racers to start.” Fisher Ames, Federalist
Defining Quotation (Winning Candidate):
- John Adams promised to respect “the rights, interest, honor, and happiness of all the states in the Union without regard to a northern or southern, an eastern or western, position.” Adams also promised a “system of neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent powers of Europe.”
Defining Quotation (Losing Candidate): Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, replying to Adams’ denunciation of the French: “I am sure, from the honesty of your heart, you will join me in detestation of the corruption of the English government.”
Further Reading :David McCullough, John Adams (2001, 2002)
Lasting Legacy of Campaign:
- First formal transfer of power under the new constitution
- Historian Page Smith notes 1796 marked: “the first time in modern history that the elected chief executive of an independent nation had surrendered office of his own volition in accordance with a preconceived plan (the Constitution) on the election of his successor.”
- First contested American presidential election
- Only election of President and Vice President from opposing tickets
- First non-incumbent Presidential election
- Showed the system worked.
- April 22, 1793: Washington issues his Proclamation of Neutrality. When war broke between Great Britain and revolutionary France, the proclamation issue divides the new emerging Federalists who sympathize with Great Britain and the anti-Federalists, whose sympathies are with France
- Fall, 1793: “American relations with Britain begin to deteriorate rapidly after the British government issues secret orders for the Royal Navy to confiscate any vessels trading with French possessions in the Caribbean. The Royal Navy seizes more than 200 American ships.”
- December 31, 1793: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson resigns because of the Proclamation of Neutrality. Washington appoints Edmund Randolph to succeed Jefferson.
- March 1794: “Congress responds to British aggression by authorizing the production of six warships (March 11) and announcing a sixty-day embargo on American shipping (March 26). The Washington administration supports both measures.”
- August 1794: Whiskey Rebellion, Monongahela Valley, Western, Pennsylvania settlers protest against a federal tax on liquor and distilled drinks.
- August 7, 1794: “President Washington issues a proclamation ordering the insurgents to return home. When this fails, he calls up more than 12,000 militiamen and dispatches them to Pennsylvania, whereupon the insurrection dissolves.”
- 1794-1795: Anti-Federalists break with Washington after the Whiskey Rebellion.
- 1794: Anti-Federalists gain control of the House of Representative during the mid-term elections.
- November 19, 1794: “John Jay concludes a treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation with Britain, known as the Jay Treaty. Democrat-Republicans, and the American public in general, attack the treaty mercilessly as a betrayal of American interests, opening a fierce partisan political debate.”
- June 24, 1795. The Anti-Federalists oppose Jay’s Treaty. The U.S. Senate narrowly passes Jay’s Treaty. Secretary of State Edmund Randolph tries to undermine Jay Treaty’s passage and is subsequently dismissed.
- August 14, 1795: President Washington signs Jay’s Treaty into law.
- January 31, 1795: “Alexander Hamilton resigns from his post as secretary of the treasury. Washington appoints Oliver Wolcott to replace Hamilton.”
- October 27, 1795: “The United States signs the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain, granting Americans the right to ship goods through the port of New Orleans without having to pay duties to the Spanish Government.”
- March 15, 1796: The Senate unanimously approves the Treaty of San Lorenzo; Thomas Pinckney’s treaty with Spain establishing the border between Georgia and Florida. The public considers Pickney a hero for arranging the treaty according to Washington’s wishes
- March- April, 1796: “A heated dispute erupts between President Washington and his Federalist allies and Democrat-Republicans in the House of Representatives after the latter demand that the President provide Congress with all papers relating to the Jay Treaty. Washington refuses their demands.”
- July, 1796: “France informs James Monroe, America’s leading diplomat in Paris, that the Jay Treaty violates, and therefore suspends, certain provisions of the 1778 Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the two nations. This begins a serious diplomatic crisis between France and the United States.:
- September 19, 1796: Washington issues his Farewell Address, and announces his intentions not to be considered/run for a third term. He wants Americans to reject factionalism, parties and foreign alliances.
- 1796: Thomas Jefferson remains at Monticello, John Adams remain at Peacefield throughout the campaign
- 1796: Aaron Burr spends six weeks touring the New England states boosting his own candidacy
- 1796: Because the original Constitutional scheme did not differentiate a vote for President and Vice President, Hamilton tried to get Southern electors committed to an Adams-Pinckney ticket to throw away some Adams votes, so that Pinckney would get more votes than Adams and become President rather than Vice President.
- Late October 1796, Pierre Adet, the French minister to the United States, campaigns against Adams and denounces the Federalists foreign policy and position towards France, and announces that French-American relations would improve if Jefferson were President. The Republicans tried to distance themselves from Adet’s comment, but the Federalists are outraged and used it as an opportunity to tangibly link Jefferson to French sympathies
- November 1796: With the electors free to vote for any candidate, the electioneering intensifies
- 1796: Some New England Federalist electors did not hear of the plot Hamilton’s plan to get Pickney elected President and did not vote for him after they voted for Adams so Pinckney would have fewer votes.
- December 7, 1796: Presidential Electors meet and cast the electoral votes.
- December 1796: “John Adams is elected President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, the candidate with the second highest electoral vote, becomes vice president.”
- February 8, 1797: A joint session of Congress counts the Electoral vote in the U.S. House chamber in Philadelphia. John Adams a Federalist is elected President, Thomas Jefferson a Democratic Republican is elected Vice President.