On January 7, 1789, the United States held its very first presidential election. Across the country, voters cast their ballots for electors who then voted for the first president of the young nation. Only white men who owned property could vote at that time.
To no one's surprise, George Washington won the election. He had been the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution where he led the army against the British to gain independence. Many people thought it only fitting that this leader should then lead the newly formed country he helped to liberate. Washington also served as president of the Constitutional Convention, which drafted the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Constitution established the Electoral College system, which was the system used to elect Washington. It is still the system used to elect the President and Vice President today. The Electoral College is a system in which each U.S. state is given a certain number of voting representatives to cast ballots during an election.
The number of electors has varied throughout U.S. history but today there are a total of 538 electors divided up between the states. This number comes from there being 435 representatives and 100 senators in U.S. government, plus the three electors from the District of Columbia. States with smaller populations hold fewer electoral votes than states with larger populations. For example, California has 55 electoral votes, while Idaho has just four. George Washington remains the only president to have received 100% of the electoral votes.
To this day, the President and Vice President are the only elected federal officials chosen by the Electoral College instead of by direct popular vote, where the candidate that receives the most votes wins. There is much criticism and controversy surrounding this system of electing the President, but it has been a tradition for exactly 223 years today!
You can learn more about the Electoral College and what Americans think about it here.
After he was elected on January 7th, George Washington was sworn into office in New York on April 30, 1789, where he served as the first President of the United States until March 4, 1797.
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Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.