In the election of 1820, the Federalist Party (the party of John Adams) didn't even put up a candidate against incumbent James Monroe. What happens if you sit one out? Well, it was the death of the Federalist Party, and it took eight years for a two-party system to return.
It wasn't until 1856 that the Republican Party emerged, and its first candidate, John Fremont, had a strong showing, with 33 percent of the vote. By 1860, however, with a badly divided nation, the Republicans won in just their second try. Abraham Lincoln got barely four out of 10 votes -- just enough in a four-man field.
He Took It Hard
In the 1872 election, Civil War hero Ulysses Grant, a Republican, won a second term against the firebrand editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley. Really just a liberal Republican, Greeley hated Grant's corrupt cabinet; he didn't inspire Democrats because he had spent years vilifying them in print. Greeley lost big, but his zero electoral votes look even worse. Of course, there's a story there. Greeley's wife died just a few days before the election, and, heartbroken, he followed her after the popular vote but before the electoral college votes were tallied, thus the goose egg.
Downhill Ever Since
For some reason, America really voted in 1900. Three-quarters of the electorate went out to choose between William McKinley (the winner) and William Jennings Bryan. That was our high-water mark; in 2004, 57 percent of the voting age population came out -- still enough to make it the biggest overall turnout ever, with more than 122 million votes cast. The worst turnout in the past century was 1996, with 49 percent.
Living on the Edge
Richard Nixon was involved in not one but two of the closest presidential elections ever. In 1960, he lost to John F. Kennedy by about 120,000 nationwide. Then, in 1968 he turned the tables and beat Hubert Humphrey by a little more than 500,000 votes out of more than 73 million cast.