1804 Presidential Elections - History

1804 Presidential Elections - History

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1804 Election Results Jefferson vS Pickney

1804 marked the first time there was a nominating caucus for President. One hundred Republican Congressmen met and nominated Jefferson, by a vote of acclamation. The Federalist Party nominated Charles Pickney for President and Rufus King to be Vice President. The Federalists attacked President Jefferson on several points; claiming the Louisiana Purchase as unconstitutional. The Federalists also attacked Jefferson’s defense policies. They further claimed Jefferson had children with Sally Heming, a slave of his at Monticello. These attacks were not effective. Jefferson was immensely popular. His first term had been peaceful, and the Louisiana Purchase was popular. Besides, the Federalists were discredited by radical elements in their party. The final results of the election even surprised Jefferson supporters. Jefferson won an overwhelming victory winning, gaining 162 electoral votes to Pinckney’s 14 electoral votes.

United States Presidential Elections

The United States presidential election of 1804 pitted incumbent Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson against Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Jefferson easily defeated Pinckney in the first presidential election conducted following the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Under the rules of the Twelfth Amendment, presidential electors were required to specify in their votes their choice for President and Vice President previously, electors voted only for President, with the person who came in second becoming the Vice President. George Clinton was elected Vice President and would go on to serve under both Jefferson and his successor, James Madison.


With the retirement of Washington after two terms, both parties sought the presidency for the first time. Before the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804, each elector was to vote for two persons, but was not able to indicate which vote was for president and which was for vice president. Instead, the recipient of the most electoral votes would become president and the runner-up vice president. As a result, both parties ran multiple candidates for president, in hopes of keeping one of their opponents from being the runner-up. These candidates were the equivalent of modern-day running mates, but under the law they were all candidates for president. Thus, both Adams and Jefferson were technically opposed by several members of their own parties. The plan was for one of the electors to cast a vote for the main party nominee (Adams or Jefferson) and a candidate besides the primary running mate, thus ensuring that the main nominee would have one more vote than his running mate.

Federalist candidates Edit

The Federalists' nominee was John Adams of Massachusetts, the incumbent vice president and a leading voice during the Revolutionary period. Most Federalist leaders viewed Adams, who had twice been elected vice president, as the natural heir to Washington. Adams's main running mate was Thomas Pinckney, a former governor of South Carolina who had negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain. Pinckney agreed to run after the first choice of many party leaders, former Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia, declined to enter the race. Alexander Hamilton, who competed with Adams for leadership of the party, worked behind the scenes to elect Pinckney over Adams by convincing Jefferson electors from South Carolina to cast their second votes for Pinckney. Hamilton did prefer Adams to Jefferson, and he urged Federalist electors to cast their votes for Adams and Pinckney. [6]

Democratic-Republican candidates Edit

The Democratic-Republicans united behind former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who had co-founded the party with James Madison and others in opposition to the policies of Hamilton. Congressional Democratic-Republicans sought to also unite behind one vice presidential nominee. With Jefferson's popularity strongest in the South, many party leaders wanted a Northern candidate to serve as Jefferson's running mate. Popular choices included Senator Pierce Butler of South Carolina and three New Yorkers: Senator Aaron Burr, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, and former Governor George Clinton, to be the party's 1796 candidate for vice president. A group of Democratic-Republican leaders met in June 1796 and agreed to support Jefferson for president and Burr for vice president. [6] [7]

Tennessee was admitted into the United States after the 1792 election, increasing the Electoral College to 138 electors.

Under the system in place prior to the 1804 ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, electors were to cast votes for two persons for president the runner-up in the presidential race was elected vice-president. If no candidate won votes from a majority of the Electoral College, the House of Representatives would hold a contingent election to select the winner. Each party intended to manipulate the results by having some of their electors cast one vote for the intended presidential candidate and one vote for somebody besides the intended vice-presidential candidate, leaving their vice-presidential candidate a few votes shy of their presidential candidate. However, all electoral votes were cast on the same day, and communications between states were extremely slow at that time, making it very difficult to coordinate which electors were to manipulate their vote for vice-president. Additionally, there were rumors that southern electors pledged to Jefferson were coerced by Hamilton to give their second vote to Pinckney in hope of electing him president instead of Adams.

