President Madison and his VPs

Roundup: Talking About History

As the debate continues this week concerning the vice presidential nominees, please consider President James Madison and his election 200 years ago in 1808.

• The 1804 election was the first time electors had to name specifically a president and a vice-president (12th amendment). Prior to 1804, the two top vote-getters determined the president and the vice president.

• Madison's supporters in the Congress moved the caucus from February to January, thus helping Madison secure the nomination. James Monroe was considered a possible contender for the nomination. As a result not only did Monroe's supporters boycott the caucus, so did the New York delegation who supported their own George Clinton.

• Clinton, who had served as Jefferson's vice president, was nominated to be Madison's running mate . . . however, he never openly accepted the nomination. He, too, was critical of the early Caucus stating that he was not properly notified nor consulted. Despite his refusal to publicly accept the nomination he was still elected Madison's vice president on the party ticket and died in office in 1812.

• Madison was younger than both his VPs.

• Madison's second vice president also died in office. Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and political strategist for whom the word "gerrymander" originated, died in November 1814 after taking the oath in March 1813.

Other interesting facts concerning Madison's 1808 run for the presidency:

• The Federalists — knowing their party could not win the election — considered nominating Monroe, a Republican.

• Throughout his campaign for president, Madison was faced with two opponents within his own party. Supporters of George Clinton claimed that Madison, as Secretary of State, was a mere "mouth piece" for Jefferson and that his diplomatic correspondence was actually written by Jefferson. Monroe supporters, on the other hand, depicted Madison as an evil genius who had lured Jefferson and the Republican party away from its basic principles

• As the sitting president, Jefferson in an attempt to sway the election in support of Madison, released a series of papers that proved damaging to Monroe. In short, America was in the midst of negotiating a treaty between Great Britain and France as related to the Embargo Acts. Monroe, who was America's minister to Great Britain, had failed to negotiate a proper treaty as it did not address the issue of the improper impressment of American sailors. During the campaign, Jefferson released to Congress all the diplomatic correspondence including Monroe's role in negotiating the ill-fated treaty. These papers were printed in the public press, and the final installment was released days before the Electoral College met.

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