47 Interesting Facts about U.S. Presidential Elections

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published September 20, 2016Updated September 20, 2016
  • The worst campaign slogan in history belongs to Al Smith, who was against prohibition. To show his support for the creation, distribution, and sale of alcohol, he advertised: “Vote for Al Smith and he’ll make your wet dreams come true.”[7]
  • The only "clean" election in American history was most likely the first one in 1789, when George Washington ran unopposed. Even then, Alexander Hamilton was trying to pilfer votes away from the potential vice president, John Adams.[9]
  • It wasn’t until 1856 that Congress removed property ownership as a requirement to vote in elections.[7]
  • U.S. Presidents choose which Bible or books they want to use on inauguration day. President Obama chose two Bibles: the Lincoln Bible, and to rest underneath it, Martin Luther King Jr.’s bible.[2]
  • It is the only time in US history that a candidate died during the electoral process
  • During the 1872 election, presidential incumbent Ulysses S. Grant ran against a corpse. His opponent, Horace Greeley, died before the election was finalized. Grant won the election.[4]
  • In 1870, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, which granted the right to vote to African Americans and other nonwhite men. However, an African American’s right to vote was often denied in the South and parts of the North until the 1960s.[10]
  • In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for attempting to vote in the presidential election. At the same time, Sojourner Truth, a former slave and advocate for justice demanded a ballot in Michigan, but she was turned away. American women of all races finally won the right to vote in 1920.[3]
  • Congress gave Native Americans the right to vote in presidential elections in 1924; however, some states banned them from voting until the 1940s.[3]
  • George Washington is the only U.S. president in history to win 100% of the Electoral College vote. This is mainly because organized parties weren’t yet formed, and he ran unopposed.[9]
  • Actress Roseanne Barr once attempted to run for president and got as far as filing with the Federal Election Commission under the “Green Tea Party Ticket.”[11]
  • George Washington blew his entire campaign budget on 160 gallons of liquor to serve to potential voters.[4]
  • The Constitution does not state when Election Day should be, which meant that in the early 1800s, people could vote from April to December.[4]
  • 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.[4]
  • Andrew Jackson’s inauguration party was so wild that Jackson snuck out of the White House and spent the night at a hotel. Finally, servants dragged tubs of punch out on the lawn to lure out the crowds.[4]
  • The party was so big that even the brave, battle-tested President Jackson fled the scene
  • Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party ran for president more times than anyone in history. He ran for 6 times but was never elected.[7]
  • Washington was reluctant to become president and noted to his future secretary of war, Henry Knox, that becoming president felt like he was going to “the place of his execution”[7]
  • Jehovah Witnesses don’t vote in presidential elections.[3]
  • During the 1776 presidential campaign, Thomas Jefferson secretly hired a writer named James Callender to attack his opponent, John Adams, in print. Callender called Adams a “hermaphroditical character” who neither had the “force of a man” or the “gentleness of a woman.” Callender was later jailed for insurrection.[4]
  • Democrats use a donkey as their mascot thanks to Andrew Jackson. When his critics called him a “jackass” because of his populist views, he embraced the image, even using it alongside his slogan, “Let the people rule.”[7]
  • John Adam's jealousy may have had more to do with his own lack of public recognition than a dislike of Washington himself
  • John Adams complained that the only reason George Washing was “chosen for everything,” including president, was because “he was taller than anyone else in the room.”[4]
  • Until 1937, presidents weren’t sworn in until March 4 because it took so long to count and report ballots. In light of better technology, the 20th amendment moved inauguration day to noon on January 20th.[3]
  • In 1968, President Nixon wanted a running mate who wouldn’t compete with him, so he picked an unknown politician named Spirow Agnew. When a reporter asked people about Spirow Agnew, one person asked, “Is that a disease?” Another person suggested he was a type of an egg.[3]
  • When Democrat Stephen A. Douglas called Abraham Lincoln “two-faced” during an election year, Lincoln replied, “If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”[3]
  • The first election to use a voting machine was in 1892. Though it was actually invented earlier, candidates initially opposed the idea because it eliminated the wheeling and dealing for votes over the phone.[7]
  • During the 1920 presidential election, a candidate from a third party, Eugene V. Debs, ran his presidential campaign from prison. He was in jail for opposing WW I. He ultimately won 3% of the popular vote.[7]
  • George Washington gave the shortest inauguration speech at 135 words. William Henry Harrison’s was the longest, at 8,445 words. He spoke for over two hours in a heavy snowstorm, which made him catch a cold and ultimately die from pneumonia one month later.[3]
  • Mission Control beams up a digital ballot to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station
  • American astronauts on the ISS can vote in elections from orbit by secure email.[12]
  • The United States is ranked 139th out of 172 countries in voter participation.[3]
  • The Anti-Masonic party is known as the first “third party “ in the United States. They held the first national convention in 1832—in a saloon.[7]
  • Before the 1804, the presidential candidate who received the second highest electoral votes became vice-president.[3]
  • The oldest presidential candidate to be elected is Ronald Reagan at 69 years old. The youngest is John F. Kennedy at age 34.[3]
  • In the 1984 presidential election, Ronald Reagan received both the highest number of popular votes  and the highest number of electoral votes in the history of U.S. presidential elections. These numbers have yet to be surpassed by another presidential candidate[3]
  • Grover Cleveland is the only candidate ever to be elected to one term, defeated for a second term, and then elected again four years later. Thus, he became both the 22nd president and the 24th president.[3]
  • John Quincy Adams is the only president to have lost both the popular vote and electoral vote and still become president.[3]
  • After reading the incorrect headline, President Truman quipped," That ain't the way I heard it!"
  • The ultimate “whoops” moment in a U.S. presidential election happened when the Chicago Daily Tribune mistakenly declared that Dewey beat Truman in 1946.[3]
  • The 1800 election year was so heated that vice president Aaron Burr ended up killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel.[4]
  • The first U.S. presidential election was in 1789. Only white men who owned property could vote, a stipulation that prohibited 94% of the population from casting a ballot.[3]
  • The word “election” is from the Latin eligere, which means, “to pick out, select” and is related to the world “lecture.”[6]
  • It is illegal to drink alcohol in Kentucky and South Carolina on election day.[5]
  • Few other parts of the Constitution have been so criticized as the Electoral College because it can deny the will of the people. And it has in four elections.[8]
  • Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.

