1796

Theo Lippman Jr.

August 26, 1992|By Theo Lippman Jr.

This is the 52nd presidential election. (Reading time 50seconds.)

The third was held in 1796. For the first time the untouchable George Washington was not a candidate. Therefore for the first time "negative" campaigning could be invoked.

The Democratic-Republicans chose Thomas Jefferson, who had retired from Washington's cabinet. The Federalists chose Vice President John Adams.

Newspapers were staunchly partisan. On one side, they attacked Adams for his belief in a strong central government by labeling him a monarchist. On the other side, editors charged that Jefferson and his supporters were radicals who would like to see American society collapse into the chaos of revolutionary France.

Electors had to vote for two candidates for president. They split their votes among 13 candidates. Adams defeated Jefferson by three electoral votes.

Adams became president and Jefferson vice president. So for the first time the president and vice president were not only philosophical opposites but also partisan antagonists.

The Constitution was broke but nobody fixed it, and four years later there was a crisis.

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