Campaigning centered in the swing states of New York and Pennsylvania. [8] Adams and Jefferson won a combined 139 electoral votes from the 138 members of the Electoral College. The Federalists swept every state north of the Mason-Dixon line, with the exception of Pennsylvania. However, one Pennsylvania elector voted for Adams. The Democratic-Republicans won the votes of most Southern electors, but the electors of Maryland and Delaware gave a majority of their votes to Federalist candidates, while North Carolina and Virginia both gave Adams one electoral vote.

Nationwide, most electors voted for Adams and a second Federalist or for Jefferson and a second Democratic-Republican, but there were several exceptions to this rule. One elector in Maryland voted for both Adams and Jefferson, and two electors cast votes for Washington, who had not campaigned and was not formally affiliated with either party. Pinckney won the second votes from a majority of the electors who voted for Adams, but 21 electors from New England and Maryland cast their second votes for other candidates, including Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth. Those who voted for Jefferson were significantly less united in their second choice, though Burr won a plurality of the Jefferson electors. All eight electors in Pinckney's home state of South Carolina, as well as at least one elector in Pennsylvania, cast their ballots for Jefferson and Pinckney. In North Carolina, Jefferson won 11 votes, but the remaining 13 votes were spread among six different candidates from both parties. In Virginia, most electors voted for Jefferson and Governor Samuel Adams of Massachusetts. [9]

The end result was that Adams received 71 electoral votes, one more than required to be elected president. If any two of the three Adams electors in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina had voted with the rest of their states, it would have flipped the election. Jefferson received 68 votes, nine more than Pinckney, and was elected vice president. Burr finished in a distant fourth place with 30 votes. Nine other individuals received the remaining 48 electoral votes. If Pinckney had won the second votes of all of the New England electors who voted for Adams, he would have been elected president over Adams and Jefferson.

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote (a), (b), (c) Electoral vote
Count Percentage
John Adams Federalist Massachusetts 35,726 53.4% 71
Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican Virginia 31,115 46.6% 68
Thomas Pinckney Federalist South Carolina 59
Aaron Burr Democratic-Republican New York 30
Samuel Adams Democratic-Republican Massachusetts 15
Oliver Ellsworth Federalist Connecticut 11
George Clinton Democratic-Republican New York 7
John Jay Federalist New York 5
James Iredell Federalist North Carolina 3
George Washington Independent Virginia 2
John Henry Federalist [10] Maryland 2
Samuel Johnston Federalist North Carolina 2
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Federalist South Carolina 1
Total 66,841 100.0% 276
Needed to win 70

Source (Popular Vote): U.S. President National Vote. Our Campaigns. (February 11, 2006).
Source (Popular Vote): A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1825 [11]
Source (Electoral Vote): "Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration . Retrieved July 30, 2005 .

(a) Votes for Federalist electors have been assigned to John Adams and votes for Democratic-Republican electors have been assigned to Thomas Jefferson.
(b) Only 9 of the 16 states used any form of popular vote.
(c) Those states that did choose electors by popular vote had widely varying restrictions on suffrage via property requirements.

Electoral votes by state Edit

State Candidates
S E J. Adams Jefferson T. Pinckney Burr S. Adams Ellsworth Clinton Jay Iredell Johnston Washington Henry C. Pinckney
Connecticut 9 9 0 4 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0
Delaware 3 3 0 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia 4 0 4 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kentucky 4 0 4 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Maryland 10 7 4 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Massachusetts 16 16 0 13 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 0
New Hampshire 6 6 0 0 0 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Jersey 7 7 0 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
New York 12 12 0 12 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
North Carolina 12 1 11 1 6 0 0 0 0 3 0 1 0 1
Pennsylvania 15 1 14 2 13 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rhode Island 4 4 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
South Carolina 8 0 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tennessee 3 0 3 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Vermont 4 4 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Virginia 21 1 20 1 1 15 0 3 0 0 0 1 0 0
Total 138 71 68 59 30 15 11 7 5 3 2 2 2 1

