It was chaos.
In our 10th Presidential election, no candidate won a majority of the electoral college vote. In such a situation, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution governs what happens next: when no single candidate gets a majority of the electoral college vote, the election of the President is thrown into the House of Representative, who choose from the top 3 electoral candidates in a single vote. That’s exactly what happened 192 years ago.
We think today’s politics are crazy? Here is what happened in 1824:
The # 2 political party, the Federalist Party, had effectively dissolved, leaving only the Democratic-Republican Party standing. The Democratic-Republican Party had in fact won the last 6 elections for President. Unfortunately, in 1824 the Party could not agree on a single candidate, so they fielded what were essentially 4 regional candidates: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William H Crawford & Henry Clay.
Andrew Jackson was the popular favorite, and his group would eventually become what we know today as the Democratic Party. John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay represented a group that would become the National Republican Party (which is not the same thing as today’s G.O.P.).
Andrew Jackson “won” the popular vote – though in this era, not all states even had a popular vote. Rather, some states simply empowered their state legislature to decide how their state’s electoral votes should be cast for President! Jackson did win 99 of the 261 Electoral College votes. That was the largest number won (with John Q Adams 2nd with 84) … so neither of them won a majority of the electoral votes. In this election, they would have had to have 131 votes to win the Presidency outright.
But they didn’t.
So, it was up the the House of Representatives to choose the 6th President of the United States. The Speaker of the House was Henry Clay, who finished 4th in the Electoral College vote and thus was excluded from the Top 3 that the House would choose from. Clay endorsed Adams, and that helped to swing the vote to Adams. The final House tally was Adams 87, Jackson 71 and Crawford 54. Adams was the new President, by a margin of 16 votes in the House.
Adams later appointed Clay to become Secretary of State, which was a rumored deal when Clay first endorsed Adams. Neither Adams nor Clay ever confirmed such a deal existed, but the alleged deal became known as the “Corrupt Bargain” in the press. Jackson railed against this supposed backroom deal throughout Adams’ term, and then unseated him as President in the election of 1828.
John Quincy Adams thus joined his father as the only one-term Presidents in the then-short history of our Republic.
History Repeating In 2016?
Let’s pretend the current front runners, Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton, win their parties’ nominations. However, since they both have very large negative ratings, a movement happens to bring another candidate onto the Presidential ballot in November … let’s nominate the most popular Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine (liked by 78% of her constituents!). Collins promises to nominate prominent politicians into her cabinet, perhaps choosing popular Ohio Governor John Kasich or California Governor Jerry Brown as Vice President. Trump & Clinton run a dead heat of a race, and neither wins 270 electoral votes. If Ms. Collins just won her state’s electoral votes – finishing # 3 overall in the electoral vote of the Presidential race – then the House could choose to elect her over both Trump and Clinton.
That’s not my prediction, mind you, but it could happen!