50 famous firsts from presidential history
George Washington, the country’s first president, won both of his elections unanimously, with every elector casting their vote for him. That’s a far cry from today’s bitterly contested battles. President Washington was followed in office by John Adams, the first resident of the new White House, then still called the President’s House.
Presidential firsts made headlines and history through subsequent administrations. In the early years of the country, precedents were established and earlier flaws in procedures were remedied. A separate vote for the vice president came about in 1804 after a marred election four years earlier. Then Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied and the winner was chosen by the House of Representatives. James Monroe, the last of the Founding Fathers to hold the presidency, became known for what was later called the Monroe Doctrine, the United States establishing its sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere and warning Europe in the process.
Presidential firsts can include not just what presidents do in office, but the identity of the presidents themselves. The country has seen two father-son pairs win the White House: first the Adamses and much later the Bushes. Women and candidates of color joined the competition and with the victory of the Biden-Harris ticket, Sen. Kamala Harris became the first woman and woman of color to become vice president. President-elect Joe Biden will be the oldest man ever to serve. And while the Republican and Democratic national conventions to chose each party's candidate seems like an enshrined practice now, candidates were once chosen differently, and the procedures governing each selection process have changed over the centuries.
If the country began by rallying behind President Washington as the one man to lead the United States, the last election was one of the most divisive. President Donald Trump has become the most norm-breaking president in history, accruing his own large list of presidential firsts.
Stacker compiled a list of 50 presidential firsts from the founding of the country to the present by looking at government records, official documents, and news and historical reports. Here is a look at some of those milestones over the years.
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1789: Washington wins unanimously
George Washington, the country’s first president, was chosen by all of the 69 electors of the time. He took the oath of office on April 30, 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City, then walked up Broadway to St. Paul’s Chapel for a service. The chapel later survived the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center nearby. Washington was unanimously elected for his second term too.
1800: First White House president
President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, became the first residents of the still-unfinished White House on Nov. 1, 1800, just before the election. President Washington had chosen the site for the residence, which was designed by James Hoban, an architect who was born in Ireland. The British set fire to what was called the President’s House in 1814, during the War of 1812. President Theodore Roosevelt named the residence the White House in 1901.
1804: First separate vote for vice president
Until 1800, the candidate who came in second became the vice president, but that year Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied at 73. The House of Representatives elected Thomas Jefferson president and Aaron Burr vice president, but the U.S.Constitution was amended to call for two separate elections. The first to win was George Clinton, the governor of New York, who ran with President Jefferson.
1806: First child born in the White House
Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, James Madison Randolph, became the first child to be born in the White House while his mother was visiting. The child was the second son of Martha Jefferson Randolph and Thomas Mann Randolph. President Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died before his election and his daughter Martha sometimes acted as the lady of what was still called the President’s House.
1817: Last of the Founding Fathers
James Monroe was the last of the Founding Fathers to be elected president. He became known for the Monroe Doctrine, a name given after his death to a policy that he articulated in his 1823 message to Congress when he warned Europe not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere. The doctrine was part of the break from Europe, with its idea of separate spheres of influence for the United States and Europe.
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1821: First oath of office to be postponed
When James Monroe’s second inauguration fell on a Sunday, he postponed it a day, from March 4, 1821, to March 5, after he consulted with justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Similarly in 1849, Zachary Taylor, declined to take the oath of office on the Christian sabbath and moved his inauguration until the next day. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, changed the date of the inauguration from March 4, the day most had taken place, to Jan. 20.
1824: First president to lose popular and electoral votes
John Quincy Adams became the country’s sixth president, but only after a four-way race in 1824 was decided by the House of Representatives early the next year. Running were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay. Andrew Jackson won both the popular and electoral votes, but he failed to get a majority and accused his competitors of stealing the election.
1825: First son of previous president to serve
When John Quincy Adams took the oath of office in 1825 he followed his father, the country’s second president, into the presidency. His father is reported to have said: “No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.” The only other father and son to win the presidency were George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the country’s 41st and 43rd presidents.
1831: First convention to nominate candidates for president
The first candidate to be nominated at a convention was William Wirt of Maryland for the Anti-Masonic Party in 1831. The major parties then held their own conventions for the 1832 election, with the Democrats or Democratic-Republicans choosing Andrew Jackson a second time, while the National Republicans or Whigs nominated Henry Clay. All of the conventions were held in Baltimore.
1840: First party platform
The Democratic Party adopted nine resolutions for the first party platform. They emphasized that the federal government had limited powers “derived solely from the constitution.” They opposed a national bank, left slavery to be decided by the states, and believed taxes should only cover the expenses of the government. The Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison, beat President Martin Van Buren in the election.