Presidential election decided in the House

Presidential election decided in the House


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As no presidential candidate received a majority of electoral votes in the election of 1824, the U.S. House of Representatives votes to elect John Quincy Adams, who won fewer votes than Andrew Jackson in the popular election, as president of the United States. Adams was the son of John Adams, the second president of the United States.

In the 1824 election, 131 electoral votes, just over half of the 261 total, were necessary to elect a candidate president. Although it had no bearing on the outcome of the election, popular votes were counted for the first time in this election. On December 1, 1824, the results were announced. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee won 99 electoral and 153,544 popular votes; John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts received 84 electoral and 108,740 popular votes; Secretary of State William H. Crawford, who had suffered a stroke before the election, received 41 electoral votes; and Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky won 37 electoral votes.

READ MORE: 5 Presidents Who Lost the Popular Vote But Won the Election

As dictated by the U.S. Constitution, the presidential election was then turned over to the House of Representatives. The 12th Amendment states that if no electoral majority is won, only the three candidates who receive the most popular votes will be considered in the House.

Representative Henry Clay, who was disqualified from the House vote as a fourth-place candidate, agreed to use his influence to have John Quincy Adams elected. Clay and Adams were both members of a loose coalition in Congress that by 1828 became known as the National Republicans, while Jackson’s supporters were later organized into the Democratic Party.

Thanks to Clay’s backing, on February 9, 1825, the House elected Adams as president of the United States. When Adams then appointed Clay to the top Cabinet post of secretary of state, Jackson and his supporters derided the appointment as the fulfillment of a corrupt bargain.

With little popular support, Adams’ time in the White House was for the most part ineffectual, and the so-called Corrupt Bargain continued to haunt his administration. In 1828, he was defeated in his reelection bid by Andrew Jackson, who received more than twice as many electoral votes than Adams.

READ MORE: How Andrew Jackson Rode a Populist Wave to the White House


Nearly two weeks after the election, President Donald Trump hasn’t conceded the race, even after former Vice President Joe Biden secured enough electoral votes to become president-elect by winning key battleground states.

According to at least one social media user, if Trump refuses to concede and continues contesting results, he might still have a path to victory.

“Here’s what happens, real, real simple. The most powerful thing that keeps the peace in the United States of America (concession) is not required by law it’s just a custom,” Facebook user Shane Vaughn said in a video posted Nov. 8. Vaughn did not respond when USA TODAY reached out for comment.

It’s true that concession isn’t required by U.S. law, although no presidential candidate in modern history has refused to concede, USA TODAY previously reported.

However, Vaughn claims Trump has a “constitutional remedy to his dilemma” and, if Trump refuses to concede and contests the results in court to prevent them from being certified, the U.S. Constitution’s 12th Amendment will refer the decision to the House.

“This has happened twice in history,” Vaughn said. “I got a feeling it’s fixing to happen again.”


8. Richard Nixon defeats Hubert Humphrey, 1968 (0.7% margin)

The 1968 Elections were the second time Richard Nixon, a Republican, ran for the office of US President, having been beaten by John F. Kennedy in 1960. His opponent Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat, was Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President. Nixon's national profile as a Presidential candidate rose after President Johnson ridiculed him as a chronic campaigner in 1968. He won the Republican Party nomination on the first ballot, and tapped Spiro Agnew as his running mate. By then, the Democratic Party was in disarray, which was only compounded by the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. Nonetheless, Hubert Humphrey won the nomination. In the run to the Presidential Election, Nixon had a double digit lead over Humphrey, according to the Miller Center. However, by Election Day, Nixon's lead over Humphrey had seemingly vanished. George Wallace’s entry as a third party candidate hurt the Democrats more than the Republicans, and as a result Nixon won the Electoral College vote by a 3 to 2 margin. In terms of popular vote, Nixon, at 43.42 percent, had a narrow lead over Humphrey, who received 42.72 percent. Nixon defeated Humphrey by a 0.7 percent popular margin, and became the 37 th President of United States.


Major Party Nominations

Democratic Party

In election cycles with incumbent Presidents running for re-election, the race for the party nomination is usually pro-forma, with token opposition instead of any serious challengers and with their party rules being fixed in their favor. Despite high favorability within the party, Clinton faced early rumors of a primary challenge.

Reports arose beginning in the summer of 2017 that members of the Republican Party were preparing a "shadow campaign" against the President, from members of the party both more progressive and more conservative than Clinton. One of the first names floated as a potential challenger was former Education Secretary Randi Weingarten, who had been forced by Clinton to resign amid revelations of previously undisclosed communications with Turkish officials some critics alleged that Weingarten was instead forced to resign because of her aggressive stance against charter schools. New York Congressman Bernie Sanders and OAS Ambassador Lincoln Chafee, both candidates in the 2016 Democratic primary, were also floated as potential challengers.

Primaries

Former Florida Congressman Alan Grayson became Clinton’s first major challenger in the Democratic primaries following an announcement on January 2nd, 2019.

Carl Gershman, the longtime President of the National Endowment for Democracy, launched his primary challenge on February 2nd, seeking to draw attention to humanitarian and diplomatic policy, particularly in Venezuela. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a high-profile campaign in November, spending over $100,000,000 of his own money on his bid.

While Clinton easily won the first four primary contests, Gershman received strong support for a primary challenger, attracting significant media attention. On the March 3rd Super Tuesday contests, Gershman won the contests in Maine, Vermont, Oklahoma, Utah, and American Samoa. Gershman suspended his campaign on March 11th, 2020, citing the emerging COVID-19 pandemic and after receiving a “peace agreement” with the Clinton campaign, allowing input on ideas for diplomatic and political reform.

Excepting President Clinton and Vice President Gutierrez, the 2020 Democratic primary saw two other candidates announce running mates: Grayson selected Washington state senator Maralyn Chase, while Gershman chose former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Following the suspension of Gershman’s campaign, Gabbard continued her bid for the vice-presidential nomination, encouraging her supporters to vote for Gershman’s name where it appeared on the ballot, and claiming victory when his suspended campaign won more votes than Clinton’s. Gabbard would go on to claim victories in the mail-in contests held in Wyoming, Nebraska, and West Virginia. She would eventually suspend her bid on July 13th, 2020, citing the challenges of carrying her message forward or securing influence in a largely virtual Democratic National Convention. In August, Gabbard announced her support for the candidacy of Ivanka Trump.


1960: Did the Daley machine deliver?

The 1960 election pitted Republican Vice President Richard Nixon against Democratic U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy.

The popular vote was the closest of the 20th century, with Kennedy defeating Nixon by only about 100,000 votes – a less than 0.2 percent difference.

Because of that national spread – and because Kennedy officially defeated Nixon by less than 1 percent in five states (Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico) and less than 2 percent in Texas – many Republicans cried foul. They fixated on two places in particular – southern Texas and Chicago, where a political machine led by Mayor Richard Daley allegedly churned out just enough votes to give Kennedy the state of Illinois. If Nixon had won Texas and Illinois, he would have had an Electoral College majority.

While Republican-leaning newspapers proceeded to investigate and conclude that voter fraud had occurred in both states, Nixon did not contest the results. Following the example of Cleveland in 1892, Nixon ran for president again in 1968 and won.


Looking back at the last presidential election settled by the House

It was on this day that a constitutional crisis was averted when the relatively new 12th Amendment to the Constitution settled the last presidential election decided in the House of Representatives.

On February 9, 1825, the House met to elect a new President after one candidate failed to win a majority of the electoral college vote. The House also met 24 years before to also settle a presidential election, but this time, the process was much smoother thanks to the 12th Amendment.

After the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 it had only been changed, or amended, twice. The 11th Amendment, ratified in 1795, cleared up a matter about lawsuits against states and sovereign immunity. The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, cleared up a mess created by the Founders in the matter of how presidential elections were resolved by the Electoral College.

The Constitution&rsquos original provision for electing a president and vice president didn&rsquot survive the bitter 1800 election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

The original Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution required electors in states to cast two separate ballots&mdashone for president and one for vice president. It was up to the political parties to coordinate among their electors to make sure their vice-presidential candidates had at least one fewer electoral vote than presidential candidates.

However, there was a &ldquocommunication breakdown&rdquo within Jefferson&rsquos party, when someone forgot to not vote for Jefferson&rsquos running mate, Aaron Burr. After the electoral votes were counted, Jefferson and Burr each had 73 votes, and tied as the winner. (Jefferson had actually received 61 percent of the popular vote.) Worse yet, Article II sent the tie election to the House, which was controlled by Adams&rsquo Federalist Party.

The House members could only vote for Jefferson or Burr, and not Adams, and then Burr made the controversial move to try to take the election from his own running mate, Jefferson.

The contingent runoff election between Jefferson and Burr was a true constitutional crisis. Jefferson ultimately won the House election on the 36th ballot after a week of voting. Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson&rsquos long-time enemy, supported Jefferson instead of his old rival from New York, Burr. (Hamilton considered Jefferson as the least dangerous of the two options.)

Another factor that concerned Congress after the 1800 election was the outcome of the 1796 election, when members of opposing parties (Adams and Jefferson) were elected president and vice president.

After this crisis, the 12th Amendment quickly followed. It was written, approved in Congress and ratified within three years, so that it was in effect for the 1804 election. (The next amendment to the Constitution wouldn&rsquot be ratified until December 1865.)

The 12th Amendment made sure separate ballots were cast in the Electoral College specifically for president and vice president the House would settle an election without a majority winner with a contingent election featuring the top three vote-getters, and the House would determine rules for conducting the election.

Twenty years later, Congress found itself in a position to settle another presidential election that involved an Adams.

In this case, it was John Quincy Adams, in a bitterly contested 1824 election much like the 1800 race involving his father&mdashbut this time among four candidates: Adams, William Crawford, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay.

During the eight years prior to the 1824 race, political partisanship was at an all-time low. In the &ldquoEra of Good Feelings,&rdquo President James Monroe ran mostly unopposed for re-election in 1820.

But the unity inside the Democratic-Republicans, the one remaining political party in the United States, crumbled as the issues of slavery, states&rsquo rights, regionalism, and the economy drove wedges between former comrades.

Two of the candidates had been in Monroe&rsquos nonpartisan cabinet: Secretary of State Adams and Treasury Secretary William Crawford. Andrew Jackson was the hero of the War of 1812, while Henry Clay of Kentucky was the powerful speaker of the House of Representatives.

In the general election, Jackson led on December 2, 1824, with 99 electoral votes, but he needed 131 to win the presidency. Clay came in fourth with 37 electoral votes, which was enough to cost Jackson the election.

Under the provisions of the 12th Amendment, the election in the House involved the top three vote-getters: Jackson, Adams, and Crawford (who also had suffered a stroke during the election campaign).

A lame-duck Congress was left with the task of selecting a new president over the next two months. (A vice presidential candidate, John C. Calhoun, had easily won a majority of ballots.) It was Clay, like Hamilton in 1800, who interceded to decide the House election, in favor of the New Englander, Adams. (Clay also disliked Jackson.) Clay secured enough votes for Adams to win on the first House ballot on February 9, 1825, despite Jackson&rsquos wide lead in the popular vote.

The 12th Amendment worked. It allowed the House to adopt rules about conducting the vote that became a precedent, and a winner was selected on the first ballot. Each state had one vote in the process.

But what happened next had a longer-term effect on the American political system.

Adams appointed Clay as Secretary of State, which was the second-highest position in 1824 politics, and the usual job held by the favorite to become the next president.

The anger of Jackson and his supporters about the &ldquocorrupt bargain&rdquo led to the official formation of the Democratic Party, with Jackson as its leader. After Jackson&rsquos re-election in 1832, the remaining political factions united to form the Whig Party, to oppose the Democrats.

In an interesting footnote to history, the 1824 election wasn&rsquot the only contest settled by the 12th Amendment. In 1837, Martin Van Buren won the election to replace Jackson as president, but there was dissent within the Democratic Party about the vice-presidential candidate, Richard Mentor Johnson. During the Electoral College voting, 23 faithless electors refused to vote for Johnson.

According to the 12th Amendment, a contested vice-presidential election is decided by the Senate. In February 1837, the Senate chose Johnson over a Whig rival, in a runoff election.

Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.


The Inside Story of Joe Biden’s Most Fateful Decision

His mind was made up about a 2020 presidential run—until it wasn’t.

Updated at 10:36 a.m. ET on May 18, 2021

J oe Biden was in his living room at the Naval Observatory on Election Night 2016. He hadn’t been watching the presidential results. Hillary Clinton was going to win, obviously, so the vice president was more focused on monitoring the fates of the House and Senate candidates for whom he’d campaigned. As the television networks and the Associated Press called each race, he’d pick up the phone. Winners and losers got the same line: “You ran a hell of a race.”

Only late into the night did Biden start paying attention to the presidential election. He’d always been concerned that people simply didn’t like Clinton, and the lack of enthusiasm he’d sensed during his last few appearances for her made him nervous. “The arc of history has always been forward, and what these guys”—Republicans—“want to do is literally move it backward,” he’d warned an audience in Madison, Wisconsin, the previous Friday. “It doesn’t feel right there,” he told aides when he returned to Washington. But Madison hadn’t felt off enough for Biden to really imagine that Donald Trump could win.

The vice president listened as Mike Donilon, one of his closest advisers, insisted that Clinton would be all right. He listened as another aide, Greg Schultz, ran down the numbers from Florida—the same numbers that had Barack Obama, a few miles away in the White House, asking aides why Clinton didn’t have a plan for losing.

This article was excerpted from Dovere’s forthcoming book.

Close to 11 that night, Biden stepped out to call his buddy Mike Duggan, the mayor of Detroit. Duggan had been fighting with the Clinton campaign for months, trying to take control of the turnout operation in the city. Three weeks earlier he had gone to its headquarters in Brooklyn, making one last push and getting one last brush-off from top aides, who assured him that the statistical model they had built off their polling showed Clinton five points ahead in Michigan. “What if your model,” Duggan asked them, “doesn’t match the world?” Well, he told Biden that night, it hadn’t. “What’s going to happen?” Biden said. Duggan guessed that Clinton was going to lose the state by about 10,000 votes.

They talked for a moment about why Biden hadn’t run. Duggan was regretful. Biden was emotional.

“I want to be the first person to sign up for the 2020 campaign,” Duggan told him, “because this never would have happened if you were the candidate.”

Michigan wound up going to Trump by 10,704 votes.

Biden walked into the next room to call Obama. That conversation didn’t last long. There wasn’t much to say.

L ater, Obama phoned Clinton. He was just as level with her as he’d been with everyone else: Democrats couldn’t fight the results. She resisted. He then called John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair and his own former senior adviser, catching him after he gave a speech at the Javits Center, trying to buy time. Now Podesta was riding back to Clinton’s hotel in a van full of depressed campaign staffers. “You’ve got to make her concede,” Obama told him.

The president was looking at the numbers as he spoke. She can’t come back. Don’t fight it anymore. Podesta listened, finally agreeing.

“I feel like I really let you down, Mr. President,” he said. “I feel like I really let her down.”

While they were speaking, Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin, called another aide, Jennifer Palmieri, who was sitting in the van next to Podesta. “Well,” Abedin said. “She did it.” Clinton had called Trump to concede. She didn’t call Obama back that night to tell him she had done so.

After Obama himself phoned Trump to congratulate him, he called two of his closest aides, his deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, and his speechwriter Cody Keenan, well into a bottle of whiskey at Keenan’s apartment, to talk through what he was going to say in the Rose Garden in the morning. “I have to do this the right way,” he insisted. He dictated most of the text. “Do you want to put any reassurance in there for our allies around the world?” Rhodes asked. “I can’t give it to them,” Obama answered. They left that part out.

The next few days were full of tears and West Wing moments: Obama saying how proud he was of everyone and urging people to “run through the tape” and stay focused on their work. No one really could. Aides who used to spend their days being snarky and tough had tears streaming down their faces. On the morning after the election, they waited for Clinton to finally give her concession speech up in New York. Then Obama came out into the Rose Garden, Biden at his side, saying something about how the sun would rise tomorrow. There’d never been so many staff gathered there. They did not look as if they believed the sun would rise tomorrow. They could barely see it then.

“I ’m not running,” Biden was insisting to people in the spring of 2017.

But then to others he’d say, “If I’m walking, I’m running.”

Biden’s story about his candidacy was already changing. In the new version, he had never intended to get into the 2016 race against his friend Hillary Clinton, no matter how much that account stretched the definitions of never and friend. And he definitely wasn’t going to enter the 2020 race.

“Guys, I’m not running,” he told a crowd of people, including reporters, in April 2017. But he said this in New Hampshire, the state that holds the nation’s first presidential primary every four years.

Then the Nazis marched through Charlottesville. Over the next few days, he talked about the people who’d lived in the houses around the Nazi concentration camps, pretending they couldn’t see or smell what was going on. Aides remember him saying, “We have to speak up—this isn’t who we are.” He started writing down thoughts, trading paragraphs with a small group of aides and advisers. Once he had a draft that satisfied him, he began calling up friends to read sections of it aloud, his voice rising to a shout as he went. “Battle for the soul of the nation” was the key phrase they landed on. It felt like a mission.

