In 1787, when delegates from 11 states met at the U.S. Constitutional Convention, one of the topics of debate was the number of individuals that would serve in the executive branch of government. Generally, there were two debated options: have a single man serve as president, or have the power shared between three individuals. In our timeline, they, of course, chose the first option, comforted by the fact that George Washington would be that single man. But what if they looked past Washington and further questioned the ability of one man to handle all of that power responsibly? What if they settled instead to take the second route, and how would the U.S.A. and the world change because of it?
This is how the Constitution is changed in this timeline:
Article II, Section 1, Clause 1
The executive Power shall be vested in three Executive Chiefs of the United States of America. They shall hold their Office during the Term of four Years and be elected as follows
Article II, Section 1, Clause 3
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for three Persons, of whom two at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The three Persons having the greatest Number of Votes shall be Executive Chiefs. Should there be a tie which casts the three winning persons in doubt, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by Ballot one of the tied persons for Executive Chief. But in choosing an Executive Chief, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 6
Each Executive Chief shall nominate a Deputy Chief upon the beginning of his Term, who shall require the consent of the Senate before assuming his Office.
Article II, Section 1, Clause 7
In Case of the Removal of an Executive Chief from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the corresponding Deputy Chief, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of an Executive Chief and a Deputy Chief, declaring what Officer shall then act as Executive Chief, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a corresponding Executive Chief shall be elected.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 1
To exercise any power outlined in this Constitution, or to make any decision or enact any ordinance, the Executive Chiefs shall require a majority vote among themselves, excepting any unilateral powers outlined hereforth. If an Executive Chief be unable to vote, or refuses to vote, his corresponding Deputy Chief shall cast a vote in his name.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 2
The Executive Chiefs shall choose, from among themselves, a Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States, who shall serve for a term of four years; any Executive Chief may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 3
They shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and they shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the Executive Chiefs alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 5
The Executive Chiefs shall choose, from among themselves, a President, who shall hold a Term of one Year and shall preside over Meetings of the Executive Chiefs, and who will accept Responsibility for the Chronical and Public Communication of such Meetings.
Article II, Section 3, Clause 1
The President of the Executive Chiefs shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission, along with the other Executive Chiefs, all the Officers of the United States.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 4
The Senate shall choose, by majority vote, a single Deputy Chief of the United States to be President of the Senate, for a term of one year. The President of the Senate shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.
Article I, Section 6, Clause 2
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the Executive Chiefs of the United States; If they approve the President of the Executive Chiefs shall sign it, or if he be unavailable another member shall sign, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
Article I, Section 6, Clause 3
Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the Executive Chiefs of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by them, or being disapproved by them, shall be re-passed by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.
There are also several minor cosmetic changes. Wherever the "President of the United States" is mentioned, it is replaced with "Executive Chiefs of the United States", and so forth.
(This addresses how the process was initially. Later Constitutional amendments changed several things about all of this.)
Now I'll explain what all of that means. Basically, in the place of the president, there are three (almost) equally powerful men (and later women) known as executive chiefs. These executive chiefs hold office for terms of four years at a time. Elections for Executive Chiefs are similar to OTL presidential elections, except in this one the top three electoral vote-getters become Executive Chiefs. If a substantial tie occurs (which means a tie that would impact the composition of the Chiefs [for example, if three men tied in the electoral vote, all three would make the council regardless of who actually won, so there would be no need to choose one of them]), then the House of Representatives breaks that tie as in OTL. All together, they hold the same powers and responsibilities of the OTL president. To make decisions, like whether or not to make a bill into law, they must vote on it. If they get a majority (2-1 or 3-0), the bill would pass. Anything else (1-2 or 0-3), and it is vetoed. The same is true for most other decisions and nominations. The executive chiefs choose from among themselves a president, who presides over their meetings. The president is the one that actually signs laws and other orders after the council (it is often called the executive council) votes on them. The president also gives state of the union addresses, and holds several ceremonial duties. The president basically does all of the nitty-gritty jobs that require one man, not three, to do. He's also the public face of the United States, for all intents and purposes. The president holds a term of one year before the council must vote on a new one, but there is no term limit. The council also selects a Commander-in-Chief from among themselves. The Commander-in-Chief commands the armed forces, like the OTL president.
The last major duty of the executive council is to choose deputy chiefs. Each executive chief nominates a deputy chief, who can be seen as that chief's vice president. There are three deputy chiefs, one for every executive. Every deputy chief has to be confirmed by the senate before officially assuming the position. The senate also, once a year, chooses one of the three deputy chiefs to serve as President of the Senate.
If any member of the executive council is unable to vote or refuses to vote, their deputy chief casts a vote in their name. If an executive chief has no deputy chief (which can occur for various reasons), then problems occur. If an executive chief refuses to vote while he has no deputy chief, then he can gridlock the council (in a 1-1 vote). If this occurs, then the motion that the council is voting on is tabled for a later date, when all members have a deputy chief. This strategy can be used, and has been used several times, to postpone votes on something that an executive chief doesn't want to vote on. (Like if there is an unpopular bill in question and that member doesn't want to be politically held accountable for passing it, even if he agrees with it.) Even if an executive has a deputy, he can choose to not vote on an unpopular measure and instead have his deputy take the blame. This is seen as dishonorable and has damaged relationships between executives and deputies. Lastly, it is commonly accepted that, if a deputy is in place, they must cast a vote if called on, or be in violation of the Constitution and up for impeachment.
If an executive chief dies, resigns or otherwise, then their deputy chief takes their place. This is not interpreted as the start of a new term, so that new executive is unable to nominate a new deputy. If an executive dies or resigns while having no deputy, then the succession follows the line established by Congress, and later by the 25th Amendment.
Now, let's talk about how the position can find itself vacant. Firstly, the position is vacated every time an executive's term ends, even if an executive has been reelected to a second term. In this time, when the senate is in the process of confirming the deputy, that executive doesn't have one. (This has led to the senate often voting on confirmation of deputies on the first day of an executive's term.) If a deputy dies, resigns, or otherwise, there was no protocol in place to replace them, and so the position remained vacant until the end of the executive's term. This was later addressed in the 13th Amendment, which allowed executives to nominate new deputies if they didn't have one. Finally, if an executive dies and someone else becomes an executive, the new executive is left without a deputy (until the 13th Amendment came along).
That about wraps it up. Now starts the timeline.
Early Days (1787-96)
The ratification of the Constitution went more or less the same as in OTL, with it being ratified in mid 1788. The first election occurred that year. Every elector cast a vote for George Washington. John Adams won the second spot with 34 votes. The third spot was much more uncertain and split. John Jay won it with nine votes, ahead of several candidates that received less. With that, the first Executive Council was set.
The men were sworn in on April 30, 1789, and went to work the next day. Their first order was to choose a president of the council. They unanimously chose George Washington, though Washington himself did not vote. (The final vote was 2-0.) They next chose a Commander-in-Chief, also Washington. Washington actually didn't want the position, because he didn't want one man to be both president and Commander-in-Chief. The last act of the day for the three men was to choose their deputy chiefs. Washington chose Alexander Hamilton. Adams chose John Rutledge. Jay chose Benjamin Lincoln. All three were confirmed by the senate before the end of the month.
The first bill to be presented to the council was An Act to regulate the Time and Manner of administering certain Oaths. The council voted 3-0 to pass it, and Washington signed the bill into law.
Washington suggested the creation of a cabinet to run the country and enforce laws. The other members of the council agreed. They established a cabinet identical to the OTL one. Some major appointments include Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. (The council members determined that it was completely constitutional for deputy chiefs to also be cabinet members.) The senate chose Rutledge as their president.
In place of OTL John Jay, John Blair became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In 1790, the council had to elect another president. Jay and Adams wanted to elect Washington again, but he refused to serve consecutive terms. Thus, the men agreed to rotate the seat every year, and voted Adams, 3-0, as the president for 1990. This established a precedent where the council rotated the presidency between members every year, regardless of party.
The council, completely made up of Federalists (though Washington was independent, he aligned with the Federalist policies), smoothly rode through the next four years. There was not one dissenting vote cast on the council in this first term.
By the time of the first executive election, parties had formed in the nation. The Democratic-Republican Party knew that it couldn't defeat Washington, but they could try to get at least one of their members on the council. Thus, they threw all of their weight behind George Clinton of New York.
Once again, Washington received a vote from every single elector. Adams won reelection with 80 votes. Jay, though, lost his seat to Clinton, who received 49 votes to Jay's 47.
It should be noted that, while they kind of existed, the political parties were far from influential or organized at this point. Thus, it wasn't like Clinton's election was some revolutionary thing, and he didn't make immediate enemies with Adams or Washington. (Though later some animosity did develop.) Clinton nominated Aaron Burr for deputy chief, and Burr was confirmed by the senate.
An early sticking point came in April 1794, as George Washington suggested that the council issue a proclamation of neutrality in France's war against the European powers. Washington wanted the entire council to pass, and Council President Adams to sign, that proclamation. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson agreed with neutrality, but didn't want an official proclamation. When he was unsuccessful in convincing Washington and Adams otherwise, he tried to convince Clinton to vote against the proclamation as a statement. Clinton was reluctant, as he didn't want to offend his peers so early in his term. In the end, Clinton did not vote on the matter, and his deputy chief Aaron Burr voted "nay." Still, with a vote of 2-1, the council passed the measure. Jefferson resigned his post soon after that.
In 1794, the Whiskey Rebellion developed as in OTL, and Washington decided to personally lead a force to put it down. He didn't need the approval of the council to do this, in his authority as Commander-in-Chief, but he sought their opinions anyway. John Adams was fully behind the idea, while Clinton expressed mild apprehension. Clinton did not outright object, though, and Washington went ahead and put down the revolt as in OTL.
These two events decreased Clinton's popularity with hardline anti-Federalists. They thought that he was not being tough enough on Federalist policies, in the interest of staying in favor with his constituents. Clinton only cast a few votes of dissent in his term, but in the end the Democratic-Republicans did not try to remove him from the council. They felt that he was still their best chance to keep any power at all.
As the 1796 election approached, George Washington declared his intention to not run for a third term. His farewell address is still today considered among the greatest American speeches of all time. He encouraged his fellow council members to remain on the council if they pleased, and they did.
Rise of Political Parties (1796-1812)
The 1796 election was by far the most contentious yet. Every Federalist elector (71 of them) cast one of their votes for John Adams, and he led the vote. Every Federalist elector but two voted for Alexander Hamilton, and he came in tied for second. George Clinton beat out Thomas Pinckney, 69 votes to 64 (all 68 Democratic-Republican electors voted for him, plus a Federalist voter). Thomas Jefferson also got the votes of every Democratic-Republican elector, barely losing to Hamilton. Washington left office, and Hamilton was inaugurated, on March 4, 1797. Hamilton nominated Pinckney as his deputy chief, and he was confirmed. Hamilton was also unanimously elected by the council as Commander-in-Chief, having the most military experience of the three men.
Later in 1797, the XYZ affair took place as in OTL. This initiated the same quasi-war with France that happened in real life, with the only difference being that Clinton (spurred on by other Democratic-Republicans) continuously tried to end the state of war. He was unsuccessful.
