James Monroe and electoral Landslides

Electoral Landslides

Some years Presidential Elections are close, in other years, landslides.  I wonder if a landslide election is better for the country than a tight one? If  a candidate wins easily they could have an easier time getting their agenda implemented, they consider themselves to have a 'mandate'.  It might also be an indicator that the country is more unified and less divided. Consider all the elections where the winner reached over 90% of the electoral college, a clear landslide victory, shown in the table below.



Electoral Votes

Popular Votes

1789 / 1792



NA *




NA *
















NA *



91% **

55% **




51% ***





* Many States did not choose electors by popular vote; those that did limited suffrage significantly

**The South did not vote in the election this year due to the Civil War; Presumably Lincoln’s margin would have been less had the Southern States participated

*** Third party candidate received 6.6% of popular vote

Even in these years the winning President has never received more than 61% of the popular vote. Reagan and Washington are the only Presidents to appear twice on this list. And both faced significant opposition – Washington to the controversial Jay Treaty with Great Britain and Hamilton’s debt assumption plan. Reagan faced strong opposition to his tax cuts, strategic defense initiative and confrontational policy with the Soviet Union. Others on the list - LBJ, Nixon and FDR also faced obstacles and resistance to their policies. Nixon, of course, was ousted from office within two years of his re-election; LBJ faced strong opposition to his Vietnam policies and declined to run for re-election; FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court after his 1936 victory and the Democrats ending up losing many Congressional seats in 1938.

Monroe Unopposed for Re-Election

One president with over 90% of the Electoral College had an easier time - James Monroe, elected in 1816. He was President during a time of national unity, following the War of 1812. Since the Federalist Party had collapsed there were no competing political parties. Monroe embarked on a nationwide goodwill tour – the term ‘Era of Good Feelings’ was coined by a Federalist paper in New England during his travels. By 1820, imagine this, Monroe ran unopposed for re-election. One ‘faithless’ elector denied Monroe a 100% electoral college victory – unconfirmed legend has it that he wanted to ensure that Washington remained the only president to win unanimously.

Monroe's Career

monroe delaware.jpg

Monroe’s career started with his service in the Revolutionary War. He was part of the surprise attack crossing the Delaware river to attack the Hessians in Trenton. He is included in the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware (circled in red).  Monroe was severely wounded in the battle and was lucky to survive a bullet wound severing an artery in his shoulder.  He carried the bullet in his shoulder for the rest of his life.  Monroe was part of Virginia's ratification convention for the new Constitution in 1788.  He opposed the new Constitution believing it gave too much power to the Federal Government.  After ratification, he ran against James Madison in a Congressional election, the only time two future Presidents faced each other in a local election.  Despite a gerrymandered district meant to favor Monroe, Madison won. 

Monroe's Presidency

Monroe served as both Secretary of State and Secretary of War during the War of 1812.   He ran for President in 1816, winning easily over the crumbling Federalist party. 

Along with Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Monroe negotiated the purchase of Florida from Spain. That treaty also defined the boundaries of current-day Oregon and Idaho with California and Nevada).  A treaty with Great Britain set the U.S./Canadian border and extended the United States to the Pacific through the Oregon territory. Finally, Russia had colonized Alaska and the Monroe administration negotiated a boundary treaty with the Tsar.

During his term, Latin and South America rebelled against and won freedom from Spain.  The U.S. supported their aspirations for freedom. The U.S. wanted to keep Europe from any further colonization attempts in the New World or any attempts to restore monarchies over the now independent countries in Latin and South America.  There was also an economic goal of free trade with these countries.

In Monroe’s 1823 State of the Union address he stated:

“The occasion has been judged proper for asserting … that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”

He further stated the U.S. would not interfere with any existing colonies that still existed in the Western Hemisphere.  Monroe asserted that the U.S. would not interfere in European affairs.  In other words, you leave us alone and we will leave you alone. These statements became known as the Monroe Doctrine.


President Monroe supported resettling former slaves in Africa.  The country of Liberia was founded for this purpose, its capital, Monrovia, is named after President Monroe.  In an 1829 letter, he described slavery as “one of the evils still remaining, incident to our Colonial system”.  Abolition, he thought, should be gradual, to avoid disruption of the social order and economy.  The Missouri Compromise, admitting Missouri as a slave state and banning slavery north of 36°  latitude, was passed during his administration.

Monroe died on the 4th of July, just like Adams and Jefferson.  He was poor when he died. All four of the Founding Father Virginian presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) owned slaves, but were always in financial trouble.  The plantations of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe had to be sold upon their death to meet debts.

End of an Era

The ‘Era of Good Feelings’ during Monroe's time did not last. Following him, the 1824 election had four candidates. It was one of the most contested elections in our history. The House of Representatives decided the winner since no candidate won a majority, the last time that has occurred.

Imagine if that happened again - a President so revered they could win re-election without any significant opposition.  I'm not sure that is a positive outcome. Take an extreme example - speculate that Trump is so successful, the Democrats can only put up a nominal opponent in 2020. At least 40 to 50% of the country would be angry that they do not have a chance to express their opposition at the ballot box. Or the flip, say Hillary had won, and the Republicans could only put up nominal opposition in 2020. Again, at least 40 to 50% of the country would be outraged. Better to have  elections where voters have a choice and  where the candidates differ on the major issues. And a choice between ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’, where the same policies occur no matter who won, is not healthy either.