Today in Legal History: Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, others, are elected

November 8, 2013

Today in Legal HistorySince 1845, U.S. presidential elections have been held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November during years divisible by four.  This means that presidential elections are held anywhere between November 2 and November 8.

The election of a U.S. president is a historical event of great significance – especially from a legal standpoint, since the president may be one of the single most influential individuals in affecting changes in the law on the national scale.

November 8 has seen the election of not one, but six U.S. presidents of historical significance.

As such, in this installment of our Today in Legal History series, we’ll be doing things a bit differently.  Instead of covering one single historical event, as has been our practice in every other installment, we’ll be looking at the presidential elections that have occurred on November 8 throughout U.S. history.

November 8, 1864: Abraham Lincoln is reelected president

First up is the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

This win by Lincoln was significant for several reasons.  First, this marked the first presidential reelection since 1832 with the reelection of President Andrew Jackson.

Next, the election occurred during the Civil War.  As a result, only 25 states participated in the election (11 Southern states had seceded).

Finally, Lincoln owed his victory to the support of soldiers, among whom he was quite popular.  Although soldiers couldn’t vote in every state, soldiers did recommend Lincoln to their respective families back home.  Thanks to this support, Lincoln captured 55% of the popular vote and over 90% of the electoral votes.

November 8, 1892: Grover Cleveland reelected

Although this election didn’t occur at as quite a pivotal moment in history as 1864’s, it is still historically significant.

The 1892 election saw the first and only time in history that a U.S. president was elected to a second, nonconsecutive term.

In the previous election in 1888, Cleveland, then the incumbent, lost his reelection bid against Benjamin Harrison.  In 1888, however, Cleveland had won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College (the next time that this would happen would be in the 2000 presidential election).

In the 1892 election, Cleveland and Harrison once again faced off, but Cleveland was the victor this time (both in the Electoral College and the popular vote).

November 8, 1904: Theodore Roosevelt is elected

1904 saw President Theodore Roosevelt handily defeating Democratic challenger Alton B. Parker to win the presidency.  Roosevelt had already been serving as president before the election, however, having assuming the role after the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley.  This marks the first time in history that a vice president won reelection after ascending to the presidency because of the death of his predecessor.

Roosevelt was quite popular at the time of his election in 1904, claiming victory in every area of the country except for the Solid South, which had an ideological opposition to voting Republican after the Civil War.

November 8, 1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected

The 1932 election of Franklin Roosevelt is historically important in many ways.  Most obviously, it led to the election of Franklin Roosevelt as president, an office to which he was reelected twice (the only president to hold such a distinction).  Roosevelt’s presidency resulted in a massive shift in the legal and political landscape – thanks in no small part to his New Deal programs and policies.

Roosevelt’s sweeping victory in 1932 (he won over 57% of the popular vote and almost 90% of the electoral votes) was due in no small part to the Great Depression, which saw unemployment rates over 20% during the election year – leaving incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover effectively unable to defend his record.

Roosevelt’s election was also the first since 1876 that a Democratic presidential candidate won the majority of the popular vote, and the first election since 1852 that a Democratic presidential candidate won a majority in both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

November 8, 1960: John F. Kennedy is elected

The 1960 presidential election was the first in which Alaska and Hawaii participated since becoming states in 1959.  The year saw the victory of John F. Kennedy, who won by a narrow margin in the popular vote (0.17%), but a broader victory in the Electoral College (303-219).

This narrow margin caused a long election night, with both sides anxiously waiting for the results to come in.  There are also some who claim that Kennedy’s victory was the result of voter fraud, particularly in Illinois (thanks to the large political influence of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley) and in Texas (due to Kennedy’s running mate Lyndon Johnson allegedly exerting his strong influence in his home state).  None of these claims has ever been substantiated.

This was the only time that Kennedy was elected president, since he was assassinated in 1963.

November 8, 1988: George H.W. Bush is elected

Finally, November 8 saw the election of President George H.W. Bush in 1988.  Although perhaps not as historically significant as the elections discussed above, the 1988 election saw a remarkably high Electoral College victory for Bush (426-111) – a margin which, though not as high as Ronald Reagan’s in 1984, has not been met or exceeded in subsequent elections.  Bush’s popularity didn’t last, however, since the following election handed him an Electoral College loss of 370 to 168.

Although the previous November 8 presidential election was 25 years ago, we won’t have to wait long for the next one, since the next presidential election occurs on November 8, 2016.  Because of the historic nature of U.S. presidential elections, 2016 will almost certain provide us with another important event to mark on November 8.