“We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation,” he wrote in The Atlantic a few days after the Nazi march. “The crazed, angry faces illuminated by torches. The chants echoing the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the 1930s”—he would paraphrase this line in his campaign kickoff video a year and a half later, and in nearly every speech he made during the primary campaign. It stayed so consistent that when he gave his acceptance speech in a pandemic-emptied room at the Democratic convention three years later, it was almost exactly intact: “Remember seeing those neo-Nazis and Klansmen and white supremacists coming out of the fields with lighted torches? Veins bulging? Spewing the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s?”

Charlottesville “so inflamed, Joe. Maybe as much as anything,” his old friend Tom Carper, a senator and former governor from Delaware, told me. “That’s it. That’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”*

No one runs for president six times without lots of ego to spare. Biden ran for Senate at 29—he’d been honing and building that ego his entire life. He would gladly step aside from running, he told people in 2017, if he were sure someone else could beat Trump. “He’s a great respecter of fate,” a person close to him told me that summer. “At some point, it may turn into fate and planning.”

Whatever one thinks of Biden’s other skills, he had always been bad at running for president. He could make speeches, connect with voters. But he never focused on the basic mechanics, and never surrounded himself with operatives who could. Decades of dominating in Delaware had led him to believe that the world worked as it did in his small state, where every voter was a cousin’s neighbor’s high-school classmate’s great-uncle, where fundraising was basically irrelevant, and where campaigns were simple enough to be run by a family member or friend. The years with Obama had warped him even more, as he tried to convince himself that he was a crucial part of the 2008 and 2012 wins, that voters had been excited for the Obama–Biden ticket, more than for the first Black president.

His circle had calcified around him: Donilon Valerie Biden Owens, his sister and forever shadow campaign manager Ted Kaufman, his friend and former chief of staff and Steve Ricchetti, the former Bill Clinton hand and lobbyist who’d become his chief of staff when he was vice president and then stayed in control. Biden seemed like such a political dead end that many younger Democratic operatives were uninterested in working for him. The feeling that he wasn’t good enough ate at him. Why shouldn’t he get the backing that Obama had had? But he didn’t. “He knows he didn’t get the A-team,” an aide said, deep into the campaign.

Aides could see Biden aging. Was his son Beau’s death finally catching up with him? Was he not busy enough, for the first time since he was 29? Was he simply showing his age? They could hear the loudest and smartest voices objecting to a 2020 run, to his politics, to an old white man being the leader of a party that wanted to be the voice of a new America.

Taking stock of a party that wasn’t going to stand for another Hillary Clinton–style coronation, Biden’s aides updated their playbook for 2020. Maybe Biden could get in early and shrink the field. Maybe he could enter really late—say, September 2019—and let all the smaller candidates blow one another up first. Maybe he could make a pledge to serve one term, or announce a running mate right out of the gate.

He started by getting back on the trail. Biden had been flooded with requests for months, but he deliberately began his campaign at the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade. The parade had been the first and final retail-politics stop of his 2015 almost-campaign, back when the Secret Service had all the reporters loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck that he jogged along behind, pointing up at them and teasing them for not getting down and walking the route with him. He’d gone back the following year to try to sell them on Tim Kaine, but it wasn’t the same.

This time he landed in Pittsburgh right after attending the burial of his friend John McCain on a hill overlooking Annapolis. Even before checking into his room that night at the William Penn Hotel, he was telling his staff that he could feel how much harder this campaign was going to be, without a government plane.

Walking out of church after the pre-parade Mass that morning, Biden was asked what was on the line in the 2018 midterms. “Everything,” he said. He kissed foreheads, and repeated stories about his father’s and grandfather’s working-class roots. He talked about unity, decency, and an America that had to reassert what it stands for. He batted back a reporter who tried to ask him about the risk of socialism by replying, “I’m a Democrat.” He knocked back each attempt to get him to talk about Trump by saying, “Everyone knows who the president is.” He stopped to speak with a woman seated along the route who told him that she’d been dreaming of a Biden–Warren ticket since she saw him at the 2015 parade. “Maybe,” he said, smiling.

A few blocks in, he connected with Conor Lamb, a freshman congressman he’d helped win a special election that spring, out in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Biden had started to politically adopt a few proto-Beaus in the years since his son died—young, handsome veterans who had come up through politics with the backing of white working-class voters. Lamb even had a chin just like Beau’s, and the same hair color, parted on the same side. Lamb also came from a political family. His win in this corner of Pennsylvania was supposed to be the beginning of a revival for Democrats, and because Biden was the only national Democratic figure who had been invited to campaign for Lamb, his win was also the first proof of concept for Biden 2020.

Biden again took off in a jog, trailed by aides and the clump of reporters chasing him for clues about 2020. But as he trotted along, he noticed a lot of empty spaces between the lawn chairs set up along the sidewalk.

“There used to be a lot more people than this,” he told Lamb.

The parade route ended at the United Steelworkers’ building. In 2015, Biden had slipped inside for a private reception, to build support for his not-so-secret shadow campaign. This time he hopped in a car in his small motorcade and headed across town to a big reception at the Electrical Workers’ hall, where he gave a short speech. Mostly he just stood in the middle of the room, talking with every person he could, holding babies, and taking selfies.

A white woman in her 50s approached him cautiously. Wearing a union hat and a Republicans for Conor Lamb button, she was the picture of the kind of voter Biden thought he could win back from Trump. She spotted two of his aides and asked them to tell Biden something for her: His son’s death, and everything that he’d been through before it—maybe it was all destiny for him to become president at this moment, given what the country is going through. They told her she could say it directly to him, and should, but she protested that she was shy, and started to edge away. They found her later, and waited with her until they saw an opening.

She wanted to tell him, she needed to tell him, but she was shaking. He came in close. She said it again: Maybe losing his son, losing so much, was what had to happen to make him president right now, for this moment. “God,” she said, “has a strange sense of humor.”

He kissed her on the cheek and hugged her. Then he held her hand tightly and kissed it, and whispered in her ear.

* Due to an editing error, this article previously misattributed a quote from Tom Carper. It was spoken to the author, not Joe Biden."


US presidential Election 2020 results: which has been the closest election ever?

Olivier Douliery AFP

The 2020 presidential election is a nail-biter as counting continues and there is no way to know when the final vote may be known. President Trump is falsely claiming fraud in the election in an attempt to stop the counting of legally cast votes in states where the margin is so thin that a call can’t be made. Depending on the way the tabulation goes this could be the closest election in modern US history in the electoral college even though the popular vote has Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by around 4 million votes or just under 3 percent.

What other elections have been close?

So, which of the other 58 elections have been squeakers and which had the closest margin of victory? One problem with answering this question is that the US has a long history of holding elections and the very nature of the country has changed a considerable amount over the course of history since its founding, making it hard to compare elections on a like-for-like basis.

There are two ways of looking at this question as US presidential elections are decided by an electoral college not a direct or popular vote. So, a candidate can win the popular vote which has happened five times in the past but lose the White House in the electoral college.

The Encyclopedia Britannica lists 5 remarkably close elections in US history all of them happening since the US started keeping records of the popular vote.

John Quincy Adams via Wikimedia Commons

1824 contingent election

The election of 1824 was a four-way race in the electoral college and no one candidate had the required number of electors to be President. The race ended up having to be decided by the House of Representatives between the two front runners Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Adams who was in second place had an ace up his sleeve in the form of the Speaker of the House Henry Clay who became his Secretary of State.

Rutherford B. Hayes via Wikimedia Commons

1876 Hayes v. Tilden

The election of 1876 saw the popular vote favor Samuel J. Tilden but the electoral college left him one vote short. The 1877 comprise was reached and the runner-up Rutherford B. Hayes became President. There was only about a 250,000 vote difference between the two candidates.

During the two-party system

In modern times it is a bit easier to talk about what the closest races have been as our country has fallen into a two-party system and third parties rarely win a significant share of the electoral vote to affect the outcome.

John F Kennedy via Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain

1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon

The popular vote winner would be the race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Although Kennedy had a comfortable margin in the electoral college 303 to Nixon’s 219 the popular vote margin was tight. 1960 was one of the elections in modern times with the highest turnout with 63.8 percent or 68.8 million votes casting ballots. Just 112,827 votes separated the two candidates or 0.17 percent of the vote.

2000 Bush v. Gore

In the electoral college the narrowest of victories came in 2000 in the battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush. This election will be forever known for the vote count in Florida that went so wrong but credit where credit is due to the Sunshine State, they’ve made improvements. The final national vote count had some 500,000 votes in Gore’s favor but Bush got the electoral college for the win 271 – 266.


A History of Mob Rule: How the presidential election could be decided in the streets

The white mobs did not care whom they killed as long as the victims were Black. They murdered people in public with guns and rocks. They set fire to houses and slaughtered families trying to escape the flames. In East St. Louis in July 1917, white vigilantes lynched Blacks with impunity.

It was the prelude to what civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson would ultimately call Red Summer. The “red” referred to the blood that ran in the streets. The “summer” actually referred to the months from April to October 1919, when violence against African Americans peaked in this country.

In reality, though, that Red Summer stretched across six long years, beginning in East St. Louis in 1917 and ending with the destruction of the predominantly African-American town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923. During that time, white mobs killed thousands of Blacks in 26 cities, including Chicago, Houston, and Washington, D.C. In 1921, in a slaughter that has been well documented, white citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed the country’s wealthiest African American community – “Black Wall Street,” as it was then known, burning down more than 1,000 houses as well as churches, schools, and even a hospital.

During this period of violence, the mobs sometimes cooperated with the authorities. Just as often, however, they ignored the police, even breaking through jail walls with sledgehammers to gain access to Black detainees whom they executed in unspeakable ways. In Tulsa, for example, that campaign of murder and mayhem began only after the local sheriff refused to hand over a Black teenager accused of sexual assault.

Although white America repressed the memories of Red Summer for many decades, that shameful chapter of our history has gained renewed scrutiny in this era of Black Lives Matter. The Tulsa massacre, for instance, features prominently in the Watchmen series on HBO and several documentaries are in the works for its centennial anniversary in 2021. Other recent documentaries have chronicled killings that took place in the immediate aftermath of World War I in Elaine, Arkansas, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

But memories of that Red Summer are resurfacing for another, more ominous reason.

White mobs have once again moved out of the shadows and into the limelight during this Trump moment. Militia movements and right-wing extremists are starting to turn out in force to intimidate racial justice and anti-Trump demonstrators. Predominantly white and often explicitly racist, these groups now regularly use social media to threaten their adversaries. This election season, they are gearing up to defend their president with an astonishing degree of support from Republican Party regulars.

According to a January 2020 survey by political scientist Larry Bartels, most Republicans believe “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” More than 40% agree that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” In a recent essay on his survey’s findings, Bartels concludes that ethnic antagonism “has a substantial negative effect on Republicans’ commitment to democracy.”

As the 2020 election nears, that party is also desperately trying to flip the script by using fear of “their mobs” and “Antifa terrorists” to drive its base to the polls. “We have a Marxist mob perpetrate historic levels of violence and disorder in major American cities,” tweeted Florida Senator Marco Rubio in response to the Democratic National Convention in August. Not to be outdone, the president promptly said: “I’m the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness, and chaos.”

Of course, this country has no such Marxist mobs. The only real groups of vigilantes with a demonstrated history of violence and the guns to back up their threats congregate on the far right. The white supremacist Atomwaffen Division, for instance, has been linked to at least five killings since 2017. In late May and early June, members of the far-right Boogaloo Bois conducted two ambushes of police officers and security personnel, killing two of them and injuring three more. Over the summer, as far-right organizations spread the meme “All Lives Splatter” around the internet, dozens of right-wingers drove vehicles of every sort into crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters.

The prospect of far-right vigilantes or “militias” heading into the streets to contest the results of the November election has even mainstream institutions worried. “Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90% between January 1 and May 8, 2020,” reports the centrist think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If President Trump loses the election, some extremists may use violence because they believe—however incorrectly—that there was fraud or that the election of Democratic candidate Joe Biden will undermine their extremist objectives.”

As the violence of Red Summer demonstrated, such acts were once a mainstay of American life. Indeed, the not-so-hidden history of this country has featured periodic explosions of mob violence. Racial justice activists rightly call for the radical reform of police departments. As November approaches, however, uniformed representatives of the state are hardly the only perpetrators of racist violence. Beware the white mobs, militias, and posses that are desperate to establish their own brand of justice.

Mob History

When Donald Trump paints a picture of lawlessness sweeping through the United States, he’s effectively accusing the institutions of government of not doing their jobs. In a September 2nd memo, the Trump administration laid out its charges:

“For the past few months, several State and local governments have contributed to the violence and destruction in their jurisdictions by failing to enforce the law, disempowering and significantly defunding their police departments, and refusing to accept offers of Federal law enforcement assistance.”

As president, Donald Trump has refused to take responsibility for anything, not the more than 200,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States, not the pandemic-induced economic collapse, and certainly not the racial injustices that prompted this summer’s wave of protests. Simultaneously above the law and outside it, the president consistently portrays himself as a populist leader who must battle the elite and its “deep state.” With conspiracy-tinged tirades about Democrat-run cities failing to enforce the law, he has already symbolically put himself at the head of a mob—for this is just how such groups justified their extra-legal actions throughout our history.

The right-wing racists who currently bear arms in defense of the president are part of a long tradition of Americans resorting to vigilantism when they believe the law is not protecting their interests. Whether it was the displacement and massacre of Native Americans, the horrors that slaveowners inflicted on African Americans, the wave of lynching that followed Reconstruction, the bloodletting of Red Summer around World War I, the murders conducted by the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist organizations, or even everyday resistance to federal policies like school desegregation, gangs of Americans have repeatedly taken the law into their own hands on behalf of white supremacy.

To be sure, mobs are hardly responsible for all the racist ills of this country. America has always been a place of institutional racism and violence. Slavery, after all, was legal until 1865. The U.S. government and its military did the bulk of the dispossessing of Native Americans. Police departments cooperated early on with the Ku Klux Klan and today’s police officers continue to kill a disproportionate number of African Americans. Mobs have eagerly cooperated with state institutions on the basis of shared racism. But they have also stood at the ready to enforce the dictates of white supremacy even when the police and other guardians of order treat everyone equally before the law.

The mob has occupied an unusually prominent place in our history because Americans have cultivated a unique hostility toward the state and its institutions that goes back to the early years of the Republic. As historian Michael Pfeifer notes in his groundbreaking book, The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching, the violent libertarianism associated with the American Revolution and the subsequent lack of a strong, centralized state gave rise to mob violence that gathered force before the Civil War. He writes,

“Antebellum advocates of vigilantism in the Midwest, South, and West drew on Anglo-American and American revolutionary traditions of community violence that suggested that citizens might reclaim the functions of government when legal institutions could not provide sufficient protections to persons or their property.”

Those mobs did not necessarily think of themselves as anti-democratic. Rather, they imagined that they were improving on democracy. As Pfeifer pointed out, many of the vigilante outfits that targeted minorities practiced democratic procedures of a sort. Some adopted bylaws and even elected their own leaders. They held mock trials and votes on what punishments to mete out: hanging or burning alive.

Such mobs functioned both as a parallel military and, to a certain extent, a parallel state.

The two, in fact, went hand in hand. German sociologist Max Weber famously defined the state as possessing a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, but that was the German tradition. In the United States, particularly during its first 150 years, the state only aspired to possess such a monopoly.

Instead, a rough form of frontier justice often prevailed. Before and just after the American Revolution, even whites were its targets, but increasingly its victims were people of color. Slave owners, slave patrols, and ad hoc mobs dispensed justice throughout antebellum America and the tradition of “Judge Lynch” continued long after the abolition of slavery. The pushing of the frontier westward involved not only the Army’s killing of Native Americans but extrajudicial violence by bands of settlers. Historian Benjamin Madley estimates that the Native population in California declined by more than 80% between 1846 and 1873, with as many as 16,000 killings in 370-plus massacres. This “winning” of the West also involved the widespread lynching of Latinos.

The “Right” to Bear Arms

Mobs were able to dispense frontier justice not only thanks to a strong libertarian tradition and a weak state, but also because of the widespread availability of guns. Coming out of the Civil War, this country developed a distinct gun culture sustained by a surge in firearm production. Gun prices fell and so guns fell into the hands of more and more citizens.

Mobs used firearms in the infamous Draft Riot in New York in 1863, which ended up targeting the city’s Black community, and in New Orleans in 1866 when enraged whites attacked a meeting of Republicans determined to extend civil rights protections to African Americans. In their drive westward, settlers favored Winchester rifles with magazines that could fire 15 rounds, giving them a staggering advantage over the people they were displacing. Early gun control laws seldom prevented whites from acquiring firearms because they were mainly designed to keep guns out of the hands of Blacks and other racial minorities.

