In the first part of our look back at the candidates for the presidency, we focused on all of the winners whose papers have been preserved with the assistance of grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The papers of the losers in the U.S. presidential elections tell a tale of what-might-have-been, and below are some of the “also rans” whose papers were processed or published with NHPRC support.
The 1796 presidential election was a wild and wooly affair, not only for the two top candidates, but for the number of candidates who received votes for president or vice president. (Before the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804, each elector voted for two people, and the winner was declared president and the second-place finished vice president.) John Adams eked out a victory over Thomas Jefferson.
Several of the also rans have had their papers preserved through grants from the NHPRC. The Federalist Thomas Pinckney finished third with 59 electoral votes, and his papers are part of the Pinckney Statesmen of South Carolina project (his brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney also received one vote). Aaron Burr received 30 electoral votes in 1796 and finished fourth. In 1800 he tied Jefferson in the election as a Democratic-Republican and was chosen as vice president. The NHPRC funded the Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr.
None of the candidates—John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay—secured a majority of the electoral college (though John C. Calhoun was safely elected as vice president). Thus, the election was thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives, which chose Adams on February 9, 1825.
Henry Clay finished fourth and threw his support behind Adams reportedly in exchange for a promised appointment as Secretary of State. Clay would later run unsuccessfully for president in 1832, 1840, 1844, and 1848, coming the closest as the Whig party candidate in 1844. The Papers of Henry Clay was published in a 10-volume edition with grants from the NHPRC.
Daniel Webster, whose papers were edited at Dartmouth College with NHPRC support, also sought the Whig Party nomination for President in 1836, 1840, and 1852. His best finish was in 1836, when he carried his home state of Massachusetts and its 14 electoral votes. The collection has now been published as a Rotunda Digital Edition by the University of Virginia Press.
In 1856 the newly formed Republican party nominated Senator John C. Frémont of California for President of the United States, but he was defeated by Democratic candidate James Buchanan. The NHPRC funded an edition documenting the Expeditions of John C. Frémont which had helped propel him to national fame.
Socialist Eugene V. Debs ran for president five times, first in 1900, and then as the Socialist Party of America candidate in 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920. Although Debs received increasing numbers in the popular vote, he never won any votes in the Electoral College. His best showing in total votes was 1920 when nearly one million people voted for him. All the more remarkable, he was incarcerated at the time (though he promised to pardon himself if elected). The NHPRC supported a project to publish the Letters of Eugene V. Debs.
Robert La Follette, represented Wisconsin in both chambers of Congress and served as the Governor. In 1924, he ran as the nominee of his own Progressive Party in the 1924 presidential election. He finished third with 16.6 percent of the popular vote and his home state’s 13 electoral votes. The NHPRC funded a microfilm edition of the Papers of Robert A. La Follette.
The first election after the death of FDR, the 1948 presidential election came down to a battle between Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey. Two other nascent parties emerged, the States’ Rights Democratic Party, the so-called Dixiecrats headed by Strom Thurmond, and the Progressive Party, headed by Henry A. Wallace. The two splinter parties amassed about 5 percent of the popular vote (though the Dixiecrats actually earned 39 electoral votes). The University of Iowa holds the Henry A. Wallace Papers, which were digitized with support from the NHPRC.
Princeton University holds the Papers of Adlai Stevenson, Democratic candidate for President in 1952 and 1956. The NHPRC supported the processing of the “Cold War” portion of the Stevenson collection.
The papers of Minnesota senator and Democratic candidate Hubert H. Humphrey are at the Minnesota Historical Society. Grants from the NHPRC helped digitize Humphrey’s speeches.
The Minnesota Historical Society is also home to the Walter Mondale collections, and the NHPRC helped preserve the collection of U.S. Senator, Vice President, and 1984 Democratic nominee.
An NHPRC grant to the University of Kansas supported a two-year project to process the Senatorial, campaign, and retirement papers of Robert J. Dole from 1968 to 2009. Senator Dole ran as the Republican nominee for President in 1996 and was the longest-serving Republican to act as U.S. Senate Majority Leader.
The Also Also-Rans
In addition to those candidates for the presidency, we have also funded a number of other collections of those who unsuccessfully sought their party’s nomination, though serious contenders.
1940, 1948, 1952
Robert A. Taft, the conservative Senator from Ohio, sought the Republican nomination for president in 1940, 1948, and 1952. His best chance may have been in 1952 before the popular Dwight Eisenhower entered the race. On the first ballot at the Republican convention, Eisenhower had 595 votes, just nine short of the nomination, while Taft trailed with 500 votes. After the delegates began to shift their votes, Eisenhower prevailed. The NHPRC funded the publication of the Selected Papers of Robert A. Taft.
Minnesota’s Harold Stassen first sought the Republican nomination for president in 1944 and would come closest for years later. In the first two rounds of balloting at the 1948 convention, Stassen finished third behind Dewey, the front runner, and Robert Taft. Stassen was later best known for being a perennial candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States, seeking it nine times between 1944 and 1992. The Harold Stassen papers at the Minnesota Historical Society were processed with the aid of an NHPRC grant.
The Minnesota Historical Society is also home to the papers of Eugene McCarthy, who had a similar quixotic run for the Democratic party nomination, running five times in all. McCarthy actually led the 1968 race for a time, but he finished second to the eventual nominee, Hubert Humphrey.
Edmund Muskie of Maine was selected as vice-presidential nominee at the 1968 Democratic convention, and in 1972, he declared his candidacy for the presidential nomination. He won five primaries in a crowded field. A grant from the NHPRC helped Bates College process the Papers of Edmund Muskie.