This day in history: First presidential election in the United States

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This Day in History, January 7, 2016

On January 7, 1789, voters cast ballots in the first presidential election in the United States.

The first Election Day looked almost nothing like current elections. There were no political parties, no campaigning, and only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. As a result, only 1.3 percent of the total population voted in this election -- a far cry from the roughly 40 percent of the total population who vote in modern presidential elections.

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George Washington won 69 electoral votes and became the first and only person to unanimously win the presidency. John Adams, who served as the first U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, became the first vice president after only winning 34 electoral votes.

Not even all states were able to choose the president. Voters from ten states (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia) were able to cast electoral votes in this election. New York was unable to field a slate of electors while North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet ratified the Constitution, and thus were unable to participate.

One thing has stayed the same throughout the last two centuries of voting: the Electoral College. The president and vice president are the only federal officials who are not elected by popular vote. The Electoral College allows American citizens over the age of 18 to vote for electors, who then vote for the president.

Our founding fathers put this system into place at least in part because they feared unabridged democracy, and wanted a layer of protection put in place when selecting the nation's top leaders.

As explains:

As Alexander Hamilton writes in "The Federalist Papers," the Constitution is designed to ensure "that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." The point of the Electoral College is to preserve "the sense of the people," while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen "by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice."

When Americans vote today, they are casting ballots for a loyal party member who is all but guaranteed to turn around and vote for the candidate they pledged to support on the ballot. However, some electors do change their votes in rare occasions.

See more on the the first president of the United States below:

'George Washington's Journey' That United the States

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