1820 United States presidential election

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1820 United States presidential election

← 1816 November 1 – December 6, 1820 1824 →

All 232 electoral votes of the Electoral College
117 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout 10.1%[1] Decrease 6.8 pp
Nominee James Monroe
Party Democratic-Republican
Home state Virginia
Running mate Daniel D. Tompkins
Electoral vote 231
States carried 24
Popular vote 87,343
Percentage 80.6%

Template:United States presidential election, 1820 imagemap
Presidential election results map. Green denotes states won by Monroe, light green denotes New Hampshire elector William Plumer's vote for John Quincy Adams. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state. Missouri's statehood status and subsequent electoral votes disputed.

President before election

James Monroe

Elected President

James Monroe

The 1820 United States presidential election was the ninth quadrennial presidential election. It was held from Wednesday, November 1, to Wednesday, December 6, 1820. Taking place at the height of the Era of Good Feelings, the election saw incumbent Democratic-Republican President James Monroe win re-election without a major opponent. It was the third and last United States presidential election in which a presidential candidate ran effectively unopposed. It was also the last election of a president from the Revolutionary generation.

Monroe and Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins faced no opposition from other Democratic-Republicans in their quest for a second term. The Federalist Party had fielded a presidential candidate in each election since 1796, but the party's already-waning popularity had declined further following the War of 1812. Although able to field a nominee for vice president, the Federalists could not put forward a presidential candidate, leaving Monroe without organized opposition.

Monroe won every state and received all but one of the electoral votes. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams received the only other electoral vote, which came from faithless elector William Plumer. Four different Federalists received electoral votes for vice president, but Tompkins won re-election by a large margin. No other post-Twelfth Amendment presidential candidate has matched Monroe's share of the electoral vote, and Monroe and George Washington remain the only presidential candidates to run without any major opposition. Monroe's victory was the last of six straight victories by Virginians in presidential elections (Jefferson twice, Madison twice, and Monroe twice).


Despite the continuation of single party politics (known in this case as the Era of Good Feelings), serious issues emerged during the election in 1820. The nation had endured a widespread depression following the Panic of 1819 and momentous disagreement about the extension of slavery into the territories was taking center stage. Nevertheless, James Monroe faced no opposition party or candidate in his re-election bid, although he did not receive quite all of the electoral votes (see below).

Massachusetts was entitled to 22 electoral votes four years earlier, but cast only 15 in 1820. The decrease was brought about by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which made the region of Maine—long part of Massachusetts—a free state to balance the pending admission of slave state Missouri.

Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Mississippi each cast one fewer electoral vote than they were entitled to, on account of one elector from each state dying before the electoral meeting. This explains the anomaly of Mississippi casting only two votes, when any state is always entitled to a minimum of three.

Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama and Missouri participated in their first presidential election in 1820, Missouri with controversy, since it was not yet officially a state (see below). No new states would participate in American presidential elections until 1836, after the admission to the Union of Arkansas in 1836 and Michigan in 1837 (after the main voting, but before the counting of the electoral vote in Congress).[2]


Democratic-Republican Party nomination

Democratic-Republican Party
Democratic-Republican Party Ticket, 1820
James Monroe Daniel D. Tompkins
for President for Vice President
James Monroe Portrait.jpg
Error creating thumbnail: File missing
President of the United States
Vice President of the United States

Since President Monroe's re-nomination was never in doubt, few Republicans bothered to attend the nominating caucus in April 1820. Only 40 delegates attended, with few or no delegates from the large states of Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Rather than name the president with only a handful of votes, the caucus declined to make a formal nomination. Richard M. Johnson offered the following resolution: "It is inexpedient, at this time, to proceed to the nomination of persons for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States." After debate, the resolution was unanimously adopted, and the meeting adjourned. President Monroe and Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins thus became de facto candidates for re-election.

In the run-up to the caucus, Tompkins made another run for his former post of Governor of New York, leading to potential replacements being informally discussed among the party leadership. The matter was ultimately rendered moot when Tompkins lost the election shortly before the nominating caucus took place, and though some within the party remained dissatisfied with Tompkins' performance as Vice President, the role was not considered important enough to be worth a formal nomination process after his ability to continue in the office was confirmed.

Informal Ballot
Presidential Ballot Vice Presidential Ballot
James Monroe 40 Daniel D. Tompkins 40

General election


Effectively there was no campaign, since there was no serious opposition to Monroe and Tompkins.


On March 9, 1820, Congress had passed a law directing Missouri to hold a convention to form a constitution and a state government. This law stated that "the said state, when formed, shall be admitted into the Union, upon an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatsoever."[3] However, when Congress reconvened in November 1820, the admission of Missouri became an issue of contention. Proponents claimed that Missouri had fulfilled the conditions of the law and therefore was a state; detractors contended that certain provisions of the Missouri Constitution violated the United States Constitution.

By the time Congress was due to meet to count the electoral votes from the election, this dispute had lasted over two months. The counting raised a ticklish problem: if Congress counted Missouri's votes, that would count as recognition that Missouri was a state; on the other hand, if Congress failed to count Missouri's vote, it would count as recognition that Missouri was not a state. Knowing ahead of time that Monroe had won in a landslide and that Missouri's vote would therefore make no difference in the final result, the Senate passed a resolution on February 13, 1821 stating that if a protest were made, there would be no consideration of the matter unless the vote of Missouri would change who would become president. Instead, the President of the Senate would announce the final tally twice, once with Missouri included and once with it excluded.[4]

The next day this resolution was introduced in the full House. After a lively debate, it was passed. Nonetheless, during the counting of the electoral votes on February 14, 1821, an objection was raised to the votes from Missouri by Representative Arthur Livermore of New Hampshire. He argued that since Missouri had not yet officially become a state, it had no right to cast any electoral votes. Immediately, Representative John Floyd of Virginia argued that Missouri's votes must be counted. Chaos ensued, and order was restored only with the counting of the vote as per the resolution and then adjournment for the day.[5]


Popular vote

The Federalists received a small amount of the popular vote despite having no electoral candidates. Even in Massachusetts, where the Federalist slate of electors was victorious, the electors cast all of their votes for Monroe. This was the first election in which the Democratic-Republicans won in Connecticut and Delaware.

Presidential Candidate Party Home State Popular Vote(a) Electoral Vote
Count Percentage
James Monroe (incumbent) Democratic-Republican Virginia 87,343 80.61% 228/231(c)
No candidate Federalist N/A 17,465 16.12% 0
DeWitt Clinton Democratic-Republican New York 1,893 1.75% 0
John Quincy Adams Democratic-Republican Massachusetts (b) (b) 1
Unpledged electors None N/A 1,658 1.53% 0
Total 108,359 100.0% 229/232(c)
Needed to win 115/117(c)

Source (Electoral Vote): "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved July 30, 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Source (Popular Vote): A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1825[6]

(a) Only 15 of the 24 states chose electors by popular vote.
(b) Adams received his vote from a faithless elector.
(c) There was a dispute as to whether Missouri's electoral votes were valid, due to the timing of its assumption of statehood. The first figure excludes Missouri's votes and the second figure includes them.

Electoral vote

Results by county explicitly indicating the percentage of the winning candidate in each county. Shades of blue are for Monroe (Democratic-Republican), shades of yellow are for the Federalist Party, shades of green are for alternative Democratic-Republican candidates, and shades of reds are for various other candidates.

The sole electoral vote against Monroe came from William Plumer, an elector from New Hampshire and former United States senator and New Hampshire governor. Plumer cast his electoral ballot for Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. While legend has it this was to ensure that George Washington would remain the only American president unanimously chosen by the Electoral College, that was not Plumer's goal. In fact, Plumer simply thought that Monroe was a mediocre president and that Adams would be a better one.[7] Plumer also refused to vote for Tompkins for Vice President as "grossly intemperate", not having "that weight of character which his office requires," and "because he grossly neglected his duty" in his "only" official role as President of the Senate by being "absent nearly three-fourths of the time";[8] Plumer instead voted for Richard Rush.

Even though every member of the Electoral College was pledged to Monroe, there were still a number of Federalist electors who voted for a Federalist vice president rather than Monroe's running mate Daniel D. Tompkins. The votes for Richard Stockton came from Massachusetts. The entire Delaware delegation voted for Daniel Rodney for Vice President. Finally, Robert Goodloe Harper's vice presidential vote was cast by an elector from his home state of Maryland. These breaks in ranks were not enough to deny Tompkins a substantial electoral victory.

Monroe's share of the share of the electoral vote has not been exceeded by any more recent candidate, with the closest competition coming from Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1936 re-election campaign. Only Washington, who won the vote of each presidential elector in the 1789 and 1792 presidential elections, can claim to have swept the Electoral College. Washington's campaigns took place prior to the 1804 ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, which instituted the current system in which each member of the Electoral College casts one vote for president and one vote for vice president. Under the original system, each elector cast two votes, with no distinction made between the electoral votes for president and the electoral votes for vice president. Thus, in both of his campaigns, Washington won the maximum number of electoral votes any individual could receive, but only half of the electoral votes that were cast.

Vice Presidential Candidate Party State Electoral Vote
Daniel D. Tompkins Democratic-Republican New York 215/218(a)
Richard Stockton Federalist New Jersey 8(b)
Daniel Rodney Federalist Delaware 4(b)
Robert Goodloe Harper Federalist Maryland 1(b)
Richard Rush Federalist Pennsylvania 1(b)
Total 229/232(a)
Needed to win 115/117(a)

Source: "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved July 30, 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

(a) There was a dispute over the validity of Missouri's electoral votes, due to the timing of its assumption of statehood. The first figure excludes Missouri's votes and the second figure includes them.
(b) These votes are from electors who voted for a Federalist vice president rather than Monroe's running mate Daniel D. Tompkins; combined, these votes represent only 5.6% of the electoral vote.

Popular vote
No candidate
Unpledged electors
Electoral vote—President
Unpledged electors
Electoral vote—Vice President
Unpledged electors

Electoral college selection

Method of choosing Electors State(s)
Each Elector appointed by state legislature Alabama
New York
South Carolina
Each Elector chosen by voters statewide Connecticut
New Hampshire
New Jersey
North Carolina
Rhode Island
State divided into electoral districts, with one Elector
chosen per district by the voters of that district
Two Electors chosen by voters statewide and one Elector
chosen per Congressional district by the voters of that district

See also


  1. "National General Election VEP Turnout Rates, 1789-Present". United States Election Project. CQ Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Election of 1820
  3. United States Congress (1820). United States Statutes at Large. Act of March 6, ch. 23, vol. 3. pp. 545–548. Retrieved August 9, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. United States Congress (1821). Senate Journal. 16th Congress, 2nd Session, February 13. pp. 187–188. Retrieved July 29, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Annals of Congress. 16th Congress, 2nd Session, February 14, 1821. Gales and Seaton. 1856. pp. 1147–1165. Retrieved July 29, 2006.CS1 maint: others (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. http://elections.lib.tufts.edu/catalog?commit=Limit&f%5Belection_type_sim%5D%5B%5D=General&f%5Boffice_id_ssim%5D%5B%5D=ON056&page=2&q=1820&range%5Bdate_sim%5D%5Bbegin%5D=1820&range%5Bdate_sim%5D%5Bend%5D=1820&search_field=all_fields&utf8=%E2%9C%93
  7. Turner (1955) p 253
  8. "Daniel D. Tompkins, 6th Vice President (1817-1825)" United States Senate web site.


External links

Template:State results of the 1820 U.S. presidential election