America’s History of Nasty, Tumultuous, and Strange Presidential Elections

Partisan rancor. Conspiracy theories. Disenfranchised voters. Foreign meddling. Contested results. Maybe it’s not exactly a comfort, but the United States has seen it all before. Dive into the history of contentious presidential elections that rival 2020 for drama and intrigue, including the “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824 (when a popular-vote loser squeaked into the White House for the first time), the 1864 election (held during the middle of the Civil War), and, yeah, the last one.

Election Day 1860

Harold Holzer • Smithsonian Magazine

As soon as the returns were in, the burdens of the presidency weighed upon Abraham Lincoln.

The Vote That Failed

S.J. Ackerman • Smithsonian Magazine

Old style ballots cast illegally in Indiana helped President Grover Cleveland in 1888.

Bonus Read: How We Used to Vote

Jill Lepore • The New Yorker

Voting in America, it’s fair to say, used to be different. The founders didn’t anticipate that voting would be done in secret. And, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, eighty-nine Americans were killed at the polls during Election Day riots.

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