Skip to Content

5 Facts and Effects of the Election of 1796

The Election of 1796 was an important election as it would be the first time that George Washington would not run for President.  Washington had been the unanimous President in the elections of 1789 and 1792.

This meant that it would be the first time that a living President would surrender his power and return to private life. 

George Washington’s announcement alarmed the entire world as it was unheard of for a man to willingly surrender power while living. It caused men such as Napoleon to call George Washington “the greatest man to ever live.” 

However, this would also be the first time the young nation would be pushed into a trial without his leadership. 

Fact 1: The Candidates Were Old Friends

Election of 1796

The two primary candidates were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

These two men were the two primary influencers of the Declaration of Independence and eventually the American Revolution. In 1776 it was said that Adams was the voice of the Revolution while Jefferson was the pen.

The two men had similar ideas and during the war had spent time together in France and both were overseas when the Constitution was written and ratified.

When they returned John Adams became George Washington’s Vice President and Thomas Jefferson served as Secretary of State.

However, Thomas Jefferson resigned from Washington’s cabinet after various disagreements with Alexander Hamilton.

By 1796, John Adams was a Federalist by accident. While he supported many of the same policies of the Federalists he did not like Hamilton.

Thomas Jefferson opposed everything that Hamilton stood for and by default, John Adams became an easy target for the Democratic-Republicans.

Fact 2: Thomas Pinckney Almost Beat John Adams

Alexander Hamilton did not want to support John Adams and convinced electors in the south to support Thomas Pinckney rather than Adams.

When news of this leaked out it rallied New England support for John Adams.

George Washington then publicly supported John Adams and Hamilton’s plan failed.

This would also cause a further division between Adams and Hamilton.

Fact 3: Personal Attacks Happened in 1796 Too

The biggest fallacy folks have is that elections are dirty now but that they were not back then and that is not true.

During the election, the Democratic-Republicans accused John Adams of wanting to be king. This was especially offensive to Adams because Jefferson and Adams worked together for independence and both fought against tyranny. The accusation was baseless and sickening.

However, John Adams’ supporters fired their own attacks against Thomas Jefferson and accused him of demagoguery. This meant that Jefferson’s arguments were not how he really felt but that he used them in order to attain power.

Fact 4: The Second Place Winner became Vice President

Presidential Election of 1796

John Adams won by 3 electoral votes, just edging out Thomas Jefferson 71 – 68.

Thomas Pinckney finished 3rd with 59 electoral votes.

Despite Jefferson’s opposition to John Adams’ policies, he was now Adams Vice President. The two disagreed and their friendship ended by the next election.

John Adams was hated by Hamilton and his second in command was Jefferson who was head of the opposing party. He never had a chance to win the Election of 1800.

Fact 5: The Transition of Power was Completed Successfully

Despite a hard election and the many personal attacks, the two men accepted the results of the election.

John Adams delivered his inauguration and shook Washington’s hand. George Washington is quoted as saying, “I am fairly out, and you are fairly in. See which of us will be the happiest.”

The Adams Presidency would be full of conflict, backstabbing, and controversy.

George Washington returned home and did what he loved for the remainder of his life, tend to his farm at Mount Vernon.

It looks as if he was right.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.