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Jan. 7, 1789: First U.S. presidential election is held

Kelly O'Mara
7 January 2014

On Jan. 7, 1789, the first U.S. presidential election was held – sort of. While generally considered to be the date of the first election, Jan. 7 was actually the deadline established for the original states to elect their electors. Those electors then cast their vote in February as part of the Electoral College.

George Washington overwhelmingly won that first election and was inaugurated in April 1789. Washington’s trip from his home of Mount Vernon to Philadelphia and then to Federal Hall in New York City, where the inauguration took place, was marked by parades, crowds and honorary escorts – despite the fact that the inauguration and election, itself, were both much smaller affairs than today.

Today, the Electoral College is still used, despite criticism, and voting is no longer limited to white male landowners. Presidential campaigns have also become large events that often inspire people to travel to election battlegrounds to support their chosen candidates. Iowa, which holds its primary election first, often hosts fairs and events that draw candidates and campaigners.

Presidential inauguration events, typically star-studded, attract visitors from around the country. In January 2013, nearly 1 million people came to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration. It is also common for supporters to rally in agreed-upon locations on Election Day. In 2008, 240,000 people gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park for Barack Obama’s victory speech.

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