America’s History of Nasty, Tumultuous, and Strange Presidential Elections
An electoral chaos reading list.
Pocket CollectionsAlex Dalenberg
Partisan rancor. Conspiracy theories. Disenfranchised voters. Foreign meddling. Contested results. Maybe it’s not exactly a comfort, but the United States has seen it all before. Dive into the history of contentious presidential elections that rival 2020 for drama and intrigue, including the “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824 (when a popular-vote loser squeaked into the White House for the first time), the 1864 election (held during the middle of the Civil War), and, yeah, the last one.
The Immigration-Obsessed, Polarized, Garbage-Fire Election of 1800
A. Roger EkrichLongreads
A madman versus a crook? Unexpected twists? Fake news? Welcome to the election of 1800.
When American Politicos First Weaponized Conspiracy Theories
Mark R. CheathemZocalo Public Square
Outlandish rumors helped elect Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren and have been with us ever since.
Election Day 1860
Harold HolzerSmithsonian Magazine
As soon as the returns were in, the burdens of the presidency weighed upon Abraham Lincoln.
How the Union Pulled Off a Presidential Election During the Civil War
Fearing Abraham Lincoln would lose reelection, some wondered if the country should delay the election.
The Last Time a Contested Presidential Election Nearly Tore the Country Apart
Ed KilgoreNew York
If you want an example of a real nation-rending, Constitution-bending contested presidential election that might have conceivably led to a second Civil War, you have to go back to the U.S. Centennial Year of 1876.
The Vote That Failed
S.J. AckermanSmithsonian Magazine
Old style ballots cast illegally in Indiana helped President Grover Cleveland in 1888.
The Last Russian Leader to Mess With a US Election? Josef Stalin.
Will MorelandVox
Though the election of 1948 is best remembered for the Chicago Tribune newspaper’s embarrassing, incorrect “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, its forgotten story is of Henry Wallace, a liberal dreamer who became the Kremlin’s unwitting pawn.
When a Candidate Conspired With a Foreign Power to Win An Election
John A. FarrellPolitico
It took decades to unravel Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968. Now, the full story can be told.
The Bush-Gore Recount Is an Omen for 2020
Ena Alvarado-EstellerDavid A. GrahamCullen MurphyAmy Weiss-MeyerThe Atlantic
An oral history of the craziest presidential election in modern history.
The Untold Stories of Election Day 2016
The EditorsEsquire
What really happened?
BONUS READ: How We Used to Vote
Jill LeporeThe New Yorker
Voting in America, it’s fair to say, used to be different. The founders didn’t anticipate that voting would be done in secret. And, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, eighty-nine Americans were killed at the polls during Election Day riots.
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