Another contentious point arose in 1798 with the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were viciously opposed by Democratic-Republicans. These acts gave the federal government the power to imprison non-citizens who were deemed dangerous and also criminalized making false claims that criticized the government. Republicans called it a blatant violation of the First Amendment and a way for the Federalists to stay in power. Clinton, of course, voted against it and wrote a dissenting opinion, like a judge would do. This set a precedent of sorts where dissenting votes were often accompanied by written dissenting opinions.
These debates firmly established the animosity and differences between the parties. Through his dissenting votes, Clinton traded in his image as a weak quasi-Republican for a new image as a heroic defender of Democratic-Republican principles. Or, from a Federalist standpoint, he traded in his image as a reasonable bi-partisan for the image of a stubborn firebrand.
The 1800 election was more vicious than the 1796 one, and much more organized than the three prior elections that had taken place. The Democratic-Republicans established the first ticket in U.S. history, running Clinton along with Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. By doing this, they made sure that they would get the most out of their electors and that their votes wouldn't scatter during the election. They hoped that, if they won the majority of electors, they would be able to win all three spots on the council this way. The Federalists also established a ticket (Adams, Hamilton, and Pinckney), but it was established much later in the race and, as a result, they couldn't guarantee that all of their electors would follow it.
The actual election turned out exactly as the Democratic-Republicans hoped it would. They won 73 electors, to the Federalists' 65, who all voted for the ticket. Thus, Clinton, Jefferson, and Burr became executive chiefs, all with 73 electoral votes. The men were inaugurated on March 4, 1801. The deputy chiefs were James Madison (Clinton), James Monroe (Jefferson), and Abraham Baldwin (Burr). Jefferson was elected president of the council (it would've been Clinton, for all the respect he had gained, but he had been president for the year prior to this one). Aaron Burr was chosen as Commander-in-Chief.
This election exposed a fatal flaw in the electoral system. If the two parties ran a three-man ticket every year, then there would pretty much always be a unanimous majority of that party elected. If that was the case, then there would be almost no point at all to having a council of three men as opposed to one man. The Federalist controlled senate introduced a constitutional amendment to address this. The Democratic-Republicans eventually got on board with it as well. Even though they had been the ones that benefited from the rule, they knew that the Federalist Party could theoretically use the same flaw down the road for their own gain. The 12th Amendment was ratified by every state and became active on June 15, 1804, just in time for the 1804 election. Here's the amendment's text: When casting their votes for the Executive Chiefs, the electors shall rank the three persons voted for in order of preference. Persons ranked first shall receive three electoral votes; persons ranked second shall receive two electoral votes; and persons ranked third shall receive one electoral vote.
If this system had been used in 1800, the three executive chiefs would have been Clinton, with 219 votes, Adams, with 195 votes, and Jefferson, with 146 votes. However, it was not used in 1800, and the council retained its unanimous Democratic-Republican majority.
Politically, the next four years did not contain much action. The major thing to occur was the Louisiana Purchase, which was negotiated similarly to OTL. The Federalists maintained their opposition as in OTL, but the treaty was passed both by the executive council (3-0) and Congress, and the purchase was made.
Though it was a unanimous majority, animosity eventually developed between the three chiefs. Aaron Burr began to feel like he was being overshadowed by the two other men, who were bigger celebrities and more popular than he was. While he was given equal speaking time, he felt like his opinions were rarely valued and that all he was to the other men was a vote in their favor. It also became increasingly apparent to him that he would be the third preference on the ballot of Democratic-Republican electors in the upcoming election. This meant that, in all likelihood, he was going to be voted off of the council in favor of whatever Federalist won the most votes. He decided to not simply wait around to be thrown off the council, so, before the election, he announced his decision to not run for reelection to the council and to instead run for governor of New York. Clinton and Jefferson made a half-hearted effort to convince him to stay, but they also knew that Burr stood almost no chance of reelection as an executive chief.
Aaron Burr proceeded back onto his OTL path, where he fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel in July 1804 and was nearly convicted. He was replaced by James Madison on the 1804 Democratic-Republican ticket. The Federalists chose Charles C. Pinckney, Rufus King, and DeWitt Clinton as their candidates. They did not expect Clinton to have a chance at all (which is why he accepted the spot on the ticket. He also was technically a Democratic-Republican), and many expected that King would also be unable to win, barring a major shift in momentum. Thus, the party focused almost all of their campaign efforts on Pinckney.
Having won major popular support over the prior four years, the Democratic-Republicans won easily. Most people in both parties expected this. What they did not expect was the magnitude of their victory. The three council members ended up being Clinton (486 votes), Jefferson (324), and Madison (162), which maintained the unanimous Republican majority on the council. The highest Federalist vote-getter, Pinckney, received just 56 votes.
George Clinton was chosen as the new Commander-in-Chief, replacing Burr. James Madison was chosen as the president of the council. Madison chose John Breckinridge as his deputy chief, and Clinton chose Levi Lincoln to replace Madison. All of them were quickly confirmed.
The next four years were also peaceful, but saw tensions with Great Britain (and France) grow as their conflict spilled into American life. In response, Thomas Jefferson suggested an embargo of the powers instead of military action. Congress passed such a law, the Embargo Act, which was passed 3-0 by the council. (Though Madison and Clinton were much more reluctant than Jefferson was.) This act ended up hurting the U.S. much more than France or the U.K., and greatly decreased the Democratic-Republican Party's popularity. It was repealed 15 months later by a 3-0 vote of the same three men that passed it.
Deputy Chief John Breckinridge died in 1806, leaving Madison without a deputy for the last few years of that term. This never caused any drama.
Suffice to say, the Republicans did not have much momentum heading into 1808. They were also having some issues with the 1808 ballot. First, Thomas Jefferson announced that he would not run for reelection. (He was the scape goat for the embargo and was growing sick of politics.) With this, some members of the party pressured Clinton to step down after his 4th term, and to not run for a 5th. They wanted to clear the ballot for a younger candidate who did not have their fingerprints on the Embargo Act. Clinton, though, did not give in, and the party was forced to keep him on the ballot. They did move him to the second position instead of the first on the ticket.
James Monroe was put on the ballot at the third position, replacing Jefferson. The Federalists kept their ticket from 1804.
The Democratic-Republicans once again won a good majority of votes, but it was much less decisive this time. The three executive chiefs elected were James Madison (384 votes), George Clinton (256), and Charles Pinckney (141). For the first time since 1801, Federalists would have a voice in the executive branch, and the council wouldn't be unanimous.
James Madison was made Commander-in-Chief, taking that power away from the aging Clinton. The vote on Commander-in-Chief was 2-1, making it the first dissenting vote cast on the council in eight years. Clinton was chosen as president for 1809, and this vote was unanimous. Pinckney chose Rufus King as his deputy chief, but he was shockingly denied by the senate, which was still bitter about losing a seat on the council. Madison nominated Monroe to be his deputy, replacing the deceased Breckinridge.
When notified by the senate that he had to get a deputy in place, Pinckney just nominated Rufus King again. The senate denied him again, and Pinckney nominated him again. This continued until later in the year, when a coalition of more bipartisan minded senators put an end to the nonsense and confirmed King.
During his term, Pinckney voted against nearly every measure brought before the council. In 1810, Pinckney assumed that he would be made president of the council, since Clinton had been the year prior and Madison had been just two years prior. Instead, the Republicans made Madison president, citing Pinckney's "inexperience." (In reality, other executive chiefs had served as president in their first year.) This caused massive protest by the Federalists, which led to Pinckney being made president in 1811 instead.
The events leading up to the war of 1812 were largely unchanged and the war was as well. Madison was still the Commander-in-Chief, as in OTL, so the war played out pretty much identically to in OTL. Don't worry, real timeline changes will start happening eventually.
About a month before the beginning of the War of 1812, on April 20, 1812, George Clinton died. He thus became the first executive chief to die in office. His deputy chief, Levi Lincoln, replaced him for the remainder of his term (which was coming to an end, anyway.) However, Clinton had also been president of the council, and the Constitution provides no provision for replacing a council president. The chiefs didn't want to offset the election cycle by electing someone to another one year term, so they settled on making Lincoln the "Presiding Officer" of the council. This gave him essentially the same powers and duties as the president, but not the office. This would become a longstanding practice until it was addressed in a later amendment.
1812 was also an election year. Madison was kept at the top of the ballot, of course, for the Republicans. He was joined by James Monroe and Elbridge Gerry, in that order. The Federalists kept their ballot from the previous two elections. The Federalists were even closer than the previous election, and Pinckney got second place with 267 votes. The Democratic-Republicans kept their hold on the council, though, as James Monroe won the third spot. Madison named Gerry as his deputy. (Gerry died in 1814, leaving Madison's deputy spot vacant until 1817.) Monroe nominated John Langdon.
Era of Good Feelings (1812-24)
As I said, the War of 1812 progressed and ended in the same manner as OTL. This set off the Era of Good Feelings. Not much happened to the next election. In 1816, the parties kept their previous ballots, except with John Langdon running in the third spot for the Republicans. Pinckney barely held onto his position on the council. (It should be noted that at this point the Federalist Party is slightly stronger than they were in OTL at this time, because of their continued presence on the executive council.)
After not winning a spot on the council, John Langdon decided to retire from politics and from being a deputy chief. After Madison chose George W. Campbell of Tennessee as his replacement for Elbridge Gerry, Monroe chose the aging yet respected Joseph Bradley Varnum of Massachusetts as his deputy chief.
The acquisition of Florida also went pretty much the same for the U.S., as Andrew Jackson was still a general and John Quincy Adams was still a Democratic-Republican and secretary of state at the time. In 1820, the Republicans won an almost unanimous victory. Madison and Monroe remained on the council, while Pinckney was unseated by Adams. The Federalist Party all but disappeared after this loss, where even the Adams Family was against them.
Joseph Bradley Varnum retired from politics after this election. James Monroe chose James Barbour of Virginia as his new deputy chief. John Quincy Adams chose Daniel D. Thompkins of New York as his. James Madison chose to retire as Commander-in-Chief after three terms due to his increasing age and belief that the position should be rotated fairly often. James Monroe took over. Madison soon announced that he would not run for reelection in 1824, due to age.
These four years were peaceful and uneventful. James Monroe proposed his doctrine of hostility towards European colonization in the Americas, and the council unanimously adopted it. This would become known as the Monroe Doctrine.
Andrew Jackson and the Democrats (1824-36)
As the 1824 election approached, Monroe announced that he, too, would be retiring from the council. This left two spots open. With no party opposing them, the Democratic-Republicans did not put forth a ticket for the election, and instead allowed party members to campaign independently. John Quincy Adams was the only person widely expected to earn a spot, as the only incumbent in the race. Several major contenders emerged alongside him. War hero Andrew Jackson was recruited by his state’s legislature to run. Henry Clay and William H. Crawford were other popular choices. John C. Calhoun didn’t win the endorsement of any state legislature, but he never officially withdrew from the race and was a popular choice for undecided electors, or to be a deputy chief.
