Presidential Elections Past and Their Importance for American Government

“Presidential Elections Past and Their Importance for American Government” by Dr. Ian Drake, Associate Professor of Political Science and Law, Montclair State University

2 hours, 5 Wednesday mornings 10 am to 12 pm; January 26, February 2, 9, 16, and 23, 2022

This course will review key presidential elections in American history and seek to understand how they help us to comprehend the role of the presidency, the flow of U.S. history, and how past examples might inform us in going forward and selecting future presidents.

Week 1: Jefferson v. Adams in 1800: Making History

Thomas Jefferson called the 1800 election the “Second American Revolution.” In this initial talk we will discuss the importance of the Executive Branch, as the Founders saw it and how we see it today. We will discuss the politics of the early Republic and what was thought to be at stake in the heated contest between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Week 2: Jackson v. Adams v. Crawford v. Clay in 1824: The “Corrupt Bargain”

By 1824 the notion that there was any “Era of Good Feelings” was quickly becoming quaint. In the four-way contest the issues of the day were economic uncertainty and the expansion of slavery. The “Virginia Dynasty” was ending, and it was the first election featuring candidates who had not made their names in association with the American Revolution. The rise of Andrew Jackson would test the unity of the old Jeffersonian party and lead to allegations of corruption in the outcome of the election.

Week 3: The Election of 1860: Lincoln and the Path to Civil War

Slavery was the key issue in 1860 and the rise of the Republican Party ensured that conflict over slavery would continue into the near future. The issue would divide the Democratic Party and hand the election to the “upstart” Abraham Lincoln, whose mere presence on the scene would cause states to secede from the Union before he even took the oath of office.

Week 4: The Election of 1912: Roosevelt Spoils It

Third-party challengers have rarely made a difference in presidential elections, but they did in 1912. In this talk we will consider the two-party system, how it was challenged by Teddy Roosevelt and how concerns over ideological candidates, like socialist Eugene Debs, affected the understanding of our system of government.

Week 5: The Election of 2000: The Electoral College and the Supreme Court

In this final talk in the series, we will consider the importance of the electoral college system and the role of the courts in deciding elections. The 2000 race between Al Gore and George W. Bush was a heatedly partisan contest, but it was also a legal and constitutional contest, which brought to the fore many aspects of American law of which voters were often unaware.

Dr. Ian Drake is Associate Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University. He obtained his B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill, his J.D. from the University of Richmond, and Ph.D. in American history from the University of Maryland at College Park. His teaching interests include the American judiciary and legal system, the U.S. Supreme Court and constitutional history, the history and contemporary study of law and society, broadly construed, and political theory. His recent research interests include the history of American constitutional law and private law, particularly tort and contract law. Dr. Drake is currently conducting research on animal protection laws, First Amendment rights, and the politics of the treatment of animals used in industrial agriculture and scientific research. Prior to earning his Ph.D. in history, Dr. Drake practiced law in the areas of insurance and tort law. His many publications include articles in scholarly journals, contributions to book chapters and book reviews.

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