Today In History: America’s First Presidential Election – January 7, 1789
Two hundred and twenty four years ago today, on January 7, 1789, Americans went to the polls to elect the first President of the United States. The results came as no surprise: General George Washington was elected in a landslide after he previously turned down an offer to become the first King of the United States.
It is hard to imagine what might have transpired if General Washington had not been a strong supporter of the Republic adopted at the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787. Thankfully, our first President was a firm believer in Democracy and he had no desire to become a king.
Although our first Presidential election followed the principals we still use today, including the Electoral College, much has changed since 1789. When George Washington ran for President, only land owning white males were permitted to vote, women were more than a century away from achieving suffrage and non-whites were still considered to be only three-fifths of a human being.
The concept of a non-white person being less than a full human being is defined in the Three-Fifths Compromise found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution. The issue of defining a human being’s value arouse from an argument over how to apportion taxes and government representatives.
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
Many modern historians and experts in constitutional law site this highly controversial Article of the Constitution whenever they mount an attack on our founding document; declaring the Constitution to be out of date and out of touch with modern society. Just recently, a liberal constitutional law professor from Georgetown University, Louis Michael Seidman, published an op-ed in the NY Times titled “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution.”
In his attack on the Constitution, Seidman savagely denounced the founding fathers:
“A group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves…”
While there are very few sane living Americans who would even begin to agree with the concept that only land owning white males should be allowed to vote, we must admit our nation has come a long way from the days of the late 18th century. Whatever his failings, George Washington was a visionary genius without whom this nation would never have been established.
The Founding Fathers understood the flaws of human nature; probably a great deal better than the Louis Seidman’s of the world ever will and they helped to build the greatest nation on this earth. They also understood the Constitution was the foundation of America’s house and it would be up to future generations to build on that foundation by amending and correcting the mistakes of the past.
The process of ratifying a proposed amendment is quite complicated. Amendments must first be approved by a two-thirds majority of both Houses Of Congress and then by three-quarters of the nation’s State Legislatures; thus avoiding much of the waste, frivolity, and partisan nonsense that has become so common in today’s politics.
Our government is not perfect, but despite our failings, we are still the freest nation on earth, and we can always reflect with pride on January 7, 1789, when a modest man named General George Washington was elected the first President of the United States of America. We salute your memory, General Washington and may our flag of freedom always fly high over this great nation and for each and every American.