1796 saw the first contested US presidential election. In the previous two elections – 1789 and 1792 – Washington had won with no affiliation to any political party, but in 1796 voters could choose between competing parties for the first time. The previous four years had seen divisions over both foreign policy and Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal policy, leading to distinct differences of political opinion and Washington’s decision not to run for a third term. Vice President John Adams became the Federalist presidential candidate in what became a closely fought battle against the Democratic-Republican candidate and secretary of state Thomas Jefferson. Adams managed a narrow victory over Jefferson, but old constitutional electoral rules meant that the candidate with the second highest number of votes became vice president. 1796 is the only election in which the president and vice president were from opposing sides: the Adams administration faced a challenging term in office.
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