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Charles Adams to Abigail Adams, 16 November 1796

Charles Adams to Abigail Adams

New York Novr 16. 1796

My dear Mama

I have received your two last letters that by Mr Bracket accompanied by the presents you were so kind to make us.1 The fruit though it had a very long passage is very fine there not being more than thirty unsound pairs in the whole barrel the cheese is also remarkably good and I think would deceive the most experienced Englishman—

The anxiety respecting the event of the election is very great not that they suppose that Mr Jefferson will stand any chance for President but The Federal party are apprehensive that the Eastern States by voting unanimously for Pinckney; should South Carolina split between the two candidates for the Presidency, may give a majority when no one intended it should be had. such are the apprehensions which must be excited at every election while that unfortunate part of our Constitution remains.

The friends of Mr Jefferson deal much in declamation and extravagant calculations they count six votes East of New York towit four from Massachusetts two from New Hampshire one half from Maryland the whole from Virginia Kentucky Tenessee Pennsylvania North Carolina South Carolina and Georgia by which said hopeful calculation wants nothing but accuracy to secure them their object.2 Mr Gerry say they will certainly give his vote for Jefferson. He must be very much changed if he does not say I!3 They were highly delighted when they hear Govr Adams was candidate for Elector No one said they can stand against him they were rubbing their hands and counting his vote as sure when lo!! the Boston Centinel arrived yesterday and baffled all their hopes.4 I sent the letter of my Eldelst Brother to the Governor5 I shall probably hear his remarks on it as I dine there today This I will say of it that it contains more sense than all the logic of all the Jacobins in the world Heaven preserve us from French influence and the tender mercies of their fraternal embraces is the sincere prayer of your affectionate son

Chas Adams.

Mrs Adams and your little Susan are both very well

RC (private owner, 1957); addressed: “Mrs Abigail Adams. / Quincy.”; endorsed: “Charles Adams / Novbr 16—1796”; notation: “C. Adams to his / mother Abigail Adams.”

1Letters not found.

2The system of electing a president and vice president originally established by the U.S. Constitution authorized individual state legislatures to determine the means of selecting electors for the Electoral College (Art. II, sect. 1). Various states assumed different approaches to choosing their electors. Seven states—Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Vermont—had their state legislatures appoint electors. Maryland, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia used district elections, while Pennsylvania and Tennessee held direct, popular elections. Massachusetts and New Hampshire used hybrid approaches, combining a mix of elections and appointments. For a complete summary of the electoral process by state in the 1796 election, see Tadahisa Kuroda, The Origins of the Twelfth Amendment: The Electoral College in the Early Republic, 1787–1804, Westport, Conn., 1994, p. 66–69.

Once selected, electors cast votes for president and vice president without distinction, creating a situation in which someone ostensibly put forward as a possible vice president could be elected president and vice versa. Furthermore, because the Constitution did not anticipate the rise of political parties, the president and vice president were not elected as slates. Thus a president of one party could be paired with a vice president from another, as in fact happened in 1796.

The Federalists put forth JA and Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina as their presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively, while the Democratic-Republicans supported Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. But due to the nature of the process, Republicans attempted to undermine JA’s election by casting votes for Pinckney, while Federalists did the same to Jefferson with votes for Burr. Likewise, both parties attempted to protect JA and Jefferson, respectively, as their top vote-getting candidate by “wasting” votes on secondary candidates.

JA won the first contested presidential election under the U.S. Constitution with 71 electoral votes—9 from Connecticut, 3 from Delaware, 7 from Maryland, 16 from Massachusetts, 6 from New Hampshire, 7 from New Jersey, 12 from New York, 1 from North Carolina, 1 from Pennsylvania, 4 from Rhode Island, 4 from Vermont, and 1 from Virginia. Jefferson received 68 votes, with 4 from Georgia, 4 from Kentucky, 4 from Maryland, 11 from North Carolina, 14 from Pennsylvania, 8 from South Carolina, 3 from Tennessee, and 20 from Virginia. Pinckney received 59 votes, while Burr earned 30. Various other candidates, including Samuel Adams, Oliver Ellsworth, George Clinton, and John Jay, also received votes, primarily in attempts to insure that the two vice presidential candidates, Pinckney and Burr, did not end up receiving more votes than those intended for the top position.

Voting had to take place by 7 December. The official results of the election would not be revealed until 8 Feb. 1797, when JA, as president of the Senate, had the ultimate if awkward responsibility of publicly counting the electoral votes and formally pronouncing his own election to the presidency. Still, rough vote totals were widely reported well before then, and by the third week in Dec. 1796, both JA and AA had accepted his election as a foregone conclusion (Annals of Congress, description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States [1789–1824], Washington, D.C., 1834–1856; 42 vols. description ends 4th Cong., 2d sess., p. 2095–2098; Kuroda, Origins of the Twelfth Amendment, p. 63–72).

3For Elbridge Gerry’s support of JA while serving as an elector, see AA to JA, 31 Dec., and note 3, below.

4On 9 Nov. the Boston Columbian Centinel reported that Boston voters had chosen Thomas Dawes to be their elector with 1,428 votes to the 975 votes tallied by Gov. Samuel Adams. This news was first reprinted on 16 Nov. in the New York Daily Advertiser and Herald.

5CA is possibly referring to JQA’s letter to JA of 13 Aug. (Adams Papers), which JA received in New York while visiting CA (JA to AA, 7 Dec., and note 1, below).

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