Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Will New York State Return to Dominating Presidential Elections?

Nov 14, 2021

Will New York State Return to Dominating Presidential Elections?

tags: elections,political history,New York State

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

America has had a total of 59 presidential elections since 1789, and it is clear that the state of New York has dominated presidential election history in many different ways.

As the largest state in population from the 1820 census through the 1960 census, it’s not surprising that there have been 29 New York residents nominated for president and 23 for vice president, 52 times a New York resident has been on the presidential ballot.

We have seen nine presidents who resided in New York State, whether elected or succeeding to the presidency by the death of the incumbent (Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and most recently Donald Trump).

We have also seen 11 presidential nominees from New York State who were defeated at election. (DeWitt Clinton, Rufus King, Horatio Seymour, Horace Greeley, Samuel Tilden, Alton B. Parker, Charles Evans Hughes, Alfred E. Smith, Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey and Hillary Clinton).

Eleven vice presidents resided in New York State (Aaron Burr, George Clinton, Daniel Tompkins, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, William Wheeler, Chester Alan Arthur,  Levi Morton, Theodore Roosevelt, James Sherman, and Nelson Rockefeller), and four of these also became president.

We have seen 6 vice presidential nominees who resided in New York State who were on the losing ticket (Rufus King, Nathan Sanford, Whitelaw Reid, William E. Miller, Geraldine Ferraro, and Jack Kemp).

There have also been 8 noteworthy presidential contenders who resided in New York State but failed to win their party’s nomination (Nelson Rockefeller in 1960, 1964, and 1968, Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Shirley Chisholm in 1972, John Lindsay in 1972, Jack Kemp in 1988, Mario Cuomo in 1992, Rudy Giuliani in 2008, and Hillary Clinton in 2008).

No other state comes close to this dominance, with Illinois (9), Ohio (8) and California (6) having only a fraction of the numbers (29) of New York State residents who competed for the Presidency.

In more detail, here are the facts about New Yorkers on Presidential Election ballots:

DeWitt Clinton in 1812 and Rufus King in 1816 represented the two Federalists in a rapidly dying party who were Presidential nominees against James Madison and James Monroe of the Democratic-Republican Party. Rufus King also ran unsuccessfully for Vice President in 1804 and 1808.

The Democratic-Republican Party had Aaron Burr lose in 1796 and win in 1800 under Thomas Jefferson, while George Clinton won in both 1804 and 1808 under Jefferson and James Madison, and Daniel Tompkins won both in 1816 and 1820 under President James Monroe.  In 1824, Nathan Sanford ran and lost in the four party Democratic Republican race as Henry Clay’s running mate.

Once the second party system was established by the 1830s, we would see Martin Van Buren on the Democratic ticket successfully run for Vice President under Andrew Jackson in 1832, win the presidency in 1836, and lose against William Henry Harrison and the Whig Party in 1840.  As the third-party Free Soil candidate in 1848, Van Buren would gain about 10 percent of the vote and help to steer the election to Whig Zachary Taylor.  

The Whigs would run Francis Granger for Vice President in 1836 with Harrison on one of the multi candidate tickets offered as an alternative in that successful election of Van Buren to the White House. Millard Fillmore would be successful as Zachary Taylor’s Vice Presidential running mate in 1848, and then succeed him in the Presidency in July 1850, and later would run as the American (Know Nothing) Party nominee in 1856, winning the state of Maryland and 21.5 percent of the popular vote.

Since the time of the Civil War onward to the Great Depression, New York State nominees became even more prominent on Presidential ballots.  Three straight Democratic Party nominees, Horatio Seymore in 1868, Horace Greeley in 1872, and Samuel Tilden in 1876 lost to their Republican opponents, but Republican Vice Presidential nominees William Wheeler in 1876 and Chester Alan Arthur in 1880 won as running mates of Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield, and Arthur later succeeded to the Presidency upon the assassination of Garfield in 1881.

The Democrats then saw Grover Cleveland as the nominee of their party for three straight elections, winning the Presidency in 1884 and 1892, but losing the electoral vote to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, despite having won the popular vote again.  Levi Morton served as Vice President under Harrison but was replaced due to differences with Harrison, in 1892 by Whitelaw Reid, on what became a losing ticket that year.

As the 20th century began, Theodore Roosevelt, the Spanish American War hero and Governor of New York, became vice president under William McKinley, ascended to the presidency six months later, and then won a full term in 1904. He later was the candidate of the Bull Moose Progressive Party in 1912, gaining 27.5 percent of the national popular vote, winning six states and 88 electoral votes, all-time records for a third party nominee.  New York Supreme Court Judge Alton B. Parker ran as the Democratic nominee in 1904 against fellow New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt, in a race that set a record at the time for popular vote margin, the greatest since James Monroe in 1820.

James Sherman served as Vice President under President William Howard Taft after the 1908 election, but died weeks before the 1912 election, and the 8 electoral votes that Taft and Sherman won in 1912, were cast for Sherman’s replacement on the Electoral College vote, Nicholas Murray Butler, the longtime President of Columbia University in New York City and another New York resident.

Former Governor and Supreme Court Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes nearly won the 1916 Presidential Election against President Woodrow Wilson, but went on to become Secretary of State and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his later career. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt would have his name on the ballot five times, losing the vice presidency as the running mate of James Cox in 1920, but then winning the presidency four times, in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  His Republican opponent in 1940, businessman Wendell Willkie, was a New York resident when he ran against FDR.  Roosevelt had backed the losing Democratic presidential candidate in 1928, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, but later they became bitter rivals.  And when FDR ran for the last time in 1944, he had the New York Republican Governor Thomas E. Dewey as his opponent. Dewey lost then, and suffered a shocking defeat to President Harry Truman in 1948.

Not often realized is that Republican nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was living in New York and was President of Columbia University, would remain a New York resident for both of his successful elections to the presidency in 1952 and 1956.  His two term vice president, Richard Nixon moved to New York after losing to John F. Kennedy in 1960, and won the Presidency in 1968, although he would claim California residency when he ran for reelection in 1972.

Three losing Vice Presidential candidates from New York were William E. Miller, the running mate of Barry Goldwater in 1964, Geraldine Ferraro, the running mate of Walter Mondale in 1984, and Jack Kemp, the running mate of Bob Dole in 1996.

The final battle of New Yorkers came in 2016, when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton competed against Republican nominee and real estate businessman Donald Trump.  It marked only the fourth time that both major Presidential contenders came from New York—the earlier times being 1904 (TR vs Parker), 1940 (FDR vs Willkie), and 1944 (FDR vs Dewey).

With New York State having now declined to fourth rank in population, and the nation’s demographics shifting toward the South and West, it is highly unlikely that any future ballots will have both parties represented by New Yorkers.

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