George Washington was twice elected to the presidency, both times unanimously. He remains the only person to take the office who, all other things being equal, probably would have been happier doing something else, most likely enjoying his absurdly massive Mount Vernon estate. By the time of his death Washington owned an estimated 8,000 acres of farmland, which is equivalent to 12.5 square miles—or a little more than half the entire island of Manhattan.
Indeed, there’s something wonderful about the fact that our first Commander-in-Chief, who easily could have attempted to install himself as a king, instead showed no particular lust for power beyond a desire to get his ludicrously thorough expense reports paid. On July 4, 1776, America signed the Declaration of Independence and George Washington carefully recorded that he had purchased a broom.
Of course, everyone since Washington has desperately wanted the gig. Often America settles on a pretty decisive winner, but there are times it’s close. Indeed, so close that one candidate wins the popular vote while the other takes the Electoral College and the election. There is a very real chance that will occur in 2016, leaving a large number of American voters feeling deeply disenfranchised. With this election’s outcome particularly uncertain—great work again, FBI Director James Comey—here are the four previous times the winner didn’t actually win the vote and the generally depressing things that followed.
Legend has it Mrs. Cleveland even gathered the White House staff before moving out and, in a wonderful bit of historical trash talk, reminded them that she wanted to see everything exactly where it was when she came back in four years.
Election of 1824: The Corrupt Bargain
What Happened: A bizarre race that saw four legitimate candidates competing in the general election threw the choice to the House of Representatives where, in a situation with absolutely zero parallels to the present day, a wealthy hotheaded outsider who styled himself the champion of the common American faced off with a former Secretary of State who had a family member who’d already served as president and, despite much government experience, was often politically tone deaf. Even though Andrew Jackson got the most popular and electoral votes, John Quincy Adams won largely due to the support of Henry Clay and promptly made Clay Secretary of State, inspiring an enraged Jackson to attack the “Corrupt Bargain.” (Again, no historical parallels to see here: Please disperse.)
Its Legacy: Clay always insisted there was no quip pro quo: He simply felt more secure with Adams instead of Jackson. Jackson easily defeated Adams in 1828 and almost immediately confirmed Clay’s fears when during the inauguration his jubilant supporters destroyed the White House.
Election of 1876: Rutherfraud B. Hayes
What Happened: For the first time since Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860 and the Civil War, it appeared a Democrat would take power. Samuel Tilden easily won the popular vote and appeared to have won the Electoral College as well, except 20 votes were still in dispute. Hayes wound up getting them all, giving him a 185 to 184 victory through the Compromise of 1877. But the Democrats didn’t particularly mind because…
Its Legacy: All federal troops were withdrawn from the South. This meant consolidated Democratic power in the region. It also meant consolidated white power in the region. The Confederacy didn’t quite rise again and reinstate slavery, but it had horrific consequences for black Americans for generations to come, while Hayes served one largely forgettable term and went back to Ohio.
Election of 1888: Déjà Vu All Over Again
What Happened: To create our only non-consecutive president, somebody had to get in the middle of a Grover Cleveland sandwich. That somebody was Benjamin Harrison. “Little Ben” lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College largely through fraud, making him the second Harrison to reach the presidency. His grandfather William Henry had also served, though only for a month—his presidency consisted of delivering an inaugural address that lasted nearly a crushing two hours, catching a cold and dying.
Its Legacy: Incredibly, it can be argued Little Ben had a less successful presidency than his grandfather, who at least set records for longest inaugural address and shortest time in office. States cracked down on voting irregularities, ensuring Cleveland would get that second term. Harrison’s wife died of tuberculosis shortly before the 1892 election, with the result the grieving Harrison had in many ways vanished from the national scene even before his defeat. Indeed, Harrison was in many ways just a placeholder for Grover’s return: Legend has it Mrs. Cleveland even gathered the White House staff before moving out and, in a wonderful bit of historical trash talk, reminded them that she wanted to see everything exactly where it was when she came back in four years.
Election of 2000: Who Won This Thing?
What Happened: The winner of the popular vote was Al Gore. The winner of the Electoral College was… uh… well, it took a while to figure that out, with Florida again proving themselves America’s favorite dysfunctional uncle and, in the least impressive mandate ever, George W. Bush being handed the presidency by a single vote in an incredibly controversial Supreme Court decision. (Even then the Court seemed to realize how strange their actions were, ruling that their decision could not be used as historical precedent.)
Its Legacy: After 9/11, America rallied behind Dubya. He was reelected in 2004 (again with a fair amount of controversy) and his guru Karl Rove even predicted a permanent Republican majority. This proved incorrect after the “heckuva job” on Hurricane Katrina, Iraq slipping into chaos, and the economy collapsing. Bush had a messy falling out with his own Vice President. This campaign, Trump viciously mocked both Dubya and his “low-energy” brother Jeb on the way to the nomination. Meanwhile Al Gore has won a Nobel Prize, an Oscar and now has a net worth of $200 million, suggesting this year’s loser has some good times ahead…