The Most Important Election in History?
Today is Election Day, and both President Trump and his opponent, Joe Biden, have touted this as the most important election in history. It’s nice to know they both can agree on something.
Their agreement has a familiar ring to it, also, because both Trump and Clinton said the same thing, four years ago. And Obama and Romney said it in 2012. Obama and McCain proclaimed this in 2008. And, and . . . ad infinitum.
It seems these presidential fuckers try to get us so scared, each election cycle, that by election day we’re convinced our very lives, livelihoods, and liberty are on the line.
For instance, if Biden wins this election, we can expect our country to plunge into a depression, while power-hungry Democrats destroy our democracy and turn us into a totalitarian, Marxist state, controlled by China. According to Trump.
But if Trump wins, we can expect millions of Americans to die of Covid, while we lose our health care, our planet melts, and our Commander-in-Chief gives away our country to Russia. According to Biden.
I’m frickin’ shaking like a hanging chad. If only they could both lose, is my desperate wish. But after I slap myself in the face a few times to dispel my hysteria, I realize that maybe the Donald and Joe are exaggerating. Only time will tell, but this is probably not the most important election in history.
It does beg the question, though. If this doesn’t turn out to be our most important election in history, which election was?
I think a good argument can be made for the election of 1788. After all, it was our first election, and helped established precedent for all future elections. But as elections go, it was a real yawner. George Washington ran virtually unopposed, and was unanimously elected, garnering every single electoral vote.
A much more exciting year was the election of 1860. This was a 4-way contest between Abraham Lincoln, John Breckinridge, John Bell, and Stephen Douglas. Lincoln won with 40% of the popular vote, and 180 electoral votes of 152 needed. Southern states were so incensed at his victory that seven of them seceded from the Union before he could even take office. And within two months after his inauguration, four more had seceded, propelling us into a prolonged civil war.
Personally, I think the election of 1860 was our most important election in history. It’s pretty hard to top a civil war. So unless today’s election also triggers a civil war, our current exercise in voting won’t hold a candle to 1860.
As for the least important election in our history, I think we have to go back exactly 200 years, to the election of 1820. This occurred during the so-called Era of Good Feelings, in the aftermath of the War of 1812. Americans were unified, and partisan politics was at a low ebb. James Monroe ran for reelection without any major opponent, and won 80.6% of the popular vote, along with all but three possible electoral votes.
But the Era of Good Feelings met a sudden death just four years later, during the election of 1824. This was probably our most exciting election in history.
Four candidates ran a cutthroat race. 131 electoral votes were needed to win, and every candidate came up short. Andrew Jackson got the most votes, winning 41% of the popular vote, and 99 electoral votes. John Quincy Adams came in a fairly distant second, with 31% of the popular vote, and 84 electoral votes. Secretary of Treasury William H. Crawford came in third, with 11% of the popular vote, and 41 electoral votes. And sucking hind tit was Henry Clay, with 13% of the popular vote, and 37 electoral votes.
Because nobody won a majority of the electoral votes, this election had to be decided by the House of Representatives, among the top three finishers.
Henry Clay was the Speaker of the House. Since he had finished fourth, he wasn’t in the running. But as Speaker of the House, he could be a king maker. Adams allegedly made a “corrupt bargain” with Clay. Conspiracy theorists of the day alleged that Clay agreed to use his influence in the House to get Adams elected, in return for an appointment to Secretary of State. Whether that was true or not, the House did vote the second-place Adams in as president, and first-place Jackson lost.
And true to his alleged corrupt bargain, Adams appointed Clay to be his Secretary of State.
It sparked a national uproar. Jackson’s supporters were apoplectic. And the nation sympathized with Jackson, believing he’d been cheated out of the presidency.
Jackson responded by building a political apparatus that would later become known as the Democratic Party. This machine went to work on President Adams, making him as miserable as possible, and preventing him from accomplishing almost anything. And in 1828, this machine helped Jackson defeat Adams by a landslide, installing him as our seventh president.
Pundits warn we could very likely have a similar election this year, to 1824. There are many signs that the election results may be close and hotly disputed. And this could throw it to the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi seems to have it in for Trump, so who knows what would happen?
These are interesting times. I doubt this is the most important election in our history. But I would agree that it could become our most exciting.