Quantcast
Connect with us

Will Trump peacefully vacate the Oval Office if he loses the presidential election in 2020? A lesson from 1800

Published

on

As primary season heats up in the United States, the Democrats are anxiously debating the best path to unseat Donald Trump in 2020. But the question of how to beat Trump is perhaps less urgent than the issue of whether he will accept defeat.

Trump has already questioned his loss of the 2016 popular vote with baseless accusations of voter fraud. He has also repeatedly toyed with the idea of extending his presidency beyond the eight-year limit enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, even trumpeting Jerry Falwell Jr.’s assertion that his first term be extended by two years to compensate for the Russia investigation. Perhaps most ominously, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen warned while testifying before the House Oversight Committee in February 2019:

ADVERTISEMENT

“Given my experiences working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, recently voiced her concern that Trump will not concede if the Democratic margin of victory is too slim.

The anxiety over Trump’s potential response to 2020 is an outlier in the history of American politics. With the striking exception of 1860 and the ensuing Civil War, the record of American presidential elections is one of peaceful transfers of power. People and parties have rotated the office with minimal trouble for more than two centuries.

Jefferson versus Adams

Americans tend to look to the election of 1800 as the precedent for this achievement. After Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, tied in the Electoral College, the contest was thrown to the House of Representatives to decide the victor.

After 35 successive ties in the House, Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, emerged victorious, confining Federalist John Adams to only one term.

ADVERTISEMENT

This was the first time a president relinquished his office to a member of a rival faction. The 1800 election tested whether the republic could survive a partisan battle over the presidency and the resulting success assured Americans that the nation’s experiment in democracy could work.

But that’s not the whole story. The election of 1800 was more of a near-miss than most realize. As the House repeatedly deadlocked, the Democratic-Republicans grew wary that the Federalists would use the stalemate to stall until March 4, 1801, at which time Adams’s term would end and the presidency would then pass to the president pro tempore of the Senate, also a Federalist.

McKean is seen in this portrait by Charles Willson Peale, some time after 1787.

As the March 4 deadline loomed, Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas McKean prepared to defend the Democratic-Republican presidency by force. In case the Federalists tried to install one of their own, the governor drafted a proclamation ordering all officers and citizens of Pennsylvania to declare loyalty to Jefferson as president and Burr as vice-president.

ADVERTISEMENT

McKean also readied arms for 20,000 militiamen who he would deploy to arrest any member of Congress who prevented Jefferson from taking the presidency. Virginia Gov. James Monroe likewise ordered a guard for his state’s arsenal to prevent any Federalists from plundering its weapons.

But Jefferson finally received a majority on Feb. 17 and McKean aborted his plan. Still, his preparations are revealing.

ADVERTISEMENT

McKean’s plot demonstrates the contingency of American democracy and its reliance on the decision-making of those charged with maintaining it. Peaceful transitions of power are the result of choices made by individuals. They are not, nor have they ever been, a natural feature of the American political character.

Open hostility to democratic norms

In its first three years, the Trump administration has demonstrated open hostility to the customs that have traditionally stabilized American political institutions.

Trump has displayed little respect for American political traditions since his election in 2016.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Its myriad conflicts of interest, defiance of subpoenas and court orders, refusal to release the president’s tax returns, the hiring of Trump’s children, assaults on the media and lack of media access (to name just a few) all raise alarming flags.

ADVERTISEMENT

And then there’s Trump’s repeated suggestion that he serve more than eight years. All told, Trump looks poised to contest the 2020 results if they do not go his way.

Americans and anxious onlookers should not take a Trump concession for granted. Whether 2020 will follow the peaceful path of 1800 or the road to war of 1860 is anyone’s guess.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]The Conversation

Shira Lurie, University College Fellow in Early American History, University of Toronto

ADVERTISEMENT

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

2020 Election

Demand grows for Pete Buttigieg to come clean about his time at ‘corporate greed machine’ McKinsey

Published

on

"The political risk is not that his former employer, a multibillion-dollar corporate entity that promotes fraud across the globe, will be mad at him. It's what he would have to disclose."

Days after reports surfaced about the global consulting firm McKinsey's work advising the Trump administration on immigration policy, calls are growing louder for South Bend, Indiana mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to disclose details about the work he did for the company.

Continue Reading

2020 Election

Biden won’t voluntarily testify in Trump’s impeachment trial. Here’s what that means

Published

on

Experts who spoke with Salon had mixed views about a statement by former Vice President Joe Biden, in which he revealed that he does not plan to voluntarily attend the impeachment trial likely awaiting President Donald Trump in the Senate.

"No, I’m not going to let them take their eye off the ball," Biden told reporters at a campaign event in Iowa Falls on Wednesday afternoon. "The president is the one who has committed impeachable crimes, and I’m not going to let him divert from that. I’m not going to let anyone divert from that."

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

People who want to ban fracking immediately, says Joe Biden, ‘oughta vote for someone else’

Published

on

"Might I recommend Bernie Sanders: the climate candidate," responds Vermont senator's press secretary.

If you want a candidate committed to banning fracking in the United States immediately, find another candidate than Joe Biden.

That's the advice of Biden himself, given to an activist from the Sunrise Movement in a video posted online Thursday after the two discussed the former vice president's adviser Heather Zichal and Biden's plans for the future of fracking.

Continue Reading