Tag Archives: John Quincy Adams

The Post-White House Political Career

So presidential terms are fascinating and I like the idea of promising to be a one-termer. The other idea I find fascinating is what happens to presidents after the White House? Most former presidents retire quietly and busy themselves with humanitarian projects.

We’re not a monarchy or an empire, so that’s probably a good thing.

Post-Presidential Politics
Only three presidents that I’m aware of continued their political career after office (at least on a national scale):

  • William Howard Taft served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for nine years.
  • Andrew Johnson served four months in the Senate, his term cut short by a stroke. (Serving with the same senators who voted for his impeachment? Awkward.)
  • John Quincy Adams served 17 years in the House of Representatives and effectively had a second career as an abolitionist.

Adams is the most interesting case in this list of presidents who bucked the trend. He embraced the abolitionist cause and some have argued that he did more in Congress than he ever did as president.

It’s probably not a coincidence that all three served single-term presidencies and were defeated in their reelection bids. I imagine they had a sense of something to prove (definitely the case with Johnson, Adams seemed to have a mission, and Taft always wanted to be chief justice).

Any Current Takers?
I wonder if any current former presidents could pull this off? It seems like it’d be pretty easy for a former president to win (maybe that’s part of what makes this idea unseemly and why so few have done it). Seems like George W. Bush could take Texas and join the Senate. And as reviled as Barack Obama seems to be by half the country, he could easily nab Chicago’s district and take up a seat in the House of Representatives.

While John Quincy Adams served in Congress he met another congressman from Illinois who would go on to be president.

I can’t see any current former presidents actually doing it though. With the exception of George H.W. Bush, the rest are all hated so much by the opposition that they’d be a constant distraction. But it’s interesting to think about.

We don’t need a country of ruling elites (more than we already have), but I’m also intrigued by the example of Adams. Continuing to serve in the name of an important cause is a good reason to buck the trend.

Random Fact: Ever the contrarian, John Quincy Adams was sworn in as president with his hand on a book of constitutional law as opposed to the more traditional Bible. Imagine the uproar if someone tried that today?

Electoral Ties & Upside Down Victories

With the election just days away I’m getting lost in the many fascinating layers of presidential politics. Two are especially fun: the possibility of a tie and the way the electoral college works.

It’s a Tie!
First up, the New York Times has a neat little map showing the 512 possible outcomes in the presidential election based on nine battleground states (don’t you just love how the other 41 states are a foregone conclusion?). Of those potential paths, 421 lead to an Obama victory, 76 to a Romney victory and five to a tie.

That’s right, all this campaigning and we could end up with a tie.

But don’t worry, the 12th amendment addresses such a possibility. The House of Representatives gets to pick the president (but with an odd, one vote per state delegation rule) and the Senate picks the vice president. Based on which parties control which chambers, we’d most likely end up with President Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden. Now there’s a wacky pair.

But the 12th amendment isn’t actually that simple. It not only speaks to a tie, but a case where no one gets a majority of the electoral votes. This scenario happens when there are more than two parties winning electoral votes. It’s only happened once in history, 1824, when Andrew Jackson received 99 electoral votes, John Quincy Adams got 84, William H. Crawford got 41 and Henry Clay got 37, all shy of the 131 needed at the time. Based on the complex rules of the 12th amendment, the top three electoral vote getters can be considered by the House, so Clay was out. He threw his support to Adams, and the House eventually elected Adams as president.

Boy was Andrew Jackson pissed.

For more fun, here’s a video showing how a third party could take advantage of this quirk. Such a strategy was attempted in 1836, 1948 and 1968 but failed all three times.

Upside Down Victory
Which brings us to the other wacky issue with our presidential election system: the details of the electoral college. As you probably remember only vaguely, the president is not chosen by a simple majority of citizens, but by the electoral college, a bizarre quirk of representational democracy where we don’t vote for a candidate but for people who will vote for a candidate. It’s left over from the days when we didn’t trust the common citizen. Hmm…

Each state has a certain number of electors and the winner of a state gets all the electoral votes for that state. It’s all or nothing. Which means the popular vote is practically meaningless. This is where it gets crazy.

A fun little video details how the electoral college works and showcases that someone could win the presidency with only 22% of the popular vote. All it takes is winning in a bunch of small states by a single vote. That’s right, more than three-fourths of the nation could vote against someone and they could still win the presidency. Watch it for yourself:

But surely that won’t happen, right? As the election of 2000 has shown us, anything can happen. Thankfully, we’ve been through it in recent history and the country didn’t come apart at the seams.

What About Popular Vote?
Oddly enough, we also weren’t motivated to change our system. Frankly, it seems like a straight popular vote might be simpler. It sure would have made social studies class a lot easier. It also might result in more equitable campaigning with candidates visiting all states and not just the swing states. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is one attempt to do away with the popular vote over the electoral system and the Wikipedia article includes plenty of pros and cons. The method they use is even more complicated though, relying on the fact that state legislatures decide how their electoral votes are cast, so the compact says that when a majority of states sign on, they will assign their electoral votes based on the popular vote, regardless of the result in their own state. Seems like it’d be easier to just pass a Constitutional amendment, like the Every Vote Counts Amendment, though it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Sheesh. Presidential elections are way too complicated. Is it Tuesday yet?