It ended up being a complicated mess, where various electors voted purely on personal preference when choosing their second and third preferences. Jackson lead the vote with 462 votes, and Adams followed him with 350 votes. Due to being slightly more popular as a second choice in Northern states, Henry Clay edged out William H. Crawford 333 votes to 324. The next closest was John C. Calhoun with 54 votes. Deputy Chief Daniel D. Thompkins declined to be nominated a second term due to declining health (he would die just a short time later). Both Jackson and Adams wanted Calhoun as their deputy, but Jackson was given the privilege due to his larger amount of votes. Adams then wanted to choose William H. Crawford, but he refused because he felt it was merely a consolation prize. Adams eventually selected James Barbour, to make him more palatable in the South and to maintain continuity from the prior administration. Clay chose Senator Nathan Sanford of New York. Jackson was unanimously chosen as Commander-in-Chief due to his military experience. Adams was chosen as council president due to prior experience.
While there were initially attempts by the three executives to work together and maintain an affable relationship, battle lines were soon drawn on the council. Jackson strongly opposed pretty much every policy that Adams championed. Clay, a former rival of Adams, nonetheless came around to support him in policy. This led to Adams and Clay establishing an alliance on the council, and their relationship became close and coordinated while Jackson often secluded himself from the other two chiefs, instead choosing to talk about policy in private with his deputy Calhoun. From 1826 on, nearly every vote taken on the council resulted in a 2-1 majority, with Jackson being the 1. When Jackson became council president in this year, he found it very hard to sign legislation passed only by the other two men.
By the next election in 1828, a weak party axis of sorts was forming around Jackson and his supporters. Still, no tickets were nominated by any party- it would once again be a free-for-all. Adams and Clay merely aimed to keep themselves on the council, retaining their majority over Jackson. Jackson urged Calhoun to run for executive chief again, in the hopes that perhaps he could unseat one of the other two chiefs. William H. Crawford, still bitter over his slim loss in 1824, came back with a vengeance, aiming squarely for Clay’s seat. It would once again be a messy election, with many layers and a web of alliances.
When the smoke cleared, Jackson dominated with 476 votes. The next closest was Adams, with only 264 votes. Clay defeated Crawford by the skin of his teeth, with 263 votes to Crawford’s 261. John C. Calhoun was also close, with 245 votes. The next closest candidate was Deputy Chief Nathan Sanford, with 17 votes.
After seeing his enduring popularity in all regions of the country (while other candidates had much more local appeals), John Quincy Adams once again offered a deputy nomination to Crawford. Crawford denied, greatly discouraged after two straight impossibly close election losses. Adams’ current deputy James Barbour, meanwhile, was offended at being the second (or third) choice for two election cycles in a row. He agreed to stay on another four years but also promised to retire from the position after that. After all the chaos, the council would be exactly the same as it was before the election.
Tensions between the three men only grew over this next term. Jackson was president once again in 1829. He continued to vote against every measure that the other two chiefs supported. In September of that year, Jackson took a drastic measure- he decided to stop signing any legislation passed by the council. He reasoned that a signature was universally seen as a mark of approval, and that he should not be forced to sign a paper which he did not approve. The other council members put forth the idea that when he signed the bill, he was simply affirming that the council had voted “yes” on it, not that he personally agreed with it. Jackson’s mind was made up, however, and he refused to sign anything that he didn’t vote “yea” on. Nine days passed, and he still held out. Not wanting the bill on his desk to be effectively vetoed, Clay and Adams decided to take a drastic measure of their own- they voted to oust Jackson as council president and to name Clay the presiding officer for the rest of the year. This outraged Jackson and his supporters- they claimed that the move was unconstitutional, as the Constitution specifically said that the president served for a term of one year. Clay and Adams chose to emphasize the part of the Constitution that said the council chose its own president. They interpreted this as meaning that they could take anyone out of power that they did not want presiding over them. Either way, Clay signed all the legislation and other measures that Jackson had refused to, and Congress accepted it. Jackson, meanwhile, had left the council meeting chamber the moment that he was taken out of power. He then went home to Tennessee and did not return to the meetings until early 1830, while Calhoun voted in his stead.
For the rest of this year, he continued to leave Washington for months at a time. He didn’t see the point in being at the meetings if all he did was serve as a “no” vote. Around this time, the party axis around him began to strengthen. Martin Van Buren, specifically, worked to get supporters on board for a Jacksonian council takeover in 1832.
Meanwhile, a rift was forming between Jackson and Calhoun. Calhoun and his supporters were already annoyed that Jackson was overshadowing him- if it wasn’t for Andrew Jackson, Calhoun’s supporters believed that John C. Calhoun would be on the council instead. Also, the two men greatly disagreed on the “Tariff of Abominations” passed in 1828, with Jackson supporting it and Calhoun vehemently against it (Jackson had actually abstained from the vote on that bill, and Calhoun voted “no” in his place). This led to Jackson going back to regularly attending council meetings in early 1831, as he no longer trusted Calhoun to vote in his interests.
As March 1832 approached, it was once again Andrew Jackson’s turn to be president. Clay and Adams sought assurances that Jackson would sign all legislation passed by the council. When no such assurances came, Henry Clay was named president for that year. While Jackson didn’t comment publicly on the matter, his supporters perpetrated the notion that the incident was an outrage, and an example of rich, out-of-touch politicians acting against the interest of the people. However true it was, it was a very effective narrative.
By election day 1832, Jackson and his supporters had finalized an election ticket- the first since 1820. Jackson was, of course, first on the ticket. The issues between him and Calhoun led to him placing Martin Van Buren second on the ticket. He still gave Calhoun the third spot, since he was more well known than any other politician that could go in that position. Calhoun considered breaking off and forming his own ticket to run against Jackson, but he decided that his best chance to get on the council still lied in a Jacksonian election sweep. Van Buren’s place on the ticket worried a large minority of Southerners, who didn’t want a Northerner on the council. Thus, a campaign started, centered in Virginia, to vote for Calhoun in second place instead of Van Buren. Adams and Clay didn’t form an official ticket, though the pecking order was clear. New England would certainly vote Adams first and Clay second, as it did in 1828. The third place consensus was split between Deputy Chief Nathan Sanford and former house speaker John W. Taylor, both from New York. Finally, South Carolina, in the midst of the Nullification Crisis, put forth their own unique ticket for the council.
It was a big victory for Jackson. His entire ticket triumphed over Adams and Clay, who each got 151 votes to Jackson’s 638, Van Buren’s 380, and Calhoun’s 251. Many electors in the South did end up voting for Calhoun second and Van Buren third, but it had little effect on the overall outcome. As far as deputy chiefs go, Jackson chose Lewis Cass, the longtime governor of Michigan. Van Buren chose Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, under the advisement of Jackson. Calhoun chose Phillip Pendleton Barbour, a man who largely shared his opinions and would support him against Jackson if necessary (and was also the brother of now-former deputy chief James Barbour).
Jackson was named president unanimously, with Calhoun abstaining from the vote and letting Barbour vote in his place. He was also named unanimously for another term as Commander-in-Chief, this time with Calhoun voting as well. Even for all his issues with the man, Calhoun said, he could not deny that he was by far the most qualified person for that job.
This term was more eventful than the prior two. Jackson, in his authority as Commander-in-Chief, solved the Nullification Crisis and removed the Seminole from Florida (against the ruling of the Supreme Court). Calhoun frequently went out of his way to cause trouble as Jackson and Van Buren passed legislation. When it came time for him to be president in 1835, Jackson and Van Buren were reluctant. While they now disagreed on many things, Jackson and Calhoun agreed on one: the council president should not be forced to sign legislation he didn’t approve. After much deliberation, Jackson was chosen as president by a 2-1 vote. Calhoun supporter’s bit into this juicy decision hard; the same man whose supporters had cried foul after he was denied the presidency had now done the same to his own political opponent. They tried to spin it as Jackson abandoning the will of the people, and especially the will of the South.
When the 1836 election arrived, three clear divisions had formed in the country. The first faction was the Democrats under Jackson and Van Buren. The second was the newly formed Southern Party under John C. Calhoun. This party was similar to the Democratic Party in many ways, but took a very hard line on states’ rights, Southern rights, and slavery. Calhoun believed that if the South wanted to defend its rights, then all Southern politicians had to band together under a single banner. This was his attempt to make it happen. Finally, the last faction was the National Republicans, consisting of everyone else (mostly people opposed to both Jackson and Calhoun’s policies.)
Henry Clay and the Whigs (1836-45)
Andrew Jackson decided to retire from politics and not run in this election. He did this because he wanted to live out the rest of his life alone at home, and because he believed that executive chiefs should be limited to two or three terms. He strongly endorsed Martin Van Buren as the head of the ticket in 1836. Following him on the ticket was Lewis Cass, and then Richard M. Johnson in the third spot. The National Republicans ran Henry Clay as the head of the ticket, counting on his remaining popularity in the West as well as New England. John Q. Adams was second, as the biggest name in the party. John Sergeant of Pennsylvania was chosen as the third candidate. The Southern ticket predictably had John C. Calhoun at its head, followed by Philip Pendleton Barbour and Robert Y. Hayne. By this point, most states had passed legislation requiring electors to vote based on the preferences of the state’s popular vote, and most states carried out the election by ticket. This would make this election the cleanest in years.
The election was very split- several near-record lows were hit as far as percentage of the vote goes. Van Buren led with 522 votes, and Cass came in second with 348. Calhoun and the Southern Party managed to win four states- Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. This was not enough to get Calhoun on the council, but it was enough to split the vote and give Henry Clay an opening to sneak onto the council with 207 votes (that total being the second-lowest vote share ever for any successful council candidate to that point). Clay became the first person to serve non-consecutive terms as an executive chief.
Van Buren kept Richard M. Johnson as his deputy. Cass chose William Cabell Rives of Virginia, while Clay chose John Sergeant. Cass, being the only man on the council with any military experience, was unanimously chosen as the new Commander-in-Chief. He was also chosen as president for that year, as Van Buren had served in that position the year prior.
Shortly after this council was inaugurated, the Panic of 1837 occurred. Though it was not as bad as it was in OTL, as the Second National Bank Charter had been passed in 1832 by the majority of Clay and Adams, it was still damaging to citizens’ livelihoods and the political stock of the Democratic Party.
As the banks floundered, political intrigue continued to happen. Henry Clay was chosen as president in 1838, ending the precedent of minority candidates being denied the position. Clay signed everything his opponents passed, in accordance with how he thought the council should be run. Outside the halls of the White House, John C. Calhoun was devising other ways to take the Democrats out of power. Eventually, he approached the National Republicans with an offer of alliance. This merger, along with the merger of other parties such as the Anti-Masonic Party, formed the Whig Party.
This new party was not nearly organized enough to nominate a national ticket by 1840. The Democrats ran Van Buren, Cass, and James K. Polk in that order (the convention refused to re-nominate Richard Johnson, and strongly encouraged Van Buren to choose a new deputy for his next term). The Whigs ran several tickets around the country, including:
- William Henry Harrison, Henry Clay, and Francis Granger (This ticket was the most popular, being nominated by most Northern states outside of New England. Harrison was run over Clay because of Clay’s reputation as a higher-class, out-of-touch politician.)
- Henry Clay, Hugh L. White (later Tyler after White’s death), and John Tyler (later John Crittenden) (This was more popular in the South.)
- Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Francis Granger (This was the ticket popular in Massachusetts, which really liked Webster.)
- Willie P. Magnum, Hugh L. White (later Tyler), and John Tyler (later Crittenden) (This was the ticket nominated in South Carolina.)
Hugh L. White died before the election, but this didn't seem to affect the vote much.
When the dust cleared, the Whigs had won even with their disjointed ticket. Clay, by virtue of being first on a ticket and second on two others, led the voting with 425 votes. Van Buren came in second with 294, and Harrison finished just behind him at 291 votes. The next closest was Lewis Cass with 196 votes. The Whigs had control of the council for the first time, just two years after forming.
Clay, in an attempt to promote the intersectionality of the Whig Party, ditched John Sergeant and chose John Tyler as his new deputy. Van Buren did as his party had requested and cast away Richard M. Johnson in favor of Lewis Cass. Harrison chose Francis Granger. With Cass off the council, a new Commander-in-Chief also had to be chosen. The choice was obvious, with Harrison being a famous war hero and the only of the three men with any war experience whatsoever.
At the 1841 inauguration, each man gave an average length speech. None of them caught pneumonia. But, a few weeks later, William Henry Harrison caught a cold and was killed by the medical misconceptions of the time. Just as in OTL.
Harrison became the second executive chief to die in office, and Francis Granger took over his spot. It was agreed that the position of Commander-in-Chief would default to Henry Clay, due to him being the most experienced of the council members.
The Whig controlled council went on to attempt to steer the economy out of its bad state through regulation and careful control of the banks. They ignored burning issues such as slavery and the annexation of Texas. Clay was completely opposed to annexing Texas without Mexico’s consent, and Granger followed this presumptive party line. Van Buren was also reluctant on the matter, wanting to avoid any potential war without the popular support of the country. In the face of this, a faction of Southern pro-annexationists formed, led by figures like John C. Calhoun.
The party politicking leading up to the 1844 nominations and elections was unprecedented. The head of each ticket was the only easy part- Clay for the Whigs and Van Buren for the Democrats. Beyond that, no one really knew what to do. John Quincy Adams was still a popular choice for the Whigs, but took himself out of the running, wanting to build new leaders besides himself and Clay. Francis Granger didn’t think he could hold up as a major leader for the party, and so he also withdrew his name. In their place, the popular orator Daniel Webster was chosen as the second choice on the ticket. With the West, Northeast, and middle of the country covered, deputy chief John Tyler was chosen for the third spot on the ticket; no one really thought the third position would make the council anyway.
Van Buren, as a longtime executive chief and national political figure, was a shoe-in for the first place on the Democratic ballot in 1844. Ever since accepting Van Buren’s deputy chief position in 1841, Lewis Cass had expected to once again run as the second person on the ticket and get back on the council. However, his candidacy was opposed by the pro-annexation and Southern factions of the party, who supported John C. Calhoun (once again a Democrat after watching the Whig controlled council enact policies he was strongly against). Calhoun, though, was seen as a bit of a waffler, as someone who had allied with the Whigs, and also a Southern extremist. He was unable to acquire the necessary votes. In his place, the annexation faction put forth James K. Polk, a bit of a dark horse, but also someone who would support their agenda and was acceptable for the rest of the party. He won the nomination for the second spot. Cass was given the third spot as somewhat of a consolation for having the second position ripped out from underneath him, though he was still upset with the results of the convention.
This was the first election since 1816 in which two tickets of three men faced off directly, and all the electoral votes went to those six men. The Democrats won the popular vote, keeping Van Buren on the council with 495 votes and getting James Polk a spot with 330 (annexationists considered this a major victory). Henry Clay tied with Polk and so retained his position on the council. The next closest man was Daniel Webster at 220 votes. Polk became the first Southerner on the council since John C. Calhoun (if you exclude Kentucky and Henry Clay).
Van Buren asked Lewis Cass to stay on as his deputy, but Cass declined. His pride was still hurt from being cast into the third position on the ticket, and he believed that he should rightfully be on the council. In his place, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania was chosen. Polk chose Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, a rabid pro-annexationist. Clay chose to move on from John Tyler due to being on opposite sides of the Texas annexation debate. Daniel Webster was asked to take the position, but he felt he would be more useful to the party in the Senate. John J. Crittenden was then approached, and he accepted.
Mexico, Texas, and Compromise (1845-54)
As the political climate was now leaning towards the annexation of Texas, many Democrats were worried about letting Henry Clay continue as Commander-in-Chief. On one hand, the prior council had tried to set the precedent that the most experienced member would be Commander-in-Chief when all three men lacked military experience. Also, the position had never been a political one; it was always a practical position awarded to the person who could do the job the best. Taking it away from Clay had the potential to make it a political position, which many people saw as a dangerous prospect. On the other hand, Clay was completely opposed to the annexation of Texas and a possible war with Mexico. If the annexation was attempted and war came to pass, many Democrats suspected that Clay would try to sabotage the war efforts, or at least not go all-in on them. Rather than wait and try to take the position away then, it was reasoned that it would be better to give a full term as Commander-in-Chief to a Democrat. Due to his experience, Van Buren was chosen as the new Commander-in-Chief by a 2-1 vote.
At some point in 1845, Van Buren dropped most of his opposition to the annexation of Texas and joined Polk in pressuring Congress to accept a treaty or pass a joint resolution admitting Texas to the Union. The popular winds swayed Congress into officially accepting Texas as a state in mid-1846. The bill was passed 2-1 by the council, with Clay voting against (and writing a lengthy dissension message stating exactly why he did so).
Van Buren still was not nearly as aggressive as Polk wanted him to be on the issue. Polk tried to get Van Buren to move troops to Texas’ claimed border of the Rio Grande. The Commander-in-Chief refused, not wanting to spark a war. Polk later introduced a measure to the council calling for efforts to be made “to sustain the integrity of the border of Texas, and the United States.” Van Buren not only disagreed with this, he saw it as an attempt to undermine his authority as Commander-in-Chief. By a vote of 2-1, Van Buren and Clay shot down the resolution.
When this got out to the public, expansionist Democrats accused Van Buren of cowardice and crimes extending all the way to treason. Startled by an outrage he did not expect, from his own party nonetheless, the elder statesman relented and ordered General Zachary Taylor to bring troops to the Rio Grande. Just as Van Buren had feared and Polk had hoped, this ended up sparking a war. The Mexican-American War began in December 1846 and ended in October 1848 with a decisive American victory.
The election of 1848 occurred both during and after the later stages of the war. Both parties inquired about Zachary Taylor’s willingness to run, but he refused to enter politics before the war had ended. The Democrats aimed to run on the success of the war and hoped that it would end before election day. James Polk, exhausted by his four years in the White House, declined to run for a second term. Many tried to convince him otherwise, but he didn’t relent. He would die the next year. Martin Van Buren also wanted to retire from the council, as he was aging and going past the ideal amount of terms he thought a chief should be limited to. However, after a lot of pleading from Democrats who wanted his well-known name on the ballot for at least another election, he agreed to run again. His only condition was that he be given the second or third spot on the ticket. He was given the second. Lewis Cass made his return to executive politics by attaining the top billing on the ticket, a big improvement from the last election cycle. The last spot went to Levi Woodbury, an associate justice of the Supreme Court from New Hampshire.
The Whigs went the opposite route as far as aging candidates go- they actively tried to get Henry Clay to retire and allow someone new to at least have the top position on the ticket. He refused and was voted into the top position anyway. John J. Crittenden was given the second spot, while Daniel Webster accepted the third.
The campaigning was focused almost entirely around the war, with the Whigs against it and Democrats strongly in favor of it. The war’s successful end in October was a big boost to the Democratic side.
It ended up being a landslide for the Democrats. Lewis Cass led with 624 votes, the first 600+ total since Andrew Jackson in 1832, and the 5th highest share by percentage ever. He also became the second man ever to serve non-consecutive terms on the council, after Henry Clay, and this council as a whole became the first to have two non-consecutive instances (these same three men served together on the council from 1837 to 1841). Van Buren came in second with 416 votes, for his 5th straight term. Finally, Clay snuck into third place with 246 votes to Levi Woodbury’s 208. This gave Clay a record 6th term.
Cass was chosen as the new Commander-in-Chief due to his military experience, though some said Van Buren deserved to keep the position after winning the Mexican-American War. He didn’t want it anyway, as he wanted to remove himself from powerful positions en route to his retirement in 1852. Cass now became the first man to serve non-consecutive terms as Commander-in-Chief. Van Buren and Clay kept their executives from their previous terms. Cass chose William R. King of Alabama.
Now, a huge debate began to consume the country’s politics- what would be done with the newly acquired Mexican lands? Abolitionists wanted it all declared free, while Southern radicals wanted it all to allow slavery. Another issue in this was Texas’s claims to land- they claimed a good amount north of the Missouri Compromise Line, and a large chunk of present day New Mexico. Many Northerners wanted this territory to be cut down, as did people living in New Mexico. California’s status was also disputed- would it all be admitted as a free state, or would it be divided at the Missouri Line? The latter option wasn’t practical at all, but it was what Southerners wanted.
Proposals included splitting the area into two slave states and two free states. Another proposed making it all free land. Together, Executive Lewis Cass and Senator Stephen Douglas developed the official position of the Democratic Party- that all the new territory should be allowed to decide for themselves. Henry Clay had his own idea for a compromise- this was the OTL Compromise of 1850. However, Clay’s health was rapidly declining, and by the time the debate really ramped up in 1851, he was already too weak to have any authoritative say in the matter. Also, since he had spent most of the previous 27 years on the Executive Council, he lacked the connections in the Senate that he had in OTL.
The whole matter eventually came down to two competing proposals- John Bell’s proposal of two slave states and two free states, and Stephen Douglas’s proposal of shaving down Texas and admitting all future states in the territory under his popular sovereignty plan. This was supported by Lewis Cass and Martin Van Buren.
By mid-1851, no progress was being made. Bell’s plan was repeatedly voted down by Southern extremists for bringing in two free states south of the Missouri Line, and by Northern extremists for expanding Texas’s overall power in the Senate. Combined with strong proponents of popular sovereignty voting against it, it constantly sat just a few votes away from passage. Douglas’s plan, meanwhile, was considered too simple for the matter at hand. Extreme Northerners and Southerners alike opposed it for allowing the possibility of turning a slave state into a free one, or a free one into a slave one. It, too, could not achieve passage.
Finally, a group of Northern and Southern senators, including Douglas and Bell, sat down to draft a compromise bill that could be accepted by all. The final product was as follows: All of Texas’s claimed land north of the Missouri Line would become federal territory (this was proposed by Senator James Pearce of Maryland). The remaining land would be split into four states: California, New Mexico, South Texas, and North Texas. Texas would be split at the Colorado River of Texas into two slave states. The Texas panhandle would then be part of the State of New Mexico, which would use the Missouri Compromise Line as its northern border. California and New Mexico would then be able to choose whether they would be free or slave states. Texas would also be paid $15 million to pay off debts from its previous republic incarnation (the government of North Texas would be considered the legal successor to the current government of Texas).
