The Elections of 1800 and 1804

1800:  Thomas Jefferson 73 Aaron Burr 73 John Adams 65 Charles Pinckney 64

1804: Thomas Jefferson 162  Charles Pinckney 14

Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of Thomas Jefferson 1805-1807, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine

The election of 1800 established the third great precedent in presidential elections: the peaceful transfer of office from one partisan faction to its rival.  But factional intrigue, seizing on the opportunity posed by a flaw in the original method of casting electoral votes, nearly thwarted the precedent.  The electors pledged to Jefferson and Burr, who were running as a slate for President and Vice President, each cast one vote for Jefferson and one for Burr, causing a tie.  The election then went to the lame-duck House of Representatives, which still had a majority of the defeated Federalists.  Initially, most of the Federalists were unable to resist the temptation to cause mischief by casting their votes for Burr.  Only the statesmanship of Alexander Hamilton, who urged his fellow Federalists to vote for Jefferson over Burr, prevented “intrigue and cabal” from defeating the popular will.  It still took thirty-six ballots to break the deadlock in the House.  The Twelfth Amendment, providing for separate ballots for President and Vice President, was ratified by the states in time for the 1804 election, in which Jefferson was easily reelected.  Meanwhile, Jefferson celebrated the triumph of constitutional order over partisanship in his first inaugural address: “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”  He went on to a triumphant first term (the Louisiana Purchase) and a disastrous second term (the notorious Embargo Act).

Leave a Reply