Under the Articles of Confederation adopted in 1781, the national government was headed by the Confederation Congress, which had a ceremonial presiding officer and several executive departments, but no independent executive branch.The enormously popular Washington essentially ran unopposed.It was held from Monday, December 15, 1788, to Saturday, January 10, 1789.
In the absence of political parties, there was no formal nomination process.
The framers of the Constitution had presumed that Washington would be the first president, and once he agreed to come out of retirement to accept the office, there was no opposition to him.
Each elector would have two votes: the candidate who received a majority of the votes would become president and the runner-up vice president. Their second votes were divided between eleven other candidates; John Adams received the most and was elected vice president.
The Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1804, would change this procedure, requiring each elector to cast distinct votes for president and Vice President.
These groups were not established political parties, however, and were united in supporting Washington for president.
Washington's immense popularity made the question of who would be the first president only a technical one.
If so, this strategy was effective: Clinton received only three electoral votes, possibly due to the fear that a vote for Clinton was effectively a vote against Washington.
Only ten states out of the original thirteen cast electoral votes in this election.
This was due largely to a scheme perpetrated by Alexander Hamilton, who feared that Adams would tie with Washington, throwing the election to the House of Representatives and embarrassing Washington and the new Constitution.
Thus, Adams received only 34 of 69 votes, with the remaining 35 ballots split between ten other candidates.
No political parties existed at the time of the 1788–89 presidential election.