This bill passed by a vote of 34-24. Nearly every Democrat in the Senate voted for it. Most Northern Whigs voted against it. It was then passed by the House, and went to the Executive Council. Cass and Van Buren weren’t about to go against the vast majority of their party, and they voted for the bill. Henry Clay was away from Washington to recuperate from his illness, but instructed his deputy John Crittenden to vote for the bill. He hoped that he could see the country reach a peaceful compromise before his death. Thus, the bill was made into law by a unanimous vote of the Council.
The reaction was split around the country. The South saw it as a victory- it added two slave states and the possibility for two more. The North, likewise, saw it as a loss. Abolitionists were outraged, and the Whig Party began to split between North and South.
California immediately voted overwhelmingly to be a free state and was admitted to the Union. New Mexico was the bigger question mark. When the compromise was announced, thousands of settlers from Texas and other Southern states began flooding into the region to vote. Likewise, free soilers from California and the North came in in droves. It would eventually turn violent in some places.
As the debate continued to rage, Henry Clay’s health continued to decline. He was away from the White House for much of 1851 in an effort to regain his health. This left John Crittenden to serve in his place. He then announced that he would resign his seat on the council by September 1852. Nature ended up doing it for him, and Henry Clay passed on June 29, 1852, becoming the third Executive Chief to die in office. John J. Crittenden officially took his spot on the council, though he had already been carrying out Clay’s duties for the better part of a year anyway.
With Clay dead and a new North-South division, the Whig Party desperately needed something to unite them. They hoped Zachary Taylor could be the one. In OTL, he died due to becoming sick at a party fundraiser. Since he didn’t become president in this timeline, he’s still alive in 1852. For the past four years, both parties have been courting him, and he finally announced himself as a Whig. The Whigs hoped that the still-popular general could unite the country in voting for them, and take the national focus away from slavery.
At the Whig national convention, Taylor was nominated as the head of the ticket by a large margin. The Whig council incumbent, John C. Crittenden, had never wanted to be an executive chief and declined to run in this election. Daniel Webster was nominated in his place as the second choice on the ticket. The third spot went to another war hero, Winfield Scott, who was also popular but wasn’t expected to make the council. For the Democrats, Martin Van Buren strongly declined to run. Lewis Cass stayed on at the top of the ticket. Van Buren’s deputy James Buchanan, popular in the South, was nominated for the second position. William L. Marcy earned the third spot, the Democrats hoping that his popularity in New York would guarantee them the state in the general election.
A crisis occurred for the Whigs when Webster suddenly died a week before the election. It was too late to change the ballots- Webster would be the name people saw when voting. They could still control their electors, however. They had tried to get an experienced politician on the ticket, in the hopes that he could guide the inexperienced Taylor in his first term. Now, they saw little choice but to move Winfield Scott to the second position- they thought the public would feel cheated if someone was elected that wasn’t even on the ballot. James Pearce of Maryland, part author of the Compromise of 1851, was placed in the third spot.
It was close, but the Whigs ended up winning control of the council for the first time since 1845. Zachary Taylor became the oldest person to be inaugurated as an executive chief, at 68 years old. He chose Abbott Lawrence of Massachusetts as his deputy. Scott chose Edward Bates of Missouri. Cass’s deputy William R. King was ill and away from the country to recuperate, so he decided to choose a new one. He went with Solomon W. Downs, senator from Louisiana. King died a few days after his second term would have started.
While it previously had no military experience, the council now had two generals and a man who had been Commander-in-Chief twice already. The three men agreed that Taylor should be given the position, as the leader of the Mexican-American War. After this easy decision, relations immediately soured between the chiefs. Lewis Cass had been council president the year before, but thought that he should be again due to the other men having absolutely no political experience. Taylor saw this as an attempt to gain power for the Democrats (despite the position holding no real power at all) and convinced Scott to make him the council president, by a vote of 2-1. Relations would not get much better from here.
Cass’s Deputy Chief Solomon Downs died in 1854, while Taylor’s deputy Abbott Lawrence died in 1855. This marks the first time that two deputy positions were vacant at the same time. It never caused any major issues.
Death of the Whigs and Rising Tensions (1854-64)
The slavery debate ramped up again in 1854, when it came time to prepare Kansas and Nebraska for statehood. The OTL Kansas-Nebraska Act was eventually whipped up by Stephen Douglas and his allies. Douglas knew that the council would need convincing in order to pass this bill. He gave personal visits to each of the men to pressure them into voting favorably on the bill. Cass was reluctant to pass the bill because he thought it was dangerous to effectively repeal the Missouri Compromise; Douglas managed to convince him on the grounds that it was necessary for the party to thrive. Taylor and Scott were both strongly opposed to the bill, and would be much harder to sway. Taylor thought that both states should simply be admitted as free states. There was no convincing him to accept this bill. Scott was opposed on anti-slavery grounds, but Douglas thought he may be convinced by emphasizing the compromise part of the bill. In their meeting, Scott seemed at least open to the idea, and Douglas left unsure what he would end up doing. When the bill finally made it to the executive table, Taylor and Scott voted against it, and the effort failed.
Though unsuccessful, the Kansas-Nebraska Act split the Whigs permanently. Taylor and Scott voting against it brought the Northern and Southern wings into direct conflict. Taylor decided not to run for a second term, due to declining health and the massive political pressure from all sides. At the 1856 Whig National Convention, Scott was nominated at the top of the ticket, with Deputy Chief Edward Bates in the second spot and William H. Seward of New York in the third. Outraged at the perceived anti-slavery ticket, Southern Whigs split off and nominated their own ticket of John Bell of Tennessee, James Pearce, and William Graham of North Carolina. Democrats nominated Lewis Cass, James Buchanan, and Stephen A. Douglas.
As expected, the Democrats dominated. Lewis Cass set an electoral record with 702 votes, and got the third highest vote share in history. All three men on the Democratic ticket made the council. The Whig Party died a messy death after this, setting the course for the Republican Party to form. Cass chose Linn Boyd of Kentucky as his deputy. Buchanan chose John A. Quitman of Mississippi. Douglas chose Aaron V. Brown of Tennessee. Cass regained his position of Commander-in-Chief, for his third non-consecutive term.
Very soon after the start of this term, Douglas worked with his allies in the Senate to get the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed again. It was, and it was unanimously made into law by the council in August. Thus began Bleeding Kansas, to join with Bleeding New Mexico.
All three deputy chiefs ended up dying by 1859 in a series of unrelated events. This set up an unprecedented situation, with no deputy chiefs at all serving. Something obviously had to be done, and Congress took it as an opportunity to clarify some things about the executive branch. The 13th Amendment was written as follows:
Section 1- In the case of the removal of an Executive Chief from office or of his death or resignation, the corresponding Deputy Chief shall become an Executive Chief.
Section 2- In the case of the death or resignation of a Deputy Chief, or any other vacancy in the office of Deputy Chief, the corresponding Executive Chief shall nominate a Deputy Chief who shall take office upon confirmation of a majority of the Senate.
Section 3- In the case of the death or resignation of the President of the Executive Chiefs, the Executive Chiefs shall nominate a Presiding Officer from among them to assume the powers of the President for the remainder of his term. If a President is unable to carry out his duties, or he refuses to carry out his duties, the Executive Chiefs may, by a majority vote, remove him from the position and nominate a Presiding Officer, as prescribed in this Section.
Section 4- In the case of the death or resignation of the Commander-in-Chief, the Executive Chiefs shall nominate a Commander-in-Chief from among them to serve out the rest of the previous holder’s term. A Commander-in-Chief may be at any time removed from the position by a majority vote of the Executive Chiefs, and a new Commander-in-Chief nominated to serve out the remaining length of the term.
Section 5- This Amendment shall not be operable until the beginning of the term of the Executive Chiefs immediately following the ratification of this Amendment.
The amendment passed Congress with little opposition and was ratified within eight months by all the necessary states. No new deputy chiefs were nominated, though, since the amendment didn’t take effect until the beginning of the council’s next term.
The Republican Party was gaining steam by the election of 1860. They had basically swept Northern states in the 1858 mid-term elections, and were optimistic for a victory in their first executive council race. Many notable politicians were reluctant to run for the new party, as it wasn’t extremely proven on a national stage yet. As such, the party had to stick to lesser known or experienced candidates. The top choice was famous explorer John C. Frémont; the feel was that he could get people interested in the party on a national scale. Second was rising star orator Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. Third was John McLean, Supreme Court justice. McLean was aging and not really committed to the new party, and was put on the ticket purely as a publicity stunt of sorts.
Meanwhile, the Democrats were having issues of their own. Southern delegates threatened to walk out of the convention if a completely pro-slavery platform was not adopted. 76 year old Lewis Cass decided to retire from politics as sectional tension ramped up. A compromise was eventually reached; the platform would not be amended, but John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky would run at the top of the ticket. James Buchanan would run behind him, with Stephen A. Douglas in the third position. The loosely united party now marched on to face the Republicans.
It was the closest election in U.S. history. One overall electoral vote separated the two parties. By two votes, James Buchanan beat out Abraham Lincoln for the third council spot, and kept the Democrats in control. John C. Breckinridge became the youngest executive chief ever at 40 years old. He chose Joseph Lane of Oregon as his deputy chief. Frémont chose Lincoln. Buchanan selected Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama. While Frémont was probably the objectively better choice, Breckinridge was chosen as Commander-in-Chief on the grounds that a “radical abolitionist” shouldn’t be in control of the military. Breckinridge did have military experience of his own, so it wasn’t made into too big of a deal.
All through this term, it was obvious that a crisis was brewing. Tensions were higher than they had ever been. The Republican controlled House of Representatives continually passed anti-slavery legislation that was rejected by the Senate, and the Democratic controlled Senate passed many pro-slavery measures that were rejected by the House. Few slavery-related bills actually made it to the desk of the Executive Chiefs, and then all the votes were on party lines. Frémont and Lincoln were very outspoken in their opinions, but they held little power to change anything. Democrats prepared for the feared event of a Republican-controlled council, vowing to secede from the Union if such a thing ever occurred. Moderates and compromisers were drowned out in the sea of angry opinions.
Both parties were even split internally before the 1864 election. The Republicans knew they would re-nominate Frémont at the top of the ticket, but the second spot was up for grabs. Deputy Chief Lincoln had become well-known by this point as he offered up his opinions on the decisions of the Democrat controlled council. He was more vocal than Frémont, and often travelled the country giving speeches during his term. Some saw him as a de facto member of the council. His main opponent, William H. Seward of New York, was more experienced in politics and perhaps more well-known nationally, but there were questions about his electability. The two men were tied on the first ballot, and Lincoln went on to gather the votes necessary for the second place on the ticket. Seward was unanimously given the third place on the ticket, but he knew he stood no chance of election against the Solid South.
The Democrats were split on the issue of slavery. Putting Breckinridge at the top of the ticket had been enough to satisfy Southerners in the previous election; it would not be now. Pro-slavery Democrats wanted their plank firmly adopted into the Democratic platform, but it was instead firmly rejected. They walked out of the convention, which ended up nominating Breckinridge, Thomas H. Seymour of Connecticut, and Deputy Chief Joseph Lane (Buchanan chose to retire due to advanced age and the upcoming conflicts). The Southern delegates reconvened at their own convention and nominated a ticket of Breckinridge, Robert M.T. Hunter of Virginia, and Deputy Chief Benjamin Fitzpatrick.
