1788 Two Hundred Years Ago

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By November little doubt remained that George Washington would be the winner of the presidential election slated for the following February. Attention now focused on the runner-up, who would hold the largely ceremonial role of Vice-President.

Alexander Hamilton offered two very different reasons why John Adams should be selected for the Vice-Presidency in the imminent federal election. On November 9, in a letter to Theodore Sedgwick of the Continental Congress, Hamilton wrote that Adams had shown “an ardent love for the public good.” But writing to James Madison on November 23, he warned that if Adams did not become Vice-President, he “will become a malcontent and possibly espouse and give additional weight to the opposition to the Government.”

Adams and Hamilton were political foes, and Hamilton hoped that the Vice-Presidency would keep Adams contentedly in public office without the danger of giving him real political power. Adams did win the Vice-Presidency, and eight years later, much to Hamilton’s chagrin, became the second President of the United States.