George Washington remained exceedingly popular in 1790. However, political parties did not yet exist. Historians lump House and Senate members into pro and anti-administration camps to distinguish the factions. In modern terms, the 1790 midterm election was a “win” for the Washington Administration as pro-administration forces retained control of both houses of congress with little overall changeover.
The minority party gained one seat in the Senate while the majority lost one in 1790. Essentially, the two sides tied as political fault lines appeared to ossify. The majority entered the midterms with a healthy 19-7 edge and emerged with a comfortable 17-8 advantage.
The Second Congress seated 25 senators instead of 26. Pennsylvania’s William Maclay was not returned to the Senate and the state could not decide on a replacement until 1793. As a result, they vacated the seat for two years leading to a reduction of one anti-administration vote. Overall, nine senators ran for re-election. Three pro-administration senators won re-election, one lost re-election, two retired leading to anti-administration gains, and the majority held three. Special elections gave the anti-administration two seats. Meanwhile, three men changed parties, one joined the administration and two abandoned it. In the end, the administration lost two seats and the opposition gained one.
While the Senate saw an overall change of three seats, the composition of the House of Representatives did not change. Each side gained two seats as Kentucky and Vermont entered the body. The Washington coalition held a 37-28 advantage in the First Congress. They retained the nine vote edge after 1790. The administration lost one seat in Virginia and two in Pennsylvania while picking up two in Kentucky, and one in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. The opposition picked up two in Vermont. Overall, Washington’s supporters garnered 57% of the vote.
Voters did not see a reason to make change. George Washington remained personally popular and proved a competent administrator. His popularity thwarted the opposition and drove Thomas Jefferson and others crazy. The cult of Washington even exasperated Vice President Adams. The combination of personal popularity, public trust, and competent stewardship reflected in the 1790 election results.
The political landscape remained constant in 1790. The Washington Administration won the midterm elections. The majority retained both congressional houses by comfortable margins. Washington’s overall popularity and success contributed to the electoral victory. The results represented a mandate for the president’s policies and the man himself.