Popular vote by state Edit

While popular vote data is available for some states, presidential elections were vastly different in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Instead of the name of the presidential candidates, voters would see the name of an elector. Confusion over who the elector would vote for was common. Several states also elected a statewide slate of electors (for example, since Thomas Jefferson won the popular vote in Georgia, the slate of four Jefferson electors was chosen) but because of the archaic voting system, votes were tallied by elector, not candidate. The popular vote totals used are the elector from each party with the highest total of votes. The vote totals of Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee appear to be lost.

The House Decides: 1801

The provisions for electing the President and Vice President have been among the most amended in the Constitution. Initially, electors voted for two individuals without differentiating between the ballot for President and Vice President. The winner of the largest bloc of votes, so long as it was a majority of all the votes cast, would win the presidency. The individual with the second largest number of votes would become Vice President. In 1796, this meant that John Adams became President and Thomas Jefferson became Vice President despite opposing each other for the presidency.

The 1800 presidential election further tested the presidential selection system when Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the Republican candidates for President and Vice President, tied at 73 electoral ballots each. The House, under the Constitution, then chose between Jefferson and Burr for President. The Constitution mandates that House Members vote as a state delegation and that the winner must obtain a simple majority of the states. The House deadlocked at eight states for Jefferson, six for Burr, and two tied. After six days of debate and 36 ballots, Jefferson won 10 state delegations in the House when the Burr supporters in the two tied states (Vermont and Maryland) filed blank ballots rather than support Jefferson.

Election of 1804

Before the election of 1804, President Thomas Jefferson projected that his party would carry all but four of the 17 states in the fall balloting. The Jeffersonian Republicans did even better. They defeated the Federalists everywhere except Connecticut and Delaware, thus giving Jefferson the presidency for another four years.

Jefferson accounted for the overwhelming support at the polls in his second inaugural address by reviewing his administration's first-term achievements. Early in his remarks he stated: "On taking this station . I declared the principles on which I believed it my duty to administer the affairs of our commonwealth. my conscience tells me I have, on every occasion acted up to that declaration . "

He went on to note that foreign relations were improved and internal taxes discontinued. He said that import taxes, "paid chiefly by those who can afford to add foreign luxuries to domestic comforts," supported a smaller national government, allowed for the expansion of the nation through the purchase of Louisiana and Indian territories, and reduced the national debt.

Jefferson elaborated upon the topic of Louisiana, as the purchase treaty was regarded as an outstanding achievement of his administration. "Is it not better," he asked, "that the opposite bank of the Missisipi should be settled by our own brethren & children than by strangers of another family? with which should we be most likely to live in harmony and friendly intercourse?"

Jefferson did not, however, forgo the partisan opportunity to remind the public that "the acquisition of Louisiana has been disapproved by some."1 Most Federalists had openly opposed the purchase. Based primarily in New England and determined to protect that region's trade and shipping interests, the Federalists were uneasy with the country's westward movement and the growing importance of the port of New Orleans. But to Jefferson, the 1804 election victory sounded the approval of his western vision by the majority of Americans.

The achievements of Jefferson's first term had assured that he would be re-nominated by his party. But the Republican caucus, which met in February 1804, had dropped Vice President Aaron Burr in favor of New York's governor, George Clinton, as Jefferson's running mate.

Burr had lost the confidence of many Republicans during the drawn-out election of 1800. In that contest, Jefferson, then vice president, defeated the Federalist incumbent, John Adams. But because the Republicans had failed to make sure at least one electoral vote for vice presidential candidate Burr was withheld, Jefferson and Burr tied for the presidency. The contest went to the House of Representatives, where Federalists seized the opportunity to block Jefferson's election by giving their votes to Burr. The deadlock was not broken until mid-February 1801, when the House elected Jefferson on its 36th ballot.

