Richard P. McCormick
The Presidential Game: The Origins of American Presidential Politics
NYC: Oxford University Press, 1982
In 1989, I gave a brief talk at Rutgers University about the electoral college meeting we had just had in North Carolina in 1988. The university bookstore had one last copy of this book at a greatly reduced price - maybe $5 or so. It was one of the best purchases of my life.
McCormick details the way presidents were elected from 1789 until 1840. He begins with the constitutional convention debates and ends with the year in which things became standardized for the next 70 years.
Here is an overview of each chapter:
Rules for A Game Not Played - The Constitutional Convention discussions and how the electoral system was established, presidential election of 1789. Covers the difficulties involved in legislative selection and the general ticket.
[Note: the term 'electoral college' was not used in the early years of the republic. It was borrowed from a French body that helped to choose its political leaders. The term seemed appropriate for the meetings of the presidential electors, and the Jackson folks in 1825 began using the term 'electoral college' disparagingly.]
Uncertain Rules for a Hazardous Game - Elections of 1792 to 1800. This chapter deals with the difficulties of the original system providing two votes per elector.
The Virginia Game - Elections of 1804 to 1820. Excellent analysis of these races.
The Game of Faction - Elections of 1824 and 1828. This chapter deals with the way Jackson managed to assemble a winning victory by forming factional alliances after losing in the 1825 contingent election.
The Party Game - Elections of 1832 to 1840. In this chapter, the process of organizing strong political parties is discussed.
This book is excellent. If you are interested in the mechanics of early presidential elections, this book provides the best overview, lots of details I have not found elsewhere, and a superb analysis of the races. My only complaint is that it could have been a bigger book with more information!