Prior to the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1804, each elector was able to cast two votes for two different presidential candidates. The candidate that received the highest number of votes, provided that number was at least half of the total number of electors, became president. The runner up would become the vice president. This model required that the winning candidate have a substantial amount of public support, and also encouraged compromise between opponents, since they would have to work together.
The 1789 presidential election was unusual in that the founding fathers and framers of the Constitution were all in agreement that George Washington should be the first president, and the vote was mostly a formality. As the first presidential election, the nomination process for presidential candidates was much less complex and less formal than today's primary process. George Washington had demonstrated his leadership abilities as commander in chief of the Continental Army and later as the president of the Constitutional Convention. He was unanimously promoted to both of these roles as well. Once Washington decided to come out of retirement to run for president, he had the support of all the others.
The choice of John Adams as the vice president was also unanimous, although the electors decided to split the votes, to stop Adams from ending up with a number of votes that would tie Washington. Alexander Hamilton devised this scheme that would ensure Washington's win. Electoral votes were given to a total of twelve contenders for the presidency of the United States. The other candidates - John Jay, Robert Harrison, John Rutledge, John Hancock, George Clinton, Samuel Huntington, John Milton, James Armstrong, Edward Telfair, and Benjamin Lincoln - each received at least one electoral vote.
Only ten of the original thirteen states participated as voters in the 1789 presidential election. Rhode Island and North Carolina were not allowed to cast their votes, because they had not yet ratified the Constitution. New York legislature failed to submit its electoral votes on time, due to internal disagreement, and was barred from participating in the election. Vermont was, at the time, an unrecognized state. Every elector cast one vote for George Washington, and their second vote was given to another candidate according to the plan. George Washington won with sixty-nine electoral votes, and John Adams came in second place to win the vice presidential seat with thirty-four votes. George Washington won 100 percent of the popular vote.
The electoral votes were divided as follows:
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