Because Burr did not withdraw his name from contention for the presidency, Jefferson and other Republicans came to doubt his loyalty and were uneasy with his holding a position of national prominence. As Jefferson began organizing his administration, he ignored Burr's patronage recommendations and did not consult him on policy decisions.

In 1804, aware that he would not be a part of the national ticket, Burr challenged the Republicans in his home state of New York by running for governor. The Federalists considered supporting Burr to create greater division among the Republicans, but Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton spoke out strongly against Burr, and others asked, "Is he to be used by the Federalists, or is he a two-edged sword, that must not be drawn?"

Burr lost the New York election in the spring of 1804, and cast much of the blame on Hamilton — one factor that led to their famous duel in July of that year. Hamilton's death was considered the death of Burr's political career as well, yet he returned to Washington to complete his term as vice president. President Jefferson completely divorced himself from Burr, saying, "There never had been an intimacy between us, and but little association."2

The Jeffersonian Republicans could rid themselves of Burr, but that did not address the problem inherent in the electoral process that had produced the tie vote of 1800. The Constitution allowed each elector two votes but did not require that they be designated for president and vice president. Thus, the candidate with the most votes would become president, the runner-up vice president. In light of the development of partisan political parties, this procedure was recognized as problematic, and in the first session of Congress following the election Jeffersonians led the move to amend the Constitution.

Support crossed party lines but was far from unanimous. The legislation was not passed by both houses until December 1803. The proposal sent to the states for ratification specified that as electors met in their respective states, "they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President."3

As any change to the Constitution required ratification by three-fourths of the states, Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison left Washington for the summer recess with the electoral process still undecided. Madison assured Jefferson that all was ready "for giving effect to the proposed amendment."4 But it was not until September 24, 1804, that Madison was able to declare that the 12th Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified.5

In keeping with the practice of the time, Jefferson and his Federalist rival, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina (who had been Adams's running mate in 1800), abstained from any overt campaigning. Both relied instead upon their party machinery working at the grassroots level and through the press.

The strongest opposition to Jefferson was based in New England. Federalist William Plumer of New Hampshire lamented that Jefferson and his supporters were even allowed to call themselves "republican," believing "Democrats and Jacobins" far more appropriate. Plumer authored six newspaper articles under the pseudonym Cato in which he went through Jefferson's political career from secretary of state to the presidency and even referenced Jefferson's one published book, Notes on the State of Virginia, to outline what he saw as Jefferson's inconsistencies.

Despite these efforts, Plumer had to record in his personal journal entry for February 13, 1805, his party's overwhelming loss.6 When the electoral ballots were counted that day before a joint session of Congress, Jefferson and Clinton received 162 votes apiece while Pinckney and his running mate, Rufus King of New York, had 14 apiece. It was none other than Aaron Burr, sitting as presiding officer of the Senate, who declared that Thomas Jefferson had been elected president and George Clinton vice president.

Jefferson had run for re-election to affirm the nation's approval. He wrote in January 1804: "the abominable slanders of my political enemies have obliged me to call for that verdict from my country in the only way it can be obtained." He concluded that a favorable vote would be "my sufficient voucher to the rest of the world & to posterity and leave me free to seek, at a definite time, the repose I sincerely wished to have retired to now."7

Certainly, the election of 1804 gave validation to Jefferson and the direction set by his administration. It would prove to be the apex of his political career, as the accomplishments of his first term would not be matched in his second. Escalating wars in Europe would threaten American neutrality and damage the prosperity experienced by the nation during Jefferson's first term. He would come to experience an observation on the presidency he had offered many years before, "that no man will ever bring out of that office the reputation which carries him into it."8

- Gaye Wilson, 2004. Originally published as "In a Landslide, Jefferson Wins a Second Term," Monticello Newsletter 15 (Winter 2004).

