The Constitution was slightly over twelve years old. The rules laid out for presidential elections appeared precise on paper, and in 1800 the front runner, Thomas Jefferson looked to enter the White House with ease. However, though designed by the best minds of that, or any other era, the flaws inherent in the Electoral College system failed to deliver Jefferson his expected victory. Something had gone terribly awry in the electoral process triggering America’s first voting crisis.
New York Republican, Aaron Burr was chosen as Jefferson’s running mate. The thinking was to balance the ticket with a Virginian at the top, and a New Yorker in the second spot for national unity. Thus the stage was set for a painless triumph over the faltering Federalist Party. However, when the electoral votes were tallied as prescribed by Article 2 in the Constitution, the running mates unexpectedly tied for the top spot.
The fault lay in the statute itself, by failing to anticipate such a scenario. Jefferson soon realized Burr would not passively concede the office, and the tie crisis festered until forced to the House of Representatives. In the end the stalemate broke when Alexander Hamilton intervened, persuading the hold-over Federalist majority to choose Jefferson as the lesser of the two evils. (One of the grievances leading to the later duel with Burr).
This was personal. New Yorkers both, Hamilton and Burr had come to detest one another. The former Secretary of State’s intent was to protect the new nation from his nemesis, and block the supposed scoundrel from assuming the highest office in the land.
Jefferson eventually was sworn into office, and later, in 1804, the Constitution was modified with the Twelfth Amendment, rectifying the design flaws in the original document.
Twenty years later, in 1824, another impasse materialized that touched off national outrage for decades. The shifting winds of political change found a champion in the person of General Andrew Jackson, the victor of the Battle of New Orleans. Old Hickory had built his reputation as a ruthless Indian fighter, slave holder, and conqueror of Spanish Florida. His feats were celebrated throughout the growing nation, and Jackson’s prospects for election seemed assured. But again, events proved otherwise.
When John Quincy Adams was unexpectedly named President the public outcry was deafening. In defiance of the people’s will, Henry Clay, the former Speaker of the House, used his considerable influence to place Quincy Adams in the White House. When Clay became Adams nominee for Secretary of State, cries of “Corrupt Bargain” echoed across the nation. A furious Andrew Jackson at once began his bid for the presidency in 1828.
Other questionable elections have repeated through the years. In 1876 with the election of Ruther”fraud” B Hayes, and again in 2000 with the Bush V Gore “hanging chad” debacle.
Today America is still sorting out another administration struggling for legitimacy.
The Election of 2016 has left the American public uncertain that their votes actually count. Russian interference, through social media, and electronic hacking is an undeniable factor in the outcome. Sinister and new in electoral history, cyber espionage gave America a Chief Executive acutely aware of the dark subversion undermining his victory.
Losing the popular vote by over 3 million, the president-elect claimed those votes were cast illegally, and demanded voting rolls from the states be turned over to a government committee for analysis. Nothing significant came of that effort, and questions continued to swirl around this shady election cycle.
Somewhere in the chaos the Russian government reaped apparently what it wanted: domestic turmoil. A long-standing enemy of the United States, the former Soviet Union aims to re-elevate its international stature. What better way could Putin’s objectives be met, than hijacking an American election, and produce enough confusion for a sort of sweet revenge.
Deals have been brokered since the beginning of the Republic, but the players have been competing American interests. We may squabble our political beliefs, but that is the messy nature of freedom. Now the arrangements appear to be negotiated by foreign players. This cannot be repeated, we have future American generations to protect.
Update: Putin’s masterstroke is still in play. The squawking loser in 2020 continues what Putin began. Red states throughout the country are undermining election integrity by propagating the “Big Lie.” Contact your Senators to support HR1, “For the People Act.” (202) 224-3121
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight.
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