Even today, widespread gun ownership distinguishes the United States from every other country. Approximately 40% of American households own one or more firearms, a figure that has remained remarkably consistent for the last 50 years. If you look at guns per capita, the United States ranks number one in the world at 120 firearms per 100 civilians. The next country on the list, war-torn Yemen, comes in a distant second with 52 per hundred. With more guns than people within its borders, it’s no wonder that the federal government has often struggled to maintain its monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force.

Gun enthusiasts have erroneously enlisted the Constitution to justify this extreme democracy of firepower. To guard against tyrannical federal behavior, the Second Amendment of the Constitution preserved the right of state militias to bear arms. However, organizations like the National Rifle Association have campaigned for years to reinterpret that amendment as giving any individual the right to bear arms.

That has, in turn, provided ammunition for both the “castle doctrine” (the right to use armed force to defend one’s own home) and “stand your ground” laws (the right to use force in “self-defense”). Armed extremist groups now imagine themselves as nothing less than the Second Amendment’s “well-regulated Militia” with a constitutionally given “right” to own weapons and defend themselves against the federal government (or anyone else they disapprove of).

Improbably enough, for the last four years, the head of the federal government has become one of their chief supporters.

Donald Trump: Leader of the Pack

Long before becoming president, Donald Trump was already acting as if he were the head of a lynch mob. In 1989, he published full-page ads in the New York Times and three other local papers calling for New York City to reinstate the death penalty in response to a brutal gang rape in Central Park. He swore that the city was then “ruled by the law of the streets” and that “muggers and murderers… should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.”

It was language distinctly reminiscent of white mobs bitter about the failure of local law enforcement to execute Blacks accused of crimes. Like many of their predecessors, the accused Black and Latino teenagers were, in the end, found to be quite innocent of the crime. After a long legal struggle, the Central Park Five (as they came to be known) were released from prison. Trump has never apologized for his campaign to kill innocent people.

When he ran for president, he quickly moved beyond mere “law and order” rhetoric. In his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump deliberately cultivated a following among armed extremists. At a rally in North Carolina, for instance, he warned of what might happen to the Supreme Court if Hillary Clinton were to win.

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” he lamented. Then he added in his typically confused and elliptical manner of speaking: “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.” He was, in other words, suggesting that followers with guns could do something about Clinton’s choices by shooting her or her judicial picks.

Throughout that campaign season, he regularly retweeted white supremacist claims and memes. At the time, it was estimated that more than 60% of the accounts he was retweeting had links to white supremacists. At his rallies, he encouraged his supporters to get “rough” with protesters.

As president, he has continued to side with the mob. He infamously refused to denounce neo-Nazis gathering in Charlottesville in August 2017, applauded the armed demonstrators who demanded the reopening of the economy in the pandemic spring of 2020, and defended 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse after he killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August.

Trump has stood up for the Confederate flag, Confederate statues, and keeping the names of Confederate generals on U.S. military bases. In a recent speech denouncing school curricula that teach about slavery and other unsavory aspects of our history, he pledged to erect a statue of a slaveowner in a project he has been promoting — building a National Garden of American Heroes park. The current administration has cultivated direct links to white nationalists through disgraced figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, as well as current advisers like Stephen Miller.

In his reelection bid, Trump pointedly held his first pandemic rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he excoriated Democrats who “want to take away your guns through the repeal of your Second Amendment” and “left-wing radicals [who] burn down buildings, loot businesses, destroy private property, injure hundreds of dedicated police officers.” In a literal whitewashing of history, he made no mention of the White mobs that had looted businesses and destroyed property in that very city in 1921.

Trump’s exhortations to his followers over the heads of state and local officials appeal to the mob belief that citizens must reclaim the functions of government, if necessary through force. Right-wing militias explicitly embrace that history. The “Three Percenters,” a militia movement that emerged in 2008 after the election of Barack Obama, purports to protect Americans from tyrannical government. Their name derives from the inaccurate belief that only 3% of Americans took up arms to fight the British empire in the eighteenth century.

Of course, three percent of Americans are not now members of such militias and White nationalist movements, but their numbers are on the rise. White nationalist groups increased from 100 in 2017 to 155 in 2019. The several hundred militia groups now in existence probably have a total of 15,000 to 20,000 members, including an increasing number of veterans with combat experience. Far from a homogeneous force, some are focused on patrolling the southern border and targeting the undocumented. Others are obsessed with resisting the federal government, even in a few cases opposing Trump’s various power grabs.

West Virginia University professor John Temple argues, in fact, that not all right-wing militias hold extremist views. “I have listened to many hours of “patriot” conversations that did not sound all that different from what you would hear during a typical evening on Fox News,” he writes. “Many seemed to have joined the cause for social reasons, or because they liked guns, or because they wanted to be part of something they saw as historic and grandiose—not because their views were far more radical than those of typical right-leaning Americans.”

This is not exactly reassuring, since the politics of right-leaning, Fox News-watching Americans have grown more extreme. With nearly half of the Republicans surveyed by Larry Bartels prepared to take the law into their own hands, Trump has nearly succeeded in transforming his party into a mob of vigilantes.

Do not be fooled into thinking that the president is a law-and-order candidate. He flourishes in chaos and routinely flouts the law. By siding with right-wing militias and their ilk, he daily undermines the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence.

The debate over defunding the police must be seen in this context. In a country awash in guns and grassroots racism, with a major party flirting with mob violence, getting rid of police departments would be akin to jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire of uncontained extremism. Sure, local law enforcement needs major reforms, massive civic oversight, and right-sized budgets. Police departments must be purged of white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. The Pentagon has to stop supplying the cops with military-grade weaponry.

But remember: the police can be reformed. What was once an all-white force now better reflects America’s diversity. The mob, by definition, is not subject to reforms or any oversight whatsoever.

This is no time to permit the return of frontier justice administered by white mobs and a lawless president, especially with a critical election looming. Mob violence has often accompanied elections in the past, with rival factions fighting over the results, as in the street battles of 1874 in New Orleans between Republican integrationists and racist Democrats. Like nineteenth-century Louisiana, the struggle this November is not just about Democrats versus Republicans. It is about the rule of law versus racist vigilantism.

White supremacy is not going to give up its hold on power without a fight. If you thought you had seen real American carnage in Trump’s four years in office, prepare yourself for the chaotic aftermath of the November election. The mob is itching to take the law into its own hands one more time on behalf of its very own mobster-in-chief.


Constitution Daily

February 9, 2021 by Scott Bomboy

It was on this day that a constitutional crisis was averted when the relatively new 12th Amendment to the Constitution settled the last presidential election decided in the House of Representatives.

On February 9, 1825, the House met to elect a new President after one candidate failed to win a majority of the electoral college vote. The House also met 24 years before to also settle a presidential election, but this time, the process was much smoother thanks to the 12th Amendment.

After the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 it had only been changed, or amended, twice. The 11th Amendment, ratified in 1795, cleared up a matter about lawsuits against states and sovereign immunity. The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, cleared up a mess created by the Founders in the matter of how presidential elections were resolved by the Electoral College.

The Constitution&rsquos original provision for electing a president and vice president didn&rsquot survive the bitter 1800 election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

The original Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution required electors in states to cast two separate ballots&mdashone for president and one for vice president. It was up to the political parties to coordinate among their electors to make sure their vice-presidential candidates had at least one fewer electoral vote than presidential candidates.

However, there was a &ldquocommunication breakdown&rdquo within Jefferson&rsquos party, when someone forgot to not vote for Jefferson&rsquos running mate, Aaron Burr. After the electoral votes were counted, Jefferson and Burr each had 73 votes, and tied as the winner. (Jefferson had actually received 61 percent of the popular vote.) Worse yet, Article II sent the tie election to the House, which was controlled by Adams&rsquo Federalist Party.

The House members could only vote for Jefferson or Burr, and not Adams, and then Burr made the controversial move to try to take the election from his own running mate, Jefferson.

The contingent runoff election between Jefferson and Burr was a true constitutional crisis. Jefferson ultimately won the House election on the 36th ballot after a week of voting. Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson&rsquos long-time enemy, supported Jefferson instead of his old rival from New York, Burr. (Hamilton considered Jefferson as the least dangerous of the two options.)

Another factor that concerned Congress after the 1800 election was the outcome of the 1796 election, when members of opposing parties (Adams and Jefferson) were elected president and vice president.

After this crisis, the 12th Amendment quickly followed. It was written, approved in Congress and ratified within three years, so that it was in effect for the 1804 election. (The next amendment to the Constitution wouldn&rsquot be ratified until December 1865.)

The 12th Amendment made sure separate ballots were cast in the Electoral College specifically for president and vice president the House would settle an election without a majority winner with a contingent election featuring the top three vote-getters, and the House would determine rules for conducting the election.

Twenty years later, Congress found itself in a position to settle another presidential election that involved an Adams.

In this case, it was John Quincy Adams, in a bitterly contested 1824 election much like the 1800 race involving his father&mdashbut this time among four candidates: Adams, William Crawford, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay.

During the eight years prior to the 1824 race, political partisanship was at an all-time low. In the &ldquoEra of Good Feelings,&rdquo President James Monroe ran mostly unopposed for re-election in 1820.

But the unity inside the Democratic-Republicans, the one remaining political party in the United States, crumbled as the issues of slavery, states&rsquo rights, regionalism, and the economy drove wedges between former comrades.

Two of the candidates had been in Monroe&rsquos nonpartisan cabinet: Secretary of State Adams and Treasury Secretary William Crawford. Andrew Jackson was the hero of the War of 1812, while Henry Clay of Kentucky was the powerful speaker of the House of Representatives.

In the general election, Jackson led on December 2, 1824, with 99 electoral votes, but he needed 131 to win the presidency. Clay came in fourth with 37 electoral votes, which was enough to cost Jackson the election.

Under the provisions of the 12th Amendment, the election in the House involved the top three vote-getters: Jackson, Adams, and Crawford (who also had suffered a stroke during the election campaign).

A lame-duck Congress was left with the task of selecting a new president over the next two months. (A vice presidential candidate, John C. Calhoun, had easily won a majority of ballots.) It was Clay, like Hamilton in 1800, who interceded to decide the House election, in favor of the New Englander, Adams. (Clay also disliked Jackson.) Clay secured enough votes for Adams to win on the first House ballot on February 9, 1825, despite Jackson&rsquos wide lead in the popular vote.

The 12th Amendment worked. It allowed the House to adopt rules about conducting the vote that became a precedent, and a winner was selected on the first ballot. Each state had one vote in the process.

But what happened next had a longer-term effect on the American political system.

Adams appointed Clay as Secretary of State, which was the second-highest position in 1824 politics, and the usual job held by the favorite to become the next president.

The anger of Jackson and his supporters about the &ldquocorrupt bargain&rdquo led to the official formation of the Democratic Party, with Jackson as its leader. After Jackson&rsquos re-election in 1832, the remaining political factions united to form the Whig Party, to oppose the Democrats.

In an interesting footnote to history, the 1824 election wasn&rsquot the only contest settled by the 12th Amendment. In 1837, Martin Van Buren won the election to replace Jackson as president, but there was dissent within the Democratic Party about the vice-presidential candidate, Richard Mentor Johnson. During the Electoral College voting, 23 faithless electors refused to vote for Johnson.

According to the 12th Amendment, a contested vice-presidential election is decided by the Senate. In February 1837, the Senate chose Johnson over a Whig rival, in a runoff election.

Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.


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