The Presidential Election of 1800: A Story of Crisis, Controversy, and Change

The presidential election of 1800 was an angry, dirty, crisis-ridden contest that seemed to threaten the nation’s very survival. A bitter partisan battle between Federalist John Adams and Republican Thomas Jefferson produced a tie between Jefferson and his Republican running mate, Aaron Burr. The unfolding of this crisis tested the new nation’s durability.

Nasty political mud-slinging. Campaign attacks and counterattacks. Personal insults. Outrageous newspaper invective. Dire predictions of warfare and national collapse. Innovative new forms of politicking capitalizing on a growing technology. As much as this seems to describe our present-day presidential contests, it actually describes an election more than two hundred years past.

The presidential election of 1800 was an angry, dirty, crisis-ridden contest that seemed to threaten the nation’s very survival. A bitter partisan battle between Federalist John Adams and Republican Thomas Jefferson, it produced a tie between Jefferson and his Republican running mate, Aaron Burr a deadlock in the House where the tie had to be broken an outburst of intrigue and suspicion as Federalists struggled to determine a course of action Jefferson’s election and Burr’s eventual downfall. The unfolding of this crisis tested the new nation’s durability. The deadlock in the House revealed a constitutional defect. It also pushed partisan rivalry to an extreme, inspiring a host of creative and far-reaching electoral ploys. As a sense of crisis built, there was even talk of disunion and civil war, and indeed, two states began to organize their militias to seize the government if Jefferson did not prevail.

Oddly enough, this pivotal election has received relatively little scholarly attention. Much of it is recent, possibly inspired by the presidential election of 2000. One recent study—Adams vs. Jefferson, by John Ferling—does an excellent job of tracing the contest’s many twists and turns. (Judging from its title, Jefferson’s Second Revolution, by Susan Dunn, to be released in September 2004, promises to do the same.) A recent collection of articles, The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic, edited by James Horn, Jan Ellen Lewis, and Peter S. Onuf, offers an excellent survey of different historical approaches to the election, such as the study of constitutional realities, political culture, or the influence of slavery. Garry Wills’s Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power focuses on the influence of slavery on Jefferson’s politics, including his election as president. And yours truly examines the election as a prime example of the period’s political culture in the final chapter of Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. Older studies that discuss the election include Noble E. Cunningham Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organization, 1789–1801 (1957) Daniel Sisson, The American Revolution of 1800 (1974) Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (1993) and James Roger Sharp, American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis (1993).

Why so little scholarship? In part, because of our tendency to view the election of 1800 as a victory for our modern two-party system—the first such victory in American national politics. As the nation’s constitutional framework dictated, Federalist Adams handed the presidency to Republican Jefferson, a new regime took command, and the nation endured. Viewed in this light—as a neat and tidy stepping-stone to modern party politics—the election doesn’t seem to merit further analysis.

This is not to say that the calm transferal of power from one regime to another is not noteworthy. It was certainly a powerful endorsement of our Constitution. But envisioning the election as the birth of our modern political system masks the many ways in which it was distinctly not modern. In fact, in 1800, there was no modern party system. The Republicans and Federalists were not parties as we now understand them. An institutionalized two-party system would not be accepted for decades to come. And events were far more uncertain and crisis-ridden than the idea of a “system” allows there was no telling what would happen or why. Similarly, participants operated according to ideas and assumptions very different from our own. In short, the election of 1800 transpired in a world with its own culture and contingencies.

To recapture the contingency of this historical moment, we have to look through the eyes of our historical subjects and understand them in the context of their own world. In 1800, the American Constitution had been in effect for only eleven years. The national government was still a work-in-progress, a political experiment with no model of comparison in the modern world. A republic was supposedly superior to its Old World predecessors, but this assumption had yet to be tested. Political parties were not an accepted part of this picture: instead they were viewed as illicit groups of self-interested men intent on winning power and position in the next election. The stability and long-term practicability of a republic was likewise a question, every political crisis raising fears of disunion and civil war. This tense, tenuous political environment produced anxiety, bitterness, and high emotion for good reason.

Given America’s survival for more than two hundred years, it is easy to forget this central political reality of the early Republic: The United States was new, fragile, shaky, and likely to collapse, a prevailing anxiety that could not help but have an enormous impact on the period’s politics. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, the two driving forces behind the Constitution, went to their deaths with the Union’s vulnerability on their minds. Both men wrote final pleas for its preservation on the eve of their demise, Madison composing a memorandum entitled “Advice to My Country,” and Hamilton writing one last letter on the night before his duel with Aaron Burr, urging a friend to fight against the “Dismemberment of our Empire.”[1] Indeed, Hamilton fought the duel in part to preserve his reputation for that future time when the Republic would collapse and his leadership would be in demand.[2] Virginian Henry Lee’s offhand comment in a 1790 letter to James Madison is a blunt reminder of the tenuous nature of the national Union: “If the government should continue to exist . . . ,” Madison wrote in passing, offering evidence of a mindset that is difficult to recapture.[3]

Witness the period’s political chronology. In 1790, the controversy over the location of the national capital and Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan convinced many that the Union was not long for this world. In 1792, partisan conflict exploded into the newspapers, threatening, as George Washington put it, to “tare the [federal] Machine asunder.”[4] In 1793, the inflammatory activities of “Citizen” Edmond Genet threatened to spread French revolutionary fervor to American shores, prompting even Francophile Republicans to abandon his cause. In 1794, when western Pennsylvania farmers refused to pay a national whiskey tax, President George Washington called an armed force of 15,000 soldiers to the field.[5] In 1795, the lackluster Jay Treaty with Britain provoked angry public protests around the nation thousands of people gathered in New York City alone, a handful of them reputedly throwing rocks at Alexander Hamilton’s head. In 1796, with George Washington’s retirement, the nation had its first real presidential election, Washington’s departure alone prompting many to fear the nation’s imminent collapse. The 1797–1798 XYZ Affair (prompted by a French attempt to get bribe money from American diplomats), the Quasi-War with France (stemming from French seizure of American ships and the XYZ Affair), the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts (wartime measures to deport threatening aliens and silence attacks on the government), the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (recommending that state governments interpose their authority over the Alien and Sedition Acts), Fries’s Rebellion (a revolt against wartime taxes), and finally, the presidential election of 1800—these are only the most prominent of the period’s many crises, each one raising serious questions about the survival and character of the national government and its relationship to the body politic.

Even the Constitution itself was uncertain—a work-in-progress with serious design flaws. The election ultimately centered on one of these flaws—a fundamental constitutional defect in the presidential and vice presidential voting process. As originally drafted, the Constitution did not differentiate between presidential and vice presidential candidates. Each presidential elector cast two votes, and regardless of political affiliation, the man who received the most votes became president and the runner-up became vice president any candidate could win either office. When two candidates were tied, the election was thrown into the House, where each state had one vote, to be decided by a majority of the delegation. In 1796, this produced a Federalist president (John Adams) and a Republican vice president (Thomas Jefferson). In 1800, it created a tied election in which both candidates were entitled to claim the presidency, and even the backup procedure of deciding the election in the House almost failed it took six days and thirty-six ballots to break the deadlock. This defect was resolved by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, which provided separate balloting for president and vice president.

So the dire predictions and overwrought rhetoric that characterized the election were not mere campaign excess people really feared disunion. They were also nervous about party loyalties. Rather than intense party unity, there was a jumble of suspicions and conflicting loyalties—personal, ideological, and regional, as well as partisan—at the heart of the election. For example, Northerners and Southerners deeply distrusted each other—Federalists and Republicans alike. Aware of this potential problem, both alliances held a congressional caucus before the election, during which Northerners and Southerners personally vowed to support the candidate from the other region. These vows ultimately proved necessary, for regional loyalties came to the fore throughout the election, prompting a string of nervous demands for reassurance. