The Presidential Election of 1788: George Washington and a New Nation

Following the failure of the Articles of Confederation and the enumeration of a national constitution, the American people were looking for a strong leader for the new nation. General George Washington, a heroic figure in the infant country, was looked upon as the most logical figure to lead American under the new constitution. However, Washington, 54 years old in 1788, was looking forward to retirement in Mount Vernon following his successful role in the American Revolution and the stifling of rebellion on several occasions by his troops during the Confederacy.

Unlike modern campaigns, George Washington did no campaigning on his own behalf. Indeed, little campaigning was needed as very few wanted the position over Washington and his overwhelming qualifications as a leader. His name recognition throughout the country, along with his willingness to do what it took to keep the nation together, was evidenced by the unanimous selection of Washington by electors from every state. Only ten of the thirteen states of the Union participated in the election, because Rhode Island and North Carolina had yet to ratify the new constitution. The state of New York was protesting parts of the constitution and refrained from participation in the election.

George Washington received 69 electoral votes, John Adams received 34 electoral votes, and a group of minor candidates received 35 electoral votes. The 12th Amendment to the Constitution, which allows for the separation of votes for president and vice president, was not ratified until 1804 and, thus, Washington was president and Adams was vice president.

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