QUESTION: Was a presidential election ever decided by one electoral vote?

Rutherford B. Hayes


ANSWER: It has happened three times. The first was the 1800 election, which revealed a serious flaw in the US Constitution. Thomas Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes.
The original wording of the Constitution didn’t distinguish between electoral votes for president and vice president, so the decision had to be made in the House of Representatives where each state had one vote.
The voting went on for several days, and in the first 35 ballots, Jefferson had the support of 8 states while Burr had 6. 9 states were needed to win and Jefferson obtained that on the 36th ballot. He would be the next president and Aaron Burr was declared vice president.
The dispute led to ratification of the 12th Amendment, which changed the way the electoral college functioned. The only time the amendment was used was 1824.
That year Andrew Jackson received a plurality, but not a majority, of electoral votes cast. Jackson received 99 electoral votes, John Quincy Adams 84, William H. Crawford 41 and Henry Clay 37.
All the candidates were members of the same party and each had fallen short of the 131 votes necessary to win. The election was again thrown to the House.
According to the 12th Amendment, the House had to choose the president out of the top 3 candidates. This meant Clay was eliminated and he endorsed Adams.
Crawford’s poor health following a stroke made his election unlikely. Because Adams later named Clay his Secretary of State, Jackson’s supporters claimed there was a “corrupt bargain.”
It came down to the vote of single representative from upstate New York, Stephen van Rensselaer III, the founder of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Once again, each state was given one-vote, and Adams had the support of twelve states, one short of what was needed.
When Congressman van Rensselaer entered the Chamber that day, he was ushered into the office of Speaker Henry Clay, who along with Daniel Webster tried to persuade him to vote for Adams. They were unsuccessful, but the combination of the best persuaders in American history may have had an effect.
Before voting, van Rensselaer bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes the first thing he saw on the floor was a slip of paper with Adams’ name on it. Accepting it is a sign from God, he put the slip into the ballot box. Adams carried New York by one vote, and it was the final state needed for his election.
The election of 1876 saw the highest voter turnout in U.S. history, a whopping 82 percent. The nation was enduring a severe depression. Because of the economy, Democrats won a 74 seat majority in the House during the 1874 off year election, but the GOP would reduced that to just 9 seats two years later.
Gov. Samuel Tilden (D-NY) won the popular vote, and Gov. Rutherford B. Hayes (R-OH) initially conceded.
Then the electoral votes in three states were disputed. A single electoral vote decided the outcome in Hayes’ favor. A Democratic-controlled Congress had admitted Colorado in time to participate in the presidential election, when without its votes, Tilden would have won.
The story is told in “By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876” by Michael Holt

Trivia Question: The Presidential Candidate Who Did Not Know His Running Mate

The book “Game Change” will be released on Tuesday and it reveals that Joe Biden had never heard of Sarah Palin when she was selected as the GOP candidate. That is not unprecedented. When Republicans selected future President Rutherford B. Hayes he promised the New York delegation they could pick the vice presidential candidate. The Empire State had a crucial role in nominating Hayes, and it was the most powerful delegation at the GOP Convention.
The NY Republican Party of 1876 was divided into two warring factions, and it was necessary to find a relative unknown on whom both factions could agree. Hayes went to sleep and his running mate was nominated by acclamation the next morning. When Hayes was informed the selection was William A. Wheeler, he replied “I am ashamed to say this, but who is Wheeler?”
He was a NY Congressman who was an early champion of civil rights, and his honesty and integrity were praised in John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage.” Unlike many who have served as President and Vice President, Hayes and Wheeler developed a close friendship during the White House years. Hayes later wrote, Wheeler “was one of the few Vice Presidents who were on cordial terms, intimate and friendly, with the President. Our family was heartily fond of him.”

What is Special About the President's Desk?

President Kennedy, working late at his White House office, wears a slight smile on his face, indicating perhaps he is not completely unaware that his son, John Jr., is exploring under his desk in the Oval Office in the White House in 1963. John Jr. called the spot under the desk "my house" and was peeking from behind the "secret door." (AP Photo/Look Magazine, Stanley Tretick, File)
President Obama uses the HMS Resolute desk in the Oval Office. It was a present from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford Hayes in 1880. Every president since Hayes, except Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, has used the desk. It was on display in the Smithsonian from 1964 to 1977. Most presidents had the desk placed in either their study, the Treaty Room, or the Yellow Oval Room. The first president to move the Resolute desk to the Oval office was John F. Kennedy, and replicas can now be found in the JFK, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton presidential libraries.