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United States Presidential Election, 1788-89 (An Unfortunate King)

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United States presidential election, 1788-89
December 15, 1788 – January 10, 1789
427px-John Hancock 1770-crop George Clinton by Ezra Ames
Nominee John Hancock George Clinton
Party Federalist Anti-Federalist
Home state Massachusetts New York
Electoral vote 69 27
States carried 9 5
Popular vote 30,556 13,222
Percentage 69.8% 30.2%
An Unfortunate King, US Presidential Election 1788-89 Map
Brown denotes states won by Hancock; Green denotes states won by Clinton
President before election
Elected President
John Hancock

The United States presidential election of 1788–89 was the first quadrennial presidential election. It was held from Monday, December 15, 1788 to Saturday, January 10, 1789. It was the first presidential election in the United States of America under the new United States Constitution, which was adopted on September 17, 1787, and the only election ever to take place partially in a year that is not a multiple of four. In this election, John Hancock was elected for the first of his two terms as president, and George Clinton became the first vice-president.

Before this election, the United States had no chief executive. Under the previous system agreed to under Articles of Confederation, the national government was headed by the Confederation Congress, which had a ceremonial presiding officer and several executive departments, but no independent executive branch.

The enormously popular Hancock essentially won by a landslide. The only real issue to be decided was who would be chosen as vice-president. Under the system then in place, each elector cast votes for two persons; if a person received a vote from a majority of the electors, that person became president, and the runner-up became vice-president. All 69 electors cast one vote each for Washington. Their other votes were divided among eleven other candidates; George Clinton received the most, becoming vice-president. The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, would change this procedure, requiring each elector to cast distinct votes for president and vice-president.


No political parties existed at the time of the 1788–89 presidential election. Candidates were either Federalists, meaning they supported the ratification of the Constitution, or Anti-Federalists, meaning they opposed ratification. These groups were not established political parties, however, and were united in supporting Hancock for president.

Many suspected George Washington to run for presidency, as the popular war hero had become a national icon and a symbol for the young country. His decline of the position to run put John Hancock in the top running to become president, even in his old age.

Federalist candidates

  • John Adams, former ambassador to Great Britain from Massachusetts
  • John Jay, United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs from New York
  • John Rutledge, former Governor of South Carolina
  • John Hancock, Governor of Massachusetts
  • Samuel Huntington, Governor of Connecticut
  • Benjamin Lincoln, former U.S. Secretary of War from Massachusetts

Anti-Federalist candidates

  • George Clinton, Governor of New York

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