The Presidential Election of 1800
The Presidential election of
1800, also known as the Revolution of 1800, was a significant
signal to the world that the newly formed United States was indeed a
country where the people determined their leaders, and thus their fate.
That's due to the fact that the vote was a contentious, non violent
battle of sorts that led to the young country's first, and only, tie for
President of the United States, and resulted in a transfer of power
without bloodshed or violence, breaking away from the long history of
violent takeovers in Europe.
campaign leading up to the election was bitter, full of slander and
personal attacks from both sides. It pitted the Federalist Party, led by
incumbent John Adams, against the Democratic-Republican Party led by
Adams' Vice President Thomas Jefferson, and was a rematch of the election
four years prior. The fact that the election of 1796 resulted in a
Federalist President and a Republican Vice President was due to the way
the Constitution allowed the Electoral College to vote.
But the actual tie for President in 1800 wouldn't be between Jefferson
and Adams. It would be between Jefferson and his own running mate
Aaron Burr due to that same flaw in the U.S. Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson - available for photo prints and downloads HERE
|Lead up to the Election:
Federalists spread word that the
Republicans would ruin the country with their radical support of the
French Revolution, while the Republican's accused the Federalists of
favoring Britain, promoting aristocratic views that were destroying
their values through the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Acts were four
bills passed by the Federalists in 1798 in the aftermath of the French
- The Naturalization Act amendment,
which extended the duration of residence required for immigrants to
become citizens from 5 to 14 years.
- The Alien Act, which authorized the
President to deport immigrants (aliens) considered "dangerous to the
peace and safety of the U.S." (activated with a two year expiration)
- The Alien Enemies Act, which
authorized the President apprehend and deport resident aliens if their
home countries were at war with the United States (remains in-tact
- The Sedition Act, making it a crime to
publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the
government or certain officials. This Act also had an
expatriation, which was the day before President Adams' term ended on
March 3, 1801.
These acts would be important in the 1800
election, as the Republicans saw Adams' foreign policy too favorable to
Britain, opposed new taxes to pay for the Quasi-War, which was an
undeclared war fought mostly at sea between the US and the French
Republic starting in 1798, and feared that the new army called up for
the conflict would oppress the people. They attacked the Alien and
Sedition Acts as violations of states rights and the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Adams was also being attacked by "High Federalists" aligned
with Alexander Hamilton, who thought Adams to be too moderate for the
party. Hamilton even hatched a plan that would have elected Adams
running mate Charles Pinckney as President, but after the
Democratic-Republicans obtained and published a 54 page scathing letter
against Adams by Hamilton, his efforts were damaged, as well as his and
Adams political future. Ultimately it also hurt the Federalist Party as
The campaign saw
both sides seeking any advantage they could, including changing the process
of selecting electors in several states. Republican state legislators in
Georgia for instance replaced the popular vote with selection by the state
legislature. Federalists did the same in Massachusetts and New
Hampshire. Meanwhile Virginia switched from electoral districts to
winner take all.
At the time, each
state chose its own election day between April and October. After the long
fought campaign, that some even thought would rip apart the country, South
Carolina wrapped up the voting and chose eight Republicans to the Electoral
College, breaking a 65-65 national split, and giving Jefferson and Burr the
John Adams by Asher B. Durand.
Available for photographic prints and downloads
Flaw in the
United States Constitution said that members of the Electoral College could
only vote for President. Each elector would vote for two candidates,
with the person receiving the most votes becoming President, and the second
most votes Vice President.
To avoid a tie in
votes on the Federalist side, the party arranged for one of their electors
to vote for John Jay instead of Vice President Pinckney. The
Democratic-Republicans plan was to have one of the electors abstain from
casting their second ballot for Burr, but that didn't happen. Instead
each Republican elector voted for both, resulting in Jefferson and Burr each
getting 73 votes.
This put the
election in the hands of the House of Representatives. Law stipulated
though that the outgoing House, at the time still controlled by Federalists,
would be the deciders, with each state casting one vote. New terms for both
the House and President began in early March.
In February of
1801, members of the House balloted as states to determine the winner.
An absolute majority vote of the 16 states were required for victory.
With many outgoing Federalists unwilling to back Jefferson, most instead
voted for Burr, giving Burr six of the states. The seven states controlled
by Republicans gave their votes to Jefferson, with Georgia's sole Federalist
voting for him as well, giving Jefferson eight votes. But 9 votes were
needed and there were two states left.
Vermont was a
wash. Evenly split, the states representatives cast a blank ballot.
This left things to Maryland, which had five Federalist and three Republican
representatives. However, they two were split in their vote between Burr and
Jefferson, resulting in another blank ballot being cast.
This went on for
seven days that February, with the House casting a total of 35 ballots, and
Jefferson receiving only eight of the 9 states needed each time.
Finally on February 17, Federalist James Bayard of Delaware, along with his
party allies in Maryland and Vermont, all cast blank ballots, resulting in
both states selecting Jefferson, giving him 10 states and the office of
President of the United States. The final vote was Jefferson 10, Burr 4 and
2 with no result.
The way the
Constitution laid out the Electoral College originally stipulated the each
elector could cast two votes, but not for two people in the same state as
the elector. The candidate with the most electoral votes became President,
the second most Vice President. If there was a tie it would go the to House
of Representatives to choose the President. In the case of Vice
President, who ever received the second highest amount of votes in the House
would take the office. The election of 1796 exposed the first problem
with this when Federalists scattered their second votes, resulting in the
Democratic-Republican presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson becoming Vice
President. Many where concerned that there could be a situation where a Vice
President could impede the President, and even try to kill him to become
After the debacles
in 1796, and 1800, in December of 1803 Congress proposed the Twelfth
Amendment (XII) to the U.S. Constitution, in which each elector must cast
distinct votes for President and Vice President, instead of the two votes
for President. This put in place measures that lessoned the chance of an
opposing party in the Vice Presidents position. It kept the clause
forbidding an elector from voting for both candidates of a presidential
ticket if both candidates are from the elector's state. It also made
sure that anyone ineligible to be President could not be Vice President
either. The Amendment was ratified by the states in 1804.
The amendment did
not change the composition of the Electoral College, but it did adjust the
procedures for ties that go to the House. If a majority of Electoral
College votes is not reached for President, the House of Representatives
chooses the President. The amendment requires the House to choose from the
three highest receivers of electoral votes. It also stipulates that
the Senate, in the case of a tie, chooses the Vice President. That
choice is limited to candidates with the two highest electoral votes. If
multiple individuals are tied for second place, the Senate may consider all
of them, in addition to the candidate with the highest amount of votes.
The amendment also introduced a requirement of two-thirds of the Senate to
conduct the tie breaking vote, and that a majority of the whole in the
Senate be required to make the choice.
further prevents deadlocks, requiring that if the House could not choose a
President by March 4 (or the first day of a Presidential term in office),
that the candidate elected as Vice President would act as President.
In 1933, the Twentieth Amendment changed the date of the beginning of the
Presidential term to January 20, clarified that the Vice President-elect
would only act as President if the House had not chosen a President by
then, and permitted Congress to direct through legislation who would be
acting President if there is neither a President-elect or Vice
President-elect by January 20.
This system of
election is still in place today in the United States, therefore it is still
possible to have a Presidential candidate not reach the number of Electoral
College votes needed, therefore sending the decision for President to the
House of Representatives, and the decision for Vice President to the Senate.
In fact, there has
been one other election since the Twelfth Amendment where the House of
Representatives was the deciding body for President of the United States.
Although it wasn't a tie, in the election of 1824 between John Quincy Adams,
President John Adams son, and Andrew Jackson, neither candidate reached the
majority of the electoral vote. It was also the only election where
the candidate with the most electoral votes did not become President.
while not reaching a majority of the Electoral College votes, did have more
votes than Adams, however the House of Representatives wound up choosing
Adams in February of 1825. Both candidates had run under the
Democratic-Republican party ticket, since the Federalists had dissolved in
previous years, heavily damaged by the election of 1800. However the
Republican party had separated into four groups, each with their own
candidate. In later years, the group led by Andrew Jackson would
become the Democratic Party, while groups led by John Quincy Adams and Henry
Clay would become the National Republican Party, followed by the Whig Party.
Compiled and edited by
United States Constitution,
Library of Congress,
Presidents of the United States of America
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