Elections lost by presidents of the United States

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As most presidents have careers in politics and some lose re-election, there have been many elections lost by presidents of the United States.

This list does not include individual primary losses, but does include unsuccessful attempts to be nominated.

George Washington[edit]

Painting of Washington, by Charles Wilson Peale, standing in a formal pose, in a colonel's uniform, with right hand inserted in shirt
Colonel George Washington, by Charles Willson Peale, 1772

Virginia House of Burgesses election, 1757[edit]

Washington first stood for election to the Virginia House of Burgesses from Frederick County, Virginia in 1757 at the age of 25. Two burgesses were elected from each Virginia county by and among the male landowners. Members of the House of Burgesses did not serve fixed terms, unlike its successor the Virginia House of Delegates, and it remained sitting until dissolved by the governor or until seven years had passed, whichever occurred sooner.[1]

Elections during this time were not conducted by secret ballot but rather by viva voce. The sheriff of the county, a clerk, and a representative of each candidate would be seated at a table, and each elector would approach the table and openly declare his vote. In elections to the House of Burgesses, each voter cast two votes and two candidates were elected who received the greatest number of votes.[2]

1757 House of Burgesses (from Frederick County)[3]
Party Candidate Votes %
Independent Hugh West 271 46.64
Independent Thomas Swearingen 270 46.47
Independent George Washington 40 6.88

John Adams[edit]

Portrait of Adams by John Trumbull, 1793

United States presidential election, 1800[edit]

With the Federalist Party deeply split over his negotiations with France, and the opposition Republican Party enraged over the Alien and Sedition Acts and the expansion of the military, Adams faced a daunting reelection campaign in 1800.[4] The Federalist congressmen caucused in the spring of 1800 and nominated Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The Republicans nominated Jefferson and Burr, their candidates in the previous election.[5]

The campaign was bitter and characterized by malicious insults by partisan presses on both sides. Federalists claimed that the Republicans were the enemies of "all who love order, peace, virtue, and religion." They were said to be libertines and dangerous radicals who favored states' rights over the Union and would instigate anarchy and civil war.

When the electoral votes were counted, Adams finished in third place with 65 votes, and Pinckney came in fourth with 64 votes. Jefferson and Burr tied for first place with 73 votes each. Because of the tie, the election devolved upon the House of Representatives, with each state having one vote and a supermajority required for victory. On February 17, 1801 – on the 36th ballot – Jefferson was elected by a vote of 10 to 4 (two states abstained).[4][6] It is noteworthy that Hamilton's scheme, although it made the Federalists appear divided and therefore helped Jefferson win, failed in its overall attempt to woo Federalist electors away from Adams.[7][a]

1800 presidential election results

Thomas Jefferson[edit]

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson in 1791 at 49 by Charles Willson Peale

United States presidential election, 1796[edit]

Thomas Jefferson lost the presidential election of 1796 to John Adams.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a), (b), (c) Electoral vote
Count Percentage
John Adams Federalist Massachusetts 35,726 53.4% 71
Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican Virginia 31,115 46.6% 68
Thomas Pinckney Federalist South Carolina 59
Aaron Burr Democratic-Republican New York 30
Samuel Adams Democratic-Republican Massachusetts 15
Oliver Ellsworth Federalist Connecticut 11
George Clinton Democratic-Republican New York 7
John Jay Federalist New York 5
James Iredell Federalist North Carolina 3
George Washington None Virginia 2
John Henry Federalist[11] Maryland 2
Samuel Johnston Federalist North Carolina 2
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Federalist South Carolina 1
Total 66,841 100.0% 276
Needed to win 70
Congressman Madison, age 32 by Charles Willson Peale

James Madison[edit]

Virginia House of Delegates election, 1777[edit]

Madison lost re-election to the Virginia House of Delegates in the 1777 election.[12]

James Monroe

James Monroe[edit]

Democratic-Republican presidential caucus, 1808[edit]

Nominations for the 1808 presidential election were made by congressional caucuses. With Thomas Jefferson ready to retire, supporters of Secretary of State James Madison of Virginia worked carefully to ensure that Madison would succeed Jefferson. Madison's primary competition came from former Ambassador James Monroe of Virginia and Vice President George Clinton. Monroe was supported by a group known as the tertium quids, who supported a weak central government and were dissatisfied by the Louisiana Purchase and the Compact of 1802. Clinton's support came from Northern Democratic-Republicans who disapproved of the Embargo Act (which they saw as potentially leading towards war with Great Britain) and who sought to end the Virginia Dynasty. The Congressional caucus met in January 1808, choosing Madison as its candidate for president and Clinton as its candidate for vice president.[13]

Many supporters of Monroe and Clinton refused to accept the result of the caucus. Monroe was nominated by a group of Virginia Democratic-Republicans, and although he did not actively try to defeat Madison, he also refused to withdraw from the race.[14] Clinton was also supported by a group of New York Democratic-Republicans for president even as he remained the party's official vice presidential candidate.[15]

Presidential Ballot Total Vice Presidential Ballot Total
James Madison 83 George Clinton 79
James Monroe 3 John Langdon 5
George Clinton 3 Henry Dearborn 3
John Quincy Adams 1

John Quincy Adams[edit]

United States House of Representatives election, 1802[edit]

Adams lost.

United States presidential election, 1828[edit]

Adams lost to Andrew Jackson.

Massachusetts gubernatorial election, 1833[edit]

The Anti-Masonic Party nominated Adams in the 1833 Massachusetts gubernatorial election in a four-way race between Adams, the National Republican candidate, the Democratic candidate, and a candidate of the Working Men's Party. The National Republican candidate, John Davis, won 40% of the vote, while Adams finished in second place with 29%. Because no candidate won a majority of the vote, the state legislature decided the election. Rather than seek election by the legislature, Adams withdrew his name from contention, and the legislature selected Davis.[16]

U.S. Senate election, 1835[edit]

Adams was nearly elected to the Senate (to represent Massachusetts) in 1835 by a coalition of Anti-Masons and National Republicans, but his support for Jackson in a minor foreign policy matter annoyed National Republican leaders enough that they dropped their support for his candidacy.[17] After 1835, Adams never again sought higher office, focusing instead on his service in the House of Representatives.[18]

A man with wavy gray hair in white shirt, black bowtie, and black coat. Faces left.
Jackson in 1824, painted by Thomas Sully

Andrew Jackson[edit]

United States presidential election, 1824[edit]

Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams, despite winning a greater share of the popular vote.

Martin Van Buren[edit]

1840 United States presidential election[edit]

President van Buren lost to William Henry Harrison.

William Henry Harrison[edit]

Ohio gubernatorial election, 1820[edit]

Harrison lost the race for Ohio governor.

United States House of Representatives election, 1822[edit]

Harrison lost to James W. Gazlay to represent Ohio's 1st congressional district.

Ohio U.S. House of Representatives election District 1, 1822[19]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic-Republican James W. Gazlay 3,176 52.85%
Democratic-Republican William H. Harrison 2,834 47.15%
Total votes 6,010 100%

United States presidential election, 1836[edit]

Harrison lost to Martin van Buren. He would go on to defeat Van Buren in the 1840 presidential election.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote(a) Electoral vote
Count Percentage
Martin Van Buren Democratic New York 764,176 50.83% 170
William Henry Harrison Whig Ohio 550,816 36.63% 73
Hugh Lawson White Whig Tennessee 146,107 9.72% 26
Daniel Webster Whig Massachusetts 41,201 2.74% 14
Willie Person Mangum Whig North Carolina (b) 11
Other 1,234 0.08% 0
Total 1,503,534 100.0% 294
Needed to win 148

John Tyler[edit]

United States presidential election, 1844[edit]

Tyler, having sought election to a full term with the nomination of the newly-formed National Democratic-Republican Party, dropped out of the race on August 20, 1844.


  1. ^ Ferling attributes Adams's defeat to five factors: the stronger organization of the Republicans; Federalist disunity; the controversy surrounding the Alien and Sedition Acts; the popularity of Jefferson in the South; and the effective politicking of Burr in New York.[8] Adams wrote, "No party that ever existed knew itself so little or so vainly overrated its own influence and popularity as ours. None ever understood so ill the causes of its own power, or so wantonly destroyed them."[9] Stephen G. Kurtz argues that Hamilton and his supporters were primarily responsible for the destruction of the Federalist Party. They viewed the party as a personal tool and played into the hands of the Jeffersonians by building up a large standing army and creating a feud with Adams.[10] Chernow writes that Hamilton believed that by eliminating Adams, he could eventually pick up the pieces of the ruined Federalist Party and lead it back to dominance: "Better to purge Adams and let Jefferson govern for a while than to water down the party's ideological purity with compromises."[7]


  1. ^ Gottlieb, Matthew. "House of Burgesses". encyclopediavirginia.org. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  2. ^ Beeman, Richard (2015). The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 39–43. ISBN 0812201213.
  3. ^ "The First Election of Washington to the House of Burgesses". newrivernotes.com. Grayson County Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  4. ^ a b Taylor, C. James. "John Adams: Campaigns and Elections". Charlottesville, VA: Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  5. ^ Ferling, ch. 19.
  6. ^ "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". College Park, Maryland: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 20, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Chernow 2004, p. 626.
  8. ^ Ferling 1992, pp. 404–405.
  9. ^ Smith 1962b, p. 1053.
  10. ^ Kurtz 1957, p. 331.
  11. ^ "MARYLAND'S ELECTORAL VOTE FOR U.S. PRESIDENT, 1789-2016". Maryland Manual On-line. Maryland State Archives. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  12. ^ Burstein & Isenberg 2010, pp. 59–60
  13. ^ Sabato, Larry; Ernst, Howard (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections. Infobase Publishing. pp. 302–304.
  14. ^ Ammon, Harry (1963). "James Monroe and the Election of 1808 in Virginia". The William and Mary Quarterly. 20 (1): 33–56. JSTOR 1921354.
  15. ^ Kaminski, John P. (1993). George Clinton: Yeoman Politician of the New Republic. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 281–288. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
  16. ^ Cooper 2017, pp. 284–285.
  17. ^ Cooper 2017, pp. 311–312.
  18. ^ Cooper 2017, p. 315.
  19. ^ "Ohio U.S. House of Representatives election, 1822".