    - Abraham Lincoln

  • During the John Quincy and Andrew Jackson election year, American politics sounds more like bathroom graffiti than political commentary.  For example, Jackson called John Quincy a pimp, and Quincy called Jackson's wife a slut and his mother a prostitute.[4]
  • A U.S. presidential candidate is required to be at least 35 years old, a permanent US resident for at least 14 years and considered a natural US born citizen.[3]
  • George Washington argued that a presidential candidate should not appear too eager to win the presidency or actively seek it. Rather, he said "The office should seek the man." He considered active campaigning undignified, even vulgar.[8]
  • Barack Obama was the 17th president to be elected to at least two terms. Thirteen previous presidents were elected and served at least two terms. Three additional presidents were elected to two terms, but did not complete the second term due to assignations and a resignation (Lincon, McKinley, and Nixon).[3]
  • Woodhull also believed that women should have the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference
  • The first woman to run for U.S. President was Victoria Woodhull in 1872, nearly 50 years before the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote in presidential elections. Her running mate, Frederick Douglass, was the first African-American ever nominated for Vice President.[3]
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president an astonishing four terms before the 22nd Amendment set term limits.[3]
  • Over 200 women have run for President of the United States; however, this list includes nominees of many minor parties and candidates who ran for president before women won the right to vote in 1920.[1]
References

1 Barrow, Bill. "AP EXPLAINS: Long History of Women Running for President." US News. July 28, 2016. Accessed: September 20, 2016.

2 Chaddock, Gail Russell. "Inauguration Day Bibles: How Presidents Choose, and What That Reveals (+ Video)." The Christian Science Monitor. January 21, 2013. Accessed: September 19, 2016.

3 Clift, Eleanor and Matthew Spieler. Selecting a President. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

4 Cummins, Joseph. 2015. Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprised in U.S Presidential. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books.

5 "Election Day Alcohol Laws Still Ban Booze Sales In Two States." The Huffington Post. November 6, 2012. Accessed: September 19, 2016.

6Election.” Online Etymological Dictionary. Accessed: May 28, 2016.

7 Goodman, Susan E. See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House. New York, NY: MacMillan, 2008.

8 Mieczkowski, Yanek. The Routledge Historical Atlas of Presidential Elections. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001.

9Presidential Elections.” History. Accessed: May 28, 2016.

10 "Race and Voting in the Segregated South." Constitutional Rights Foundation. 2016. Accessed: September 19, 2016.

11 Sieczkowski, Cavan. “Roseanne Barr Places 6th in Presidential Election (Updated).” The Huffington Post. November 7, 2012. Accessed: May 28, 2016.

12 Wall, Mike. "Extreme Voting: How Astronauts Cast Ballots from Space." Space. November 5, 2012. Accessed: September 19, 2016.

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