These Are the Most Controversial Presidential Elections in American History

The United States has held 56 presidential elections to date. Some you’ve heard about, some you haven’t. When you think of controversial elections the most recent ones likely come to mind, but the United States has been having contentious presidential elections since, well, the beginning.

Keep reading to learn about the most disputed, argumentative, dubious, contentious presidential elections in our country’s history. Perhaps the most recent one won’t seem so dreadful.

1. Election of 1800

Thomas Jefferson
His vice presidential pick tied with him for the presidency. | Wikimedia Commons

The 1800 presidential election took place as political parties were first starting to form in the U.S., according to History. The Electoral College then differed significantly from now — the process involved each elector voting for two candidates, one who would be president and one who would be vice president.

Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, his choice for vice president, tied for first place — allegedly due to either a Burr conspiracy or a communication error among electors. The election went to the House of Representatives for the first time — Jefferson and Burr won. After the election,, lawmakers added the Constitution’s 12th Amendment, which stated that going forward, electors would vote separately for the president and vice president.

Next: A “corrupt bargain”

2. Election of 1824

John Quincy Adams
The rules changed after this election. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Four men ran for president in 1824, according to History: Andrew Jackson, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, House Speaker Henry Clay, and Treasury Secretary William Crawford. Jackson got 99 electoral votes, Adams took 84, Crawford took 41, and Clay took 37.

For the second — and last — time in history, the vote went to the House of Representatives. Clay was eliminated, and his supporters voted for Adams, which gave him the House vote. Adams chose Clay as his secretary of state — and Jackson called the election a “corrupt bargain.” Jackson came back to win the election in 1828, however, just one term after Adams entered office.

Next: Whig fail

3. Election of 1836

Martin Van Buren
He had to have a vice president appointed to him. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the presidential election of 1836, Andrew Jackson supported Martin Van Buren — and he faced no resistance for the Democratic nomination, according to the website United States History. The Whig party, however, was split, so it decided to try and have the House of Representatives decide the election by fielding other regional candidates, including William Henry Harrison, Daniel Webster, and Hugh Lawson White.

Van Buren polled so well that the Whig strategy failed. Van Buren won the election, but none of the candidates for vice president got a majority of electoral votes, so Senate had to make the decision, naming Richard M. Johnson as Van Buren’s vice president.

Next: An election that tore the nation apart.

4. Election of 1860

Abraham Lincoln
Most people know what his election led to. | Alexander Gardner/Getty Images

The presidential election of 1860 ripped the nation apart, according to History. Abraham Lincoln ran against Democrat Senator Stephen Douglas, sitting Vice President John Breckenridge, and Senator John Bell — and Lincoln wasn’t even named on the ballot in most Southern states.

Although Lincoln got only 40% of the popular vote, he won the lion’s share of electoral votes. Lincoln won the election, but just weeks afterward, six Southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America, naming Jefferson Davis president.

Next: A mistaken tally

5. Election of 1872

Ulysses S. Grant
He won after his opponent died. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Horace Greeley ran against Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 election, according to FairVote, eventually gaining 40% of the popular vote. Greeley died on November 29, just after the general election but before the electoral votes were in. He would have received 86 electoral votes, but because he died the electors split those votes among four other candidates. Although Grant had won the majority of electoral vote already, people often mistakenly think Grant defeated Greeley 286-0.

Next: An appointed commission had to decide the vote.

6. Election of 1876

Rutherford B. Hayes
The whole thing was a mess. woo| Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Democratic Governor Samuel Tilden of New York ran against Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, he won the majority of popular and electoral votes, according to History. Tilden, however still needed one electoral vote to reach the required majority of 185, and 20 of those votes could not be counted due to accusations of fraud.

Congress moved quickly to appoint a commission of senators, Supreme Court justices, and congressmen to decide the election. Because the swing vote was in Hayes’ favor, the 20 electoral votes from the disputed states went to him to give him the majority.

The Democrats threatened to block the official vote counting, but negotiations took place in February 1877. The Democrats listed their terms on which they would accept Hayes as president: He would have to remove federal troops from Southern states, which effectively ended Reconstruction.

Next: The popular vote doesn’t win elections.

7. Election of 1888

Grover Cleveland
This is a trend that will continue. | National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Grover Cleveland ran for a second term in 1888. He had, had 93,000 more popular votes than his opponent, Benjamin Harrison, but he lost the Electoral College 233 to 168, according FairVote. Although New York and Indiana supported Cleveland during his first run for president, both states supported Harrison, who won this controversial election.

Next: A candidate keeps campaigning after someone shoots him. 

8. Election of 1912

Woodrow Wilson
Wilson waited for them while they battle it out among themselves. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

When Roosevelt first left the White House as president, he supported William Howard Taft as his successor, according to History. Taft, however, got the Democrats angry by moving toward the Republican Party. So, Roosevelt challenged him in the 1912 primaries.