The Civil War (1864-70)
As expected, the Republicans won and took control of the council. This triggered the secession of South Carolina and Deep South states. Breckinridge considered defecting to the South before taking his seat for the new term, but decided to wait and see what his home state would decide. He kept Joseph Lane as his deputy chief. Frémont chose William H. Seward as his deputy. Lincoln chose Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. Above the objections of Breckinridge, Frémont was chosen as Commander-in-Chief by a 2-1 vote. Lincoln and Frémont also did not think it smart to let a Confederate sympathizer be council president at that sensitive time, and so gave the position to Frémont instead.
When Frémont called for volunteers to put the rebellion down, the rest of the Southern states seceded. This did not include Kentucky, but John C. Breckinridge still decided to resign from the council in October of 1861 to join the Confederacy. He became the first executive chief to resign his seat. Joseph Lane became an executive chief. He was pro-slavery and secessionist, but he didn’t resign as he was from Oregon. His goal on the council was to fight for the right of the Southern states to peacefully leave the Union. On recommendation of his party leaders, Lane chose George H. Pendleton of Ohio as his deputy chief.
The Confederates set up their government to be basically the same as the U.S. government, with changes regarding slavery and states’ rights. They kept an executive council of three men, but extended the members’ terms to six years. The initial provisional council consisted of Jefferson Davis, Alexander H. Stephens, and Robert M.T. Hunter. John C. Calhoun lobbied to be put on the council, due to his experience, but leaders were reluctant due to Kentucky’s disputed status. He was eventually made the deputy chief of Davis. Stephens chose Judah P. Benjamin, and Hunter chose Thomas Bragg. Davis was made Commander-in-Chief.
Frémont was an inconsistent yet bold leader for the Union. Following popular demand, he ordered a direct campaign to take the Confederate capital of Richmond. The first battle was a disastrous loss, as in OTL. Frémont then tried to re-consolidate his forces and began targeted campaigns in the West, down the Mississippi, and in the East, down the Atlantic coast. He was not immediately favorable to the idea of an extensive naval blockade against the South; he decided to deploy a smaller force instead.
Almost immediately, Frémont’s strategies were questioned by the public, and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was favorable to a more balanced approach, while Frémont wanted to be aggressive and attempt to demoralize the South. Frémont also wanted to make the war about slavery, while Lincoln wanted to keep the issue out of it. Frémont soon came to regard Lincoln as little more than an annoyance. He considered Lincoln a man with lesser military experience and thus a lower “rank.” He wanted Lincoln to focus on the political part of the council while he focused on the war (this led to Lincoln being president of the council for most of the war, becoming the first man to serve consecutive terms as president). They were united, though, in their hatred of Joseph Lane; Lane constantly pestered the other men in an attempt to disrupt the war effort.
The Confederates saw much success early on. They held off almost all Union attacks. Frémont had trouble finding competent generals, and even considered joining the field himself. By late 1866, Missouri was mostly controlled by the Confederates, as well as a good portion of Kentucky (though the violation of Kentucky’s neutrality led the state to declare allegiance to the Union).
In early 1867, Frémont finally gave into one of Lincoln’s suggestions and ordered a full naval blockade of the Confederacy. In this same month, he also went directly against Lincoln’s wishes by issuing a declaration of emancipation for all slaves in rebelling areas. This caused Lincoln to take the drastic measure of teaming up with Lane to vote through a measure that asserted the official purpose of the war had nothing to do with slavery. The move outraged Frémont’s supporters and permanently damaged the relationship between the Republican executives.
Mid-1867 saw the promotion of General Ulysses S. Grant to the command of the entire Western theater of the war. He began making rapid advances down the Mississippi. The Eastern theater remained in a bad spot for the Union; Frémont kept changing his strategy and cycling through generals. He came to be disliked by military staff and soldiers for his unstable leadership. Around this time, the South launched an invasion into the North, led by General Robert E. Lee. It was repelled but was still demoralizing for both sides.
The war now reached a status quo of sorts. Grant continued to advance in the West, but neither side made progress in the East. This lasted until another invasion of the North by the Confederacy in April 1868. General Lee led his troops into Maryland and Pennsylvania, hoping to demoralize the North and perhaps seal victory. The Battle of Gettysburg occurred, but on a smaller scale than OTL; the Union Army wasn’t able to organize itself into a single force and Lee easily defeated the smaller division of the army. He then marched all the way to Harrisburg, where a major battle was slated to take place. The entire Eastern Union Army joined to turn back Lee’s forces from Pennsylvania. It was a bloody four-day battle, and neither side won a tactical victory. The massive losses, however, forced General Lee to retreat South. At the Second Battle of Gettysburg, the Union Army reorganized itself with new recruits and firmly defeated Lee’s battered army, forcing him back into Virginia. This is when the tide of the war truly began to turn for the North.
For the election of 1868, the Republican Party joined with War Democrats to form the National Union Party. They aimed to merely keep the current council and end the war as soon as possible. To do this Frémont, Lincoln, and Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee were nominated. The Democrats merely aimed to get one person on the council. They nominated Lane, Pendleton, and Joel Parker of New Jersey.
Just a month after the nominating conventions, an absolutely massive scandal rocked the nation. A letter sent by Executive Chief Joseph Lane was intercepted, revealing that Lane had been sending information on the war to the South. While the actual damage was limited (Frémont and Lincoln rarely chose to discuss military matters around the intrusive Democrat), the revelation of a traitor on the council demoralized and outraged the nation. Immediately, Congress overwhelmingly passed articles of impeachment against Lane. The trial lasted two days, and Lane was convicted by a unanimous vote. He was then arrested for treason, and the death penalty was considered. Lincoln lobbied strongly to let Lane live, pointing out how even captured Confederate leaders had been spared that punishment. Lane was eventually convicted and given a 30 year prison sentence. George H. Pendleton took his spot on the council.
The Democrats moved Pendleton to the top of the ticket, but damage control was impossible. Their image had been irreparably damaged, and the National Union campaign lambasted them over and over again over the incident. The Democratic Party had been painted as traitors, and the Republicans cruised to the second unanimous executive election in United States history. Johnson chose Henry Wilson of Massachusetts as his deputy chief. Frémont remained Commander-in-Chief.
The tide of the war now fully turned against the Confederacy. The Mississippi was secured, cutting the South in two. Frémont decided to replace his incompetent generals with himself; with much pomp, he personally took command of the Union Army of the Potomac. He won a few minor battles, but a major defeat in Northern Virginia led to him handing the job over to Ulysses S. Grant. The public and the soldiers generally frowned upon this perceived self-gratification by Frémont.
The war now rapidly advanced, the Confederacy in retreat. Beaten in all areas, General Lee surrendered on June 4, 1870. The rest of his nation followed suit soon after.
The casualties were not done, however. On June 7, 1870, Executive Chief Lincoln invited his fellow chiefs to a showing of a play at Ford’s Theater. Johnson declined, citing other obligations, but Frémont agreed to take some time off and go see the play. Once there, famous actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate supporter, snuck into the box of the chiefs and shot Frémont (largely the face of the war effort) in the back of the head. He then tried to shoot Lincoln, but he was disarmed by army men in the box, and physically fought off by Lincoln. He jumped out of the box, onto the stage, and ran away. Frémont would die the next day.
John C. Frémont became a martyr, and his legacy as the face of the victorious war effort was cemented in history. He was the first executive chief assassinated in office. William H. Seward succeeded him on the council and chose Schuyler Colfax as his deputy chief.
Frémont’s death had an unintended effect; Lincoln was now the senior member of the council, and the only one with military experience. He became Commander-in-Chief to finish the war effort, and the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Reconstruction would be carried out according to his vision.
With the Civil War over, New Mexico was finally admitted as a free state, 20 years after the Compromise of 1851. (Bleeding New Mexico and the Civil War conflict prevented it from being a state earlier.)
The 14th Amendment, outlawing slavery for good, was ratified in January 1871. The 16th Amendment, further guaranteeing rights and defining citizenship, was passed a few years after in 1873. These were pushed for mostly by Radical Republicans, but Lincoln wanted a way to signal to the rejoining Southern states that their rights would still be protected by the Union. He began pushing for a large reform to the electoral process, a reform that would guarantee representation to all parts of the nation. This amendment, later the 15th Amendment, would pass Congress after some “persuading” and was ratified in October 1872. It reads as follows:
Section 1- When casting votes for the selection of the Executive Chiefs, the Several States shall be divided into Electoral Districts. Each Electoral District shall elect one Executive Chief.
Section 2- The boundaries of the Electoral Districts shall be determined by Congress, requiring a majority vote of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Section 3- The number of Executive Chiefs shall be determined by Congress, requiring a majority vote of the Senate and House of Representatives, provided the count of the Executive Chiefs does not allow for equal votes on measures brought to vote before the Executive Chiefs.
Section 4- All Executive Chiefs not bound to an Electoral District shall be selected by a vote of all the Several States.
Section 5- When appointing Electors, States shall appoint a number of sets of Electors, equal to the number of Executive Chiefs unassigned to an Electoral District and assigned to the Electoral District the State is assigned to, each equal to the count of their number of Representatives and Senators in the Congress. One set shall cast votes for Persons in the Electoral District assigned to their state; the other sets shall cast votes for Persons not assigned to any Electoral District.
Section 6- When casting ballots for the Executive Chiefs of the United States, electors shall cast a single vote for the Person they wish to be Executive Chief. The Person which achieves a majority of votes in an Electoral District or vote of all the States shall be an Executive Chief. If no Persons attain a majority in an Electoral District or vote of all the States, or if two Persons shall attain a majority but have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall choose an Executive Chief by ballot from among the three Persons with the most electoral votes, or among the Persons with an equal number of votes. In taking this ballot, the House of Representatives shall take the votes by state, each state having one vote.
Section 7- This Amendment shall not be operable until the election of the Executive Chiefs following the election immediately following the ratification of this Amendment.
This amendment completely changed the way executive chiefs would be elected. Instead of holding a national vote where the top three finishers were selected to be on the council, the vote would now be divided into separate regions that each selected one executive chief. Imagine OTL presidential elections, but localized to a specific region of the country. The idea was that the country would elect three executive chiefs- one from the South, one from the North, and one nationwide. This would make sure no area of the country ever felt unrepresented on the council. In order to account for the changing boundaries of the United States, the amendment also gave power to Congress to set the bounds of each electoral district and set the size of the executive council, much like it does for the Supreme Court. It also set up the voting system to eliminate electors choosing three men for the council- they would now vote for only one candidate, that being the one from their district or the one nationwide, depending on which one they were assigned to. This meant that each electoral district would simply be first past the post, like an OTL presidential election.
After the amendment was ratified, Congress immediately set the size of the two electoral districts, aiming to keep them somewhat equal in population. The first district consisted of the South- Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, North Texas, South Texas, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Mexico- and the West- Nebraska, Kansas, California, Oregon, and Nevada. The rest of the states made up the North electoral district. The South would elect someone to the council, the North would elect someone, and the last member of the council would be elected off of a nationwide vote.
The 1872 election, though, would not be affected by this change. Abraham Lincoln decided to run again, in order to continue his vision of reconstruction, but also pledged to serve only one more term. He was nominated at the top of the ticket. Seward declined to seek the nomination due to age and declining health. General Ulysses S. Grant was nominated second on the ticket due to his nationwide popularity. Henry Wilson of Massachusetts was nominated third. The Democrats, meanwhile, had a wide open race after the end of the Civil War. They decided to embrace their incumbent, Andrew Johnson, and place him at the top of the ticket. Army General Winfield Scott Hancock was nominated second to counteract Grant on the Republican ticket. Former chief George H. Pendleton earned the third position.
The Republicans swept the council for the second straight term, with Henry Wilson defeating Andrew Johnson 282 to 189 votes. A few months after the election, in January 1873, Executive Chief William H. Seward died at age 71. His deputy chief Schuyler Colfax took over for the last few months of the term. Under advisement from Republican leaders, Colfax nominated Ulysses S. Grant as his deputy chief. This would allow Grant to familiarize himself with the council before his term began. Colfax, marred by the Crédit Mobilier scandal, would never hold office again after this short term.
At the start of the new term, Lincoln kept Hannibal Hamlin as his deputy chief. Grant chose Horace Maynard of Tennessee as his deputy chief. Wilson chose Governor Edward F. Noyes of Ohio. Grant, the national war hero, was made the new Commander-in-Chief, replacing Lincoln.
The entirely Republican council was not without tension. Lincoln wanted to carry out reconstruction in a moderate, fair way, but his Radical colleagues wanted to be much harsher on the South. Lincoln often gave into Radical demands, but the times that he didn’t caused a fair amount of conflict, and he was outvoted on a few occasions.
Henry Wilson’s health took a turn for the worse when he suffered a stroke a bit after his inauguration. He remained in ill health for the rest of his term before dying in November 1875. Edward F. Noyes took over his seat and chose Joseph Roswell Hawley of Connecticut as his deputy chief.
In 1875, the 17th Amendment, protecting suffrage for blacks, was passed through Congress and ratified by Radical Republicans.
The 1876 election would be the first under the new system. Each party’s nominating convention would nominate their candidates for each electoral district, and then the nationwide race. The Republicans began by nominating Ulysses S. Grant for the nationwide race; they felt that he, as a war hero, had the most national appeal. James G. Blaine of Maine was nominated for the North, both because of his pre-existing fame and to balance the overall ticket with the Radical Grant. Benjamin Bristow of Kentucky was nominated in the South/West. The Democrats intended to focus on winning the South. They considered nominating Andrew Johnson for the South, but decided that his strong anti-Confederacy rhetoric had probably turned too many Southerners against him. Other prominent candidates for this district included John W. Stevenson of Kentucky and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Johnson Field of California. Stevenson eventually won the nomination for the South. In the North, Winfield Scott Hancock was nominated again, in the hopes that his service in the Civil War would garner him additional support. Samuel J. Tilden of New York was nominated for the nationwide vote, in the hopes that he could unite the Southern vote and some Northern votes in a national upset.
The result was mostly as expected. Blaine won the North and Stevenson won the South/West by sizable margins. Grant won the national vote 209 to 163, which was closer than some expected but still a comfortable lead. Grant kept Horace Maynard as his deputy. Stevenson chose former governor Joel Parker of New Jersey. Blaine chose Benjamin Bristow. Grant remained Commander-in-Chief.
It was relatively smooth sailing for the first year or so of the Republican council, but soon the conflict between Radicals and moderates leaked into the executive branch as well. Led by Abraham Lincoln, the moderates were building a sizable power base around the nation and aiming to keep the most radical Radicals at bay. Blaine was more sympathetic to the moderates than the Radicals, while Grant was a leader of the Radical side. The Radical controlled Congress kept passing aggressive reconstruction measures, about half of which were voted down by Blaine and the Democrat Stevenson. Every vetoed bill made the rift between the two sides that much bigger.
An especially notable incident came in 1879 when John Stevenson’s turn came around to be president of the council. Radicals strongly opposed letting a Democrat be president so soon after the Civil War, and during reconstruction. (The presidency was now becoming an important symbolic position. It was often said that it represented the soul of America, and Radicals didn’t want the soul of America to be manifested in a Southern Democrat.) Blaine considered it for a long time, but decided that the council had to stick to the non-partisan tradition of the presidency. He voted with Stevenson to make the Democrat president of the council, with Grant voting against. This was one of the final straws in the rift between the factions.
The 1880 Republican National Convention was extremely split and heated between the Radicals and moderates. The Radicals, led by Grant, aimed to get a majority on the council somehow. They hoped that the moderates would desperately try to keep the party together by nominating two Radicals in the North and the national race. The moderates vowed to keep a balance between the two sides. Devoted moderates wanted to switch the role of Grant and Blaine by running Blaine in the national race and Grant in the Northern race. They knew that the Northern race was much easier to win, but they also wanted to send a strong message that the moderates controlled the party and its nominees. Both Grant and Blaine were unable to attain a majority in the balloting for the national nominee. Unable to get Blaine to the top of the ticket, the moderate voters eventually joined with supporters of John Sherman, a moderate, and managed to nominate him for the national race after 34 ballots. Grant and the Radicals were outraged, and many walked out of the convention. Grant himself publicly declined to be nominated for the party’s Northern race after this perceived disrespect. With Grant’s supporters gone, James G. Blaine was easily re-nominated for the Northern executive race. After all the drama, the Southern nomination was an afterthought. James L. Alcorn, a moderate senator from Mississippi, was nominated without much fuss.
Meanwhile, the Radical supporters of Grant reconvened a week later at their own convention elsewhere in Chicago. It was a rowdy affair, with notable Radical orators giving rousing speeches against the “treachery” of the moderate Republicans, who they now decried as closet Democrats or Southern supporters. On the first ballot, the convention unanimously nominated Ulysses S. Grant for the national executive council race. For the Northern race, they nominated Levi P. Morton of New York to balance the ticket (and to make sure they stood a chance of winning the valuable electoral votes of the state). They declined to nominate a candidate for the Southern/Western race, as they didn’t want to waste their limited resources on a race they knew they couldn’t win.
The Democrats, watching from afar, saw a prime opportunity to prey on the bitterly split Republican Party and perhaps win control of the council for the first time in 16 years. They nominated popular Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware for the national race. For the Northern race, they wanted a serious contender who could carry populous states like New York and Pennsylvania. When Samuel J. Tilden seemingly declined to run again due to declining health, they nominated Samuel J. Randall of Pennsylvania for the task. John W. Stevenson was re-nominated for the Southern race.
The campaign was one of the fiercest in American history. The Republican factions endlessly hurled insults at each other, claiming that the other side was full of traitors and fantastically corrupt career politicians. All candidates saw enormous attacks on their reputation. Grant was lambasted by the moderates for his hard-living and morally ambiguous lifestyle, and they dug up every negative incident they could find in his past. This certainly also had the unintended effect of bringing some voters to Grant’s side; they thought attacks on the old general were meanspirited and unjustified. Sherman was similarly attacked by the Radicals, now running under the banner of the Radical Democracy Party, for his lifestyle and health. Blaine was called a corrupt opportunist who merely used the conflict as a way to further his own career. Randall was treated similarly by the moderates.
The Democrats tried to stay clean of the mudslinging, presenting themselves as a stable alternative to the fracturing and vicious Republicans. They tried to stay away from personal attacks in the North, instead presenting their candidates as moral, upstanding citizens. In the South, though, they attacked James Alcorn as a phony Southerner and a traitor to his countrymen. The strategy seemed to work, though they were perhaps too complacent in the North and West. Citizens almost seemed to forget the Democrats in those regions as the warring Republican factions took up nearly all newspaper headlines.
It ended up being a mess. The only definitive race was the Democrat victory in the South; both the national and Northern races failed to produce a winner (meaning no candidate carried a majority of votes in these regions). The North was a close three way tie, with Blaine finishing first with 75 votes, Morton in second with 70 votes, and Randall in last with 65 votes (a majority of 105 votes was required to win outright). The national race had Bayard and Sherman tied at 137 votes, with Grant in third at 98 votes. A majority of 187 would have been required for an outright victory. Thus, the election was thrown into the House.
The Democrats controlled the House, and aimed to put both their candidates into the White House. There was some controversy about whether states not in the electoral district could choose the chief of that district; the amendment made no mention of it. It was eventually resolved to only let the states of that electoral district vote.
Due to his unique support in the House, Blaine managed to win the North district on the second ballot, nine states to Morton’s four and Randall’s two. The national vote was a different story. Because of the “every state gets one vote rule”, Thomas F. Bayard was elected to the Executive Council on the first ballot, 21 states to 11 for Grant and seven for Sherman. For the first time since before the Civil War, Democrats would be in control of the council. Bayard chose James E. English of Connecticut as his deputy, and John Stevenson was made Commander-in-Chief in the absence of anyone with military experience.
After this shocking turn of events, the Republican factions continued to point the finger at each other. The moderates claimed that the Radicals had thrown the election by splitting the Republican vote. The Radicals claimed that the moderates had caused the split by disrespecting Grant and other Radical Republicans. After the months of vicious attacks and bickering, most Radicals elected to not rejoin with the Republican Party. Instead, they were determined to build up their own national party that would allow them to win majorities on the electoral council and pass their agenda. Many centrist Republicans tried to get the groups to sit down and rejoin with each other, as they saw no other way to defeat the Democrats, but all the prominent leaders refused to meet with each other. Pride had been hurt, friendships had been destroyed, and bridges had been burned. Contemporary commentators said that the party seemed like it could never be reunited after all of that.
The Democrats tried to focus on civil service reform and tariffs as their main issues. All reconstruction legislation passed by the Republican-controlled (yet still divided) Congress was vetoed. In 1882, the Pendleton Act, requiring that civil servants be awarded their positions based on merit, passed the Senate and House. It passed the council by a 2-1 vote, with John Stevenson voting against. This caused a good amount Northern anti-reformer Democrats to defect to the Radical Party in defense of their vision of civil service. Other Northern Democrats defected simply because of the repeated attempts to end reconstruction legislation by the party.
Birth of the Liberty Party (1884-)
Armed with more widespread appeal due to the influx of Northern Democrats, the Radical Democracy Party decided to rebrand into the Liberty Party. Another cause for this change was the possible negative connotations of the word “radical”, and the similarity of “Democracy Party” to “Democratic Party”. Growing in size and power, the party grew its infrastructure in the North, basically waging a permanent campaign against Democrats and Republicans from 1881 to 1885. They presented themselves as the only true American party in the running. They painted the Democrats as being controlled by Southern apologists and the Republican Party as being traitors to their cause. Abraham Lincoln’s death in 1883 at age 74 was mourned around the nation, but also removed a great leader from the Republican cause and weakened the party’s power in the North.
