In 1792, George Washington seriously considered not running for reelection. However, James Madison convinced him that his country still needed him. By 1796, however, Washington had determined that he was going home to Mount Vernon and nothing was going to stop him. In September, he issued his Farewell Address, in which he stated that he would not run for a third term. This set the stage for the first truly contested presidential election in American history.
By the time Washington decided not to run again, two political parties had developed in the United States—the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, and the Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The race for president very quickly narrowed down to two candidates, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Both were well-known leaders from the Revolutionary era and, in fact, both had been mentioned as potential presidential candidates even before Washington announced his plans. No real campaigning could take place until Washington pulled out for fear of alienating people who wanted Washington to run again. Once he was no longer a factor, the party newspapers began actively pushing their favorite nominee and explaining why the people had only one real choice—to vote for their respective candidate.
When it was all over, John Adams was elected president and Thomas Jefferson was elected vice president. Electing a president and vice president from different political parties happened because the electoral college had been originally set up to give the presidency to the man with the most votes, and the vice presidency to the runner-up. This plan would work fine as long as political parties did not develop. Once the Federalists and Republicans came on the scene, with very different political platforms, choosing national leaders became more complicated. Eventually, the Twelfth Amendment