Roosevelt didn’t get the nomination, but he formed the Progressive Party and ran. While he was campaigning in Wisconsin, someone shot Roosevelt in the chest, but Roosevelt managed to finish his speech. Roosevelt and Taft actually split the Republican vote, enabling Woodrow Wilson to win the election even though he got less than 50% majorities in a lot of states. The talked-about election was also famous because the Socialist Party candidate, Eugene Debs, won 6% of the popular vote, which was the most votes a Sociality candidate had garnered in a U.S. election.

Next: Ross Perot for president? 

9. Election of 1992

President William J. Clinton
Clinton went on to win the election, despite a surprising showing from Ross Perot. | Wikimedia Commons

Controversy swirled around the 1992 election: naysayers were claiming Clinton dodged the draft, smoked marijuana, and had an affair with Gennifer Flowers. Meanwhile, President George H.W. Bush critics were angry with him for changing his stance on his tax promises.

The real surprise of the 1992 presidential election, however, was third-party candidate Ross Perot, who impacted the process more than you might think, reported Encyclopaedia Britannica. The billionaire went on “Larry King Live” and asked people to send him $5 donations — and he did a series of infomercials during which he would talk about issues he planned to address if elected. Amazingly, Perot was on the ballot in every state and he won 19% of the national vote.

Next: Don’t always believe what you read.

10. Election of 1948

Truman and Dewey
Everyone was sure Dewey would win. | Keystone/Getty Images

The country was positive Thomas Dewey would win the 1948 election over Harry Truman. In fact, the Chicago Tribune’s morning edition the day after the election — which went to press early because of a printer’s strike — read, “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Oops.

Although only one in three Americans approved of Truman, according to History, and his own party was opposed to him, he went on to win the election. Truman went to bed on election night sure he had lost, but Secret Service agents woke him a 4 a.m. to tell him he won. You might have seen the famous photo of Truman holding up the copy of the Chicago Tribune announcing Dewey the winner.

Next: Don’t let them see you sweat.

11. Election of 1960

John F Kennedy v Richard Nixon
JFK managed to charm the country. | Keystone/Getty Images

John F. Kennedy charmed the nation with his personality and good looks during the 1960 presidential election. His opponent, Richard Nixon, wasn’t known for either his charm or good looks. During the television debate on Sept. 26, 1960, Kennedy came off as commanding and prepared, but Nixon, who had just gotten out of the hospital and who refused to wear makeup, came off as sweaty, sickly, and weak.

That televised debate turned the tide in the election, according to U.S. History. It didn’t help Nixon that rumors of election fraud in Illinois and Texas were surrounding this campaign, either. Not exactly a gracious loser, Nixon insisted he was robbed of the election when Kennedy won.

Next: Recount fever

12. Election of 2000

George W Bush v Al Gore
The election seemed to go on forever. | Chris Hondros

When George W. Bush ran against Al Gore in 2000 it seemed the election would never end. Florida was the state in contention — it was a very close vote there and some were calling it illegal.

When TV networks called the election for Bush, lawsuits started popping up — and demands for a recount. Five weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to stop the recount that the Florida Supreme Court initiated, according to History. In the end, it was determined that Bush won 30 states — including Florida — and had a five-vote electoral majority. This election has the distinction of bringing voter’s rights into focus — and it led to the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Next: War turned the tide

13. Election of 2004

George W Bush v John Kerry
Left: Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images, Right: William B. Plowman/Getty Images

In 2004, then-President George W. Bush ran against and Democratic Senator John Kerry. Bush was running on strong support after the 2001 September 11th attacks, but it started to wane when people began talking about why the U.S. was involved in two, ongoing wars.

The Democrats jumped on the public’s concern about the wars to get supoer for Kerry. That boomeranged, according to worldatlas, when the Republicans fired back about Kerry’s dubious Vietnam War record. in the end, George W. Bush got to serve his second term.

Next: Alleged voter intimidation

14. Election of 2008

Left:  Alex Wong/Getty Images, Right: Steve Pope/Getty Images

When Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama ran against each other in 2008 the rumor mill was in full force. Both candidates’ citizenship was in question, which might have disqualified them from running. In addition, Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, and McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, were taking criticism from their own headlines .

During the election, the African American political organization, The New Black Panther Party, allegedly intimidated voters outside of Philadelphia polls. Although the charges were dropped, according to worldatlas, the story only added to the black cloud hanging over both candidates’ campaigns.

Next: A freak show of an election

15. Election of 2016

Left: Alex Wong/Getty Images, Right:  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Perhaps the most controversial presidential election of all times, the 2016 battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was sparked with dissension. Lest you forget Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and her beef with Benghazi, Ted Cruz’s role in the government shutdown, Bernie Sanders’s independence from the Democratic Party, Marco Rubio’s climate change denials, and just about every word that came out of Donald Trump’s mouth. Although she feels it might be “unprecedented and legally questionable.,” according to Politico, Hillary Clinton definitely considered challenging the legitimacy of 2016’s presidential election.

Read more: How Would Mandatory Voting Change U.S. Elections? 

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