At the Liberty Party National Convention of 1884, the top candidate was clear: Ulysses S. Grant would be nominated once again to right the treachery of the Republicans in 1880. Grant was at a new height of popularity, and, though he was beginning to experience health issues and was nearly out of money, privately wanted the job. Unanimously, he was nominated as the national candidate for president in 1884. Radicals were confident of Grant’s ability to carry most of the North nationally, but they knew they needed a strong candidate to win the district in the local election. They went with John A. Logan, representative of Illinois, who had a reputation for strong speaking skills in favor of the party’s cause. The radical stronghold of New York was basically guaranteed to go the Liberty Party (unless Democrats took it) and Logan’s home state of Illinois, and so the party focused on campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The Republicans acknowledged that they had little chance to win the national race in 1884, with Grant’s massive popularity and the Democrats’ control of the South. They decided to re-nominate John Sherman, knowing he probably couldn’t win. James G. Blaine was easily re-nominated for the North, being a proven winning candidate. John James Ingalls of Kansas was nominated for the South/West district, but he didn’t receive much support or publicity compared to the other candidates.
The Democrats re-nominated Thomas F. Bayard for the national race. John W. Stevenson declined to run for another term and was replaced by Representative John G. Carlisle of Kentucky. Governor Grover Cleveland of New York easily won the Northern nomination off of his reformer reputation.
In October 1884, Grant discovered that he had cancer. Deeply distraught, he asked to be removed from the Liberty Party ticket. Party leaders managed to convince him to see out the election, saying that it was too late to change the ballots and that a change in candidates would destroy all their momentum. After the election, they said, Grant could simply resign his seat and give it to his deputy.
Once again, two of the three races produced no majority winner. The Southern/Western District was decisively in favor of John Carlisle. Outside of that, Grant led the national race at 183 votes to Bayard’s 179 and Sherman’s 68, with a majority of 216 needed for victory. The Northern race was led by Grover Cleveland at 91 votes to Blaine’s 77 and Logan’s 40, with a majority of 105 required to win. In both cases, the combined Republican and Liberty votes would have won the race.
On the first ballot for the Northern race in the house, Cleveland led seven states to Blaine’s four and Logan’s two, with several states tied (and nine states required for victory). Blaine and Logan each gained a state on the second ballot. Logan gained a state on the thirrd ballot to move to four. Then several rounds came and went with no changes. It became clear that a deal would have to be struck between two sides for a victor to emerge. And, as much as they now hated each other, the Republicans and Radicals both didn’t want the Democrats to control the council anymore. So, they struck a deal: if the Radicals voted to give the North to Blaine, the Republicans would give all their votes to Grant in the national vote. So, on the 12th ballot, Blaine carried ten states to Cleveland’s six, and won the North for the third straight election.
On the first ballot for the national race, Bayard led Grant 19 states to 15, with Bayard sitting just one state short of victory. No matter how many ballots were taken, though, the Republicans and Radicals refused to budge and give Bayard that last state. Through questionable measures, the Radicals were able to convince several Democrats in key states to switch their vote to Grant. This got Grant to 18 states. Several more ballots passed without any meaningful movement. Then, two Democratic representatives in tied states- Maryland and West Virginia- met and decided that there was only one way to break the deadlock. They reasoned that they couldn’t risk the Republican factions rejoining into a single party, and so agreed to give the election to the Radicals to create conflict on the council. Still, to avoid saying that they voted for Grant, they cast their votes for Sherman instead, which broke the ties in favor of Grant without any votes actually moving to him. This gave Grant the 20 states necessary for victory.
A few weeks after this highly contested election, Grant announced to the public his illness and his intention to resign his council seat almost immediately after his inauguration. This caused an outpouring of support for the old general, and also some suspicion from extreme Republicans and Democrats.
Grant travelled to Washington for what would be the last time to be inaugurated. He then stayed for a few days to do the initial business of the council before resigning. He chose John A. Logan as his deputy chief and executive chief-to-be. Blaine kept Benjamin Bristow. Carlisle chose Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana as his deputy. Blaine and Carlisle offered the Commander-in-Chief position to Grant, who declined for obvious reasons. They gave it to him anyway as a sign of respect. Carlisle said, “As long as Ulysses S. Grant is on this council, he should be Commander-in-Chief.” When Grant resigned and returned home, John A. Logan was given the position due to being the only one with military experience. Logan chose Levi P. Morton as his deputy chief.
Ulysses S. Grant died later in 1885. People of all parties mourned the American hero with a massive procession. It didn’t take long, though, for politics to become involved- the Radicals continued to blame the Republicans for preventing Grant from serving his “rightful term” of 1881-85.
This council was beset by other unfortunate deaths. Deputy Chief Hendricks died in late 1885. Executive Chief Carlisle replaced him with Allen G. Thurman of Ohio. Executive Chief John A. Logan died suddenly in late 1886. This was a devastating loss for the Liberty Party - they were planning to push Logan as the party’s next great hero that could carry them to victory. Deputy Chief Levi P. Morton took his place on the council and chose Walter Q. Gresham of Indiana as his deputy chief. By way of seniority, James G. Blaine became the new Commander-in-Chief.
The alliance of Blaine and Carlisle managed to mostly end reconstruction and return all home-rule to the South, finishing the process started by the Democrat controlled council of the four years prior. This didn’t end the Liberty Party- while this purpose had slipped through their fingers, they now took up the mantle of other issues. They favored traditionalism and were anti-reform. The Republicans favored reform, while Democrats were mixed (though many anti-reform Democrats had indeed moved to the Liberty Party). They were mostly conservative, while the Republicans were more left-wing and the Democrats were, again, mixed. They favored the North over the South - this included favoring industry and higher tariffs. This made them a sort of local Northern party, catering to the localized issues of the North. The Republicans and Democrats, on the other hand, tried their best to be national parties. In any case, the wounds were too deep for them to reunite with the Republicans.
No matter what they stood for, though, the voters of the Liberty Party were simply not as energized in 1888 as they had been in 1880 or 1884. Grant had been a unifying force and a hero for the party. With him gone, some of the motivation to get out and vote was gone. The man they planned to push as their next star candidate, John A. Logan, was also dead. They were left with men like Levi P. Morton who were safe and reliable politicians, but not very exciting to voters. They still decided to nominate Morton for the national race in the first contested ballots in the party’s history. Deputy Chief Benjamin Grisham was nominated as the Northern candidate on the 12th ballot. The party tried to present itself as the only choice for patriotic Americans; they continued to attack the other parties as traitors.
The Republicans saw an opportunity to win back control of the council. They hoped that Liberty voter apathy would allow them to carry the North as the Radicals had in 1884. They knew they couldn’t go with Sherman again, after his terrible showing the previous election. They replaced him with their most well-known candidate- James G. Blaine. Benjamin Harrison of Indiana was nominated for the North after Blaine expressed his support for him. Deputy Chief Benjamin Bristow was nominated for the South, for the second time.
The Democrats saw the same opportunity the Republicans did. They thought that a sweep of all the council seats was possible if they nominated the right candidates. John G. Carlisle was re-nominated for the South unanimously. After his strong showing in the North in 1884, Grover Cleveland was nominated in the national race. The Northern nomination went to Deputy Chief Allen G. Thurman of Ohio.
For the first time since 1876, all three races produced outright winners- and all three winners were Democrats. This outraged both the Republican and Liberty Party, who pointed the finger at each other again rather than consider possibly teaming up against the Democrats. Cleveland chose Adlai Stevenson of Illinois as his deputy. Carlisle chose Isaac P. Gray of Indiana. Thurman chose David B. Hill of New York. Carlisle was chosen as Commander-in-Chief based on seniority.
The Democrats served without issue for the next four years, collaborating to turn away new tariffs, like the 50% tariff proposed by Representative William McKinley of the Liberty Party, and also to keep the U.S. on a gold standard. Several new states were added to the Union over this time period, with all having to be assigned to electoral districts. Republicans wanted to bring all the new states (Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas) and Nebraska and Oregon into the Northern district. They argued on the surface that it would make more sense geographically, but their true motive was trying to bring reliable Republican votes into their safest district. This move would make the districts comically unbalanced in terms of population, but the Republican-controlled Congress (with the assent of the Liberty Party) did it anyway. Democrats then said that the bill had to be sent to the executive council for a vote; Republicans pointed out that the 16th Amendment said that Congress alone held the power to set the electoral boundaries (this was indeed intended to be the case by the authors of the amendment, as they didn’t want the chiefs having the ability to gerrymander their own districts). The council was defiant. Despite never being sent the bill by Congress, the council held a vote on it, which ended 3-0 against passage. Republicans ignored the “meaningless” ruling.
When the Democrats took control of the House in 1891, they tried to reverse the measure and return all of the West to the Southern electoral district. The Republican/Liberty controlled Senate blocked the bill. The issue was eventually brought to the Supreme Court- Democrats wanted a ruling on whether Congress could pass the bills without the council’s consent. Despite being dominated by Democratic appointments, the court ruled a week before the 1892 election that Congress clearly didn’t need the council’s approval to change the electoral boundaries. The election would go forward with all of the new Western states in the North district.
As far as the actual election went, the country was more than satisfied with Democratic rule, and most predicted another Democratic sweep. Republicans and Radicals alike were determined to prevent this, but their odds were long. Also, a rising force in the West- the People’s (Progressive) Party- threatened to take votes away from all sides.
The Democrats re-nominated Cleveland and Carlisle unanimously. Thurman, now 79 years old, decided to retire from politics once and for all. His Deputy Chief David B. Hill was nominated for the North instead.
The Republicans, thinking victory unlikely in the national and Southern races, chose to focus mainly on the Northern race. For the first time in convention history, the nomination for the Northern race was held before the nomination for the national race. Benjamin Harrison, Northern candidate in 1888, was re-nominated fairly easily for the district. William B. Allison of Iowa was nominated for the national race, where the hope was that he would carry the West. William O’Connell Bradley of Kentucky was nominated for the South. Bradley had been a member of the Liberty Party until 1888, but he ultimately felt that he was not welcome in the extremely pro-Northern group. In an unprecedented move, Benjamin Harrison was made the head of the ticket over the other two, and most of the Republican political capital was thrown behind the Northern race.
The Liberty voter apathy of 1888 had not been cured by 1892. While they held a good amount of seats in Congress, the party could simply not find exciting candidates for president. The party eventually split around two strategy proposals for this election. One strategy had the party doing business as usual, nominating a candidate for the North and the nation. The other advocated focusing on the Northern race only, and, specifically, using Levi P. Morton to win New York and send the election into the House. Morton’s faction eventually won out, nominating him for the Northern race and then nominating no other candidates.
The Progressives knew that their strength was mainly in the West. However, the Western states had been divided between North and South. If all the Western states remained in one district, they would have run only that district. Now, though, they were forced to run a candidate in the national race. They nominated James B. Weaver of Iowa. They also took the strange step of announcing his choice for deputy chief - James G. Field of Virginia. They hoped to use this balance to attract votes in the South. Many Liberty Party supporters, distraught with their party’s perceived downturn, allied with this party in 1892.
The Republican strategy ended up working by far the best. While they got destroyed in the national election by Grover Cleveland, they also destroyed the Democrats in the Northern election. The council would be unanimous no more. In the South, John G. Carlisle won by the largest margin ever. Cleveland and Carlisle kept their deputies. Harrison chose William B. Allison as his. Harrison also had military experience. Cleveland and Carlisle decided that there would be no harm in making him Commander-in-Chief.