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1820 U.S. Presidential Election: The Last President Who Ran Unopposed, James Monroe

1800s | November 11, 2020

Portrait of James Monroe circa 1819. (Samuel Morse/Wikimedia Commons)

What's the most amount of electoral votes ever gotten? Is it possible to receive all the electoral votes? James Monroe came the closest with 228 (after the unanimously elected George Washington, who obviously doesn't count), but even though he was the last president to run unopposed, not even he could catch 'em all.

The Era Of Good Feelings

In 1820, America was still in its golden years of the Era of Good Feelings, a time when Americans were unified after the War of 1812. The Federalist Party was on its last legs, and the Democratic-Republican Party, which championed American exceptionalism and expansion, seemed to be unstoppable. Four years earlier, James Monroe whooped Rufus King so hard in the presidential election that the Federalists didn't even bother to nominate anyone for the 1820 election, and it's easy to see why: Monroe's initial stint in the White House was one of nearly complete political bliss. As the Federalist Party melted from existence, Monroe could have easily ignored everyone from that group, but he chose to take on appointments regardless of party lines. He spoke to the common people, he listened, and most importantly, he maintained the status quo.

Monroe did such a stellar job of leading the country that there wasn't really a need for Democratic-Republican nomination caucus, but 40 delegates still made a show of attending, if only to look at each other and go, "So it's Monroe and Tompkins, right?" "Yeah, yeah, for sure, Monroe and Tompkins."As popular as Monroe was, though, his V.P. was almost replaced prior to the caucus. Daniel D. Tompkins hadn't performed spectacularly and began campaigning for governor of New York, but luckily (or not, depending on your perspective), he lost. Rather than nominate a new vice presidential candidate, the caucus just decided to leave Tompkins on after he lost the state election.

Flag of Missouri. (Marie Watkins Oliver/Wikimedia Commons)

The (Other) Missouri Compromise

Monroe didn't have to campaign, but it wasn't smooth sailing. Even with a second term all but assured, there was a question of how to dole out the electoral votes. In November 1820, Congress disagreed over whether or not Missouri could be admitted to the union due to their state constitution violating the United States Constitution.

Monroe receiving Missouri's electoral votes was basically a done deal, but if Congress allowed Missouri's votes to go through, they would in essence be giving Missouri statehood with an unconstitutional state constitution. Missouri only had two electoral votes, but it was deemed necessary that they be cast for Monroe. Rather than make them a true blue state, it was agreed that their electoral votes would be cast but Missouri wouldn't gain statehood for nearly a year.

Copy of portrait daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States. (National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)

A Lone Dissenter

Even though Monroe ran unopposed, he only received 80% of the vote. The Federalists, who failed to run a candidate, received 16% of the popular vote, although it didn't help them any with the electoral college. Meanwhile, New Hampshire's William Plumer refused to cast the state's single vote for the president, opting instead for Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Plumer, who wasn't nearly as impressed with Monroe's first term as everyone else, announced that his vote was a "protest against the wasteful extravagance of the Monroe Administration."

Even with this one dissenting vote, however, James Monroe's election earned him more electoral votes than any candidate that's ever followed. The only person who has even come close was F.D.R. in 1936, with 523 to Alf Landon's eight.

Tags: 1800s | American presidents | political campaigns

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.