The 1796 presidential election was the third presidential election for the United States. George Washington, who served as the first President of the United States for two terms, declined to seek reelection for a third term, setting the precedent for the two-term limit we have today. Instead, Washington’s vice president, John Adams, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson were the two major contenders running in the 1796 election. The election of 1796 marked the only presidential election in which the president and vice president came from two opposing political parties.
Adams ran as the candidate for the Federalist Party, and Jefferson was the Democratic-Republican nominee. John Adams won the presidential election with seventy-one electoral votes to become the second president of the United States, while Thomas Jefferson, with sixty-eight electoral votes, became the new vice president. The other candidates in the race were Thomas Pinckney, Aaron Burr, Samuel Adams, Oliver Ellsworth and George Clinton.
The election of 1796 is remembered for a few significant factors. The election marked the start of the real competition. While George Washington had been unanimously selected for both his terms, the third presidential election saw two candidates vying for the office. During the campaigns, an intense rivalry grew between the parties of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Then there was the odd electoral behavior, when two of the pro-Federalist electors voted for Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican. This may have been caused by a plot devised by Alexander Hamilton, who had intended for Pinckney to become president instead of Adams, though the plan backfired entirely. Under the 1796 electoral system, each voting elector was allowed to cast two votes for two different candidates. The candidate with maximum number of votes was elected as the President of the United States and the runner up was elected as Vice President.
Each state had its own set of methods of nominating electors. For example, the state legislature appointed the electors in States like New Jersey, New York and South Carolina, while in states like Georgia and Pennsylvania, there were chosen by the voters. In this election, some electors chose to cast one vote for Adams, but gave the second vote to one of the many other candidates instead of Pinckney. Thomas Jefferson was thus able to secure the title of Vice President.
The detailed results of 1796 US Election are provided below: