Today, American citizens gather en masse to exercise their right to vote for the nation’s next president. This particular election will certainly go down in the history books as an interesting one. However, American presidential election history is full of choice moments.
This election year hasn’t been the first to see name-calling and insults. In 1828, a highly contentious rematch between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson saw personal aspersions cast against Jackson’s wife and mother and Jackson being faulted for a murderous past. The 1824 presidential election had ended in confusion. Jackson had actually received a majority in the popular vote but not in the Electoral College. Adams was declared winner by the House of Representatives, and Jackson spent the next four years accusing him of corruption. The 1828 campaign became one of the most bitter in American history.
Hillary Clinton may be the most successful female presidential candidate to date, but she is not the first woman to run for the position. According to Smithsonian, more than 200 women have sought the executive office, with varying degrees of success. Most notably was Victoria Woodhull, the first woman nominated as a presidential candidate. She ran on the Equal Right’s Party ticket in 1872 with Frederick Douglass as the Vice Presidential candidate, running against Republican president Ulysses S. Grant and Democratic candidate Horace Greeley.
She announced her candidacy in the April 2, 1870, issue of the New York Herald. In her column, titled “The Coming Woman,” she laid out her platform that included equality for women, prison reform, a firmer policy on Cuba and an actual policy for paying the national debt.
“While others of my sex devoted themselves to a crusade against the laws that shackle the women of the country, I asserted my individual independence; while others prayed for the good time coming, I worked for it; while others argued the equality of woman with man, I proved it by successfully engaging in business: while others sought to show that there was no valid reason why woman should be treated socially and politically as a being inferior to man, I boldly entered the arena of politics and business and exercised the rights I already possessed. I therefore claim the right to speak for the unenfranchised women of the country.”
Woodhull wouldn’t be able to vote for herself, because women were still about 50 years shy of that right. Also, she wouldn’t yet be 35 on Inauguration Day, technically making her ineligible. Ultimately, none of that mattered as Woodhull received zero Electoral College votes, and there is no record of how many popular votes she received, as her name on state ballots was inconsistent.
Woodhull tried again in 1892 with what was left of the Equal Rights Party, but the attempt wasn’t successful. Read more about her in the Library’s Chronicling America historical newspaper collections.
Fun fact: The Constitution does not state when Election Day should be, only saying that Congress may determine a day electors shall give their votes and that it must be the same across the United States. So that meant in the early 1800s, people could vote from April to December. Can you imagine having to have a recount? In 1845, Congress decided that voting day would be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, which was after the fall harvest and before winter conditions made travel too difficult.
The Library has numerous collections and presentations related to U.S. elections, presidents, politics and government, including elections resources for teachers, presidential campaign music and this great resource guide on presidential elections from 1789-1920. Also, you can check out all the Library’s digital collections on government, law and politics here.