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Presidential Election of 1796: A Resource Guide

John Adams, President of the United States of America
John Adams, President of the United States of America / painted by Copley; engraved by J. Smither.
Philadelphia: Published by William Cobbett, Feb. 15th, 1797.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:

The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a variety of material associated with the presidential election of 1796, including manuscripts, letters, and government documents. This guide compiles links to digital materials related to the presidential election of 1796 that are available throughout the Library of Congress Web site. In addition, it provides links to external Web sites focusing on the 1796 election and a selected bibliography.

1796 Presidential Election Results [1]

Political Party Presidential Nominee Electoral College
Federalist John Adams 71
Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson 68

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection consists of published congressional records of the United States of America from 1774 to 1875.

James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

The Madison Papers consist of approximately 12,000 items, spanning the period 1723-1859, captured in some 72,000 digital images.

A selection of items related to the 1796 presidential election includes:

  • James Madison to James Madison Sr., November 27, 1796, "From the general prospect, as far as the elections are known or conjectured, the Ultimate choice is extremely uncertain. Unless great unanimity prevails in the Southern States, the chance is in favor of Mr. Adams." [Transcription]
  • James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, December 5, 1796, "It is not possible yet to calculate with any degree of certainty whether you are to be left by the Electors to enjoy the repose to which you are so much attached, or are to be summoned to the arduous trust which depends on their allotment. It is not improbable that Pinkney will step in between the two who have been treated as the principals in the question. It is even suspected that this turn has been secretly meditated from the beginning in a quarter where the leading zeal for Adams has been affected." [Transcription]
  • James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, December 19, 1796, "The returns from N. Hampshire, Vermont, S. C., & Georga are still to come in, & leave the event of the Election in some remaining uncertainty. It is but barely possible that Adams may fail of the highest number. It is highly probable, tho' not absolutely certain, that Pinkney will be third only on the list You must prepare yourself therefore to be summoned to the place Mr. Adams now fills." [Transcription]
  • James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1796, "Unless the Vermont election of which little has of late been said, should contain some fatal vice in it, Mr. Adams may be considered as the President elect. Nothing can deprive him of it but a general run of the votes in Georgia, Tenissee and Kentucky in favor of Mr. Pinkney, which is altogether contrary to the best information." [Transcription]

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

A selection of items related to the 1796 presidential election includes:

  • Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, December 28, 1796, "The public & the papers have been much occupied lately in placing us in a point of opposition to each other. I trust with confidence that less of it has been felt by ourselves personally. In the retired canton where I am, I learn little of what is passing: pamphlets I see never: papers but a few; and the fewer the happier. Our latest intelligence from Philadelphia at present is of the 16th inst. but tho' at that date your election to the first magistracy seems not to have been known as a fact, yet with me it has never been doubted." [Transcription]
  • Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, January 1, 1797, "I can particularly have no feelings which would revolt at a secondary position to mr. Adams. I am his junior in life, was his junior in Congress, his junior in the diplomatic line, his junior lately in our civil government." [Transcription]
  • Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., January 9, 1797, "It seems probable from the papers that the 2d. call will fall on me—as between Mr. Adams and myself the vote has been little different from what I always expected. It stands as 68. and 71. but was in reality 69. and 70. It is fortunate Powell gave the vote he did because that has put the election out of question. Had his vote been otherwise, a very disagreeable question might have arisen, because the 15th. elector for Pensylvania, really elected attended and tendered his vote for me, which was refused, and one admitted to vote for Mr. Adams, who had not been really elected." [Transcription]
  • Thomas Jefferson to James Sullivan, February 9, 1797, " The idea that I would accept the office of President, but not that of Vice President of the US. had not it’s origin with me. I never thought of questioning the free exercise of the right of my fellow citizens to marshall those whom they call into their service according to their fitnesses; nor ever presumed that they were not the best1 judges of these." [Transcription]

External Web Sites

The American Presidency Project: Election of 1796 External Link

The American Presidency Project Web site presents election results from the 1796 presidential election.

C-SPAN: Election of 1796 External Link

Jeffrey Pasley talked about the creation of American political parties, the issues they disagreed on, and the media wars they waged in 18th century newspapers. The election of 1796 was the first time American voters had to choose between candidates from competing political parties. Professor Pasley spoke about the tactics used by the Federalist Party and Democratic-Republican Party to sully the reputations of candidates John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Founders Online

The National Archives, through its National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), has entered into a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia Press to create this site and make freely available online the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns, 1787-1825 External Link

A searchable collection of election returns from 1787 to 1825. The data were compiled by Philip Lampi. The American Antiquarian Society and Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives have mounted it online with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Selected Bibliography

Coxe, Tench. The Federalist: Containing Some Strictures upon a Pamphlet Entitled, The Pretensions of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency Examined and Charges Against John Adams Refuted, which Pamphlet was First Published in the Gazette of the United States in a Series of Essays under the Signature of Phocion. Philadelphia: Re-published from the Gazette of the United States by Mathew Carey ..., November, 1796. [Catalog Record] [Full Text] External Link

Ferling, John. "1796: The First Real Election." American History 31, no. 5 (November 1996): 24.

Heidenreich, Donald E. "Conspiracy Politics in the Election of 1796." New York History 92, no. 3 (Summer2011 2011): 151-165.

Pasley, Jeffrey L. The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013. [Catalog Record]

Scherr, Arthur. "The Significance of Thomas Pinckney's Candidacy in the Election of 1796." South Carolina Historical Magazine 76, no. 2 (April 1975): 51-59.

Smith, Page. "Election of 1796," in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, eds. Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Fred L. Israel. 3 vols. I, 29-48. New York: Facts On File, 2012. [Catalog Record]


1. Presidential Elections, 1789-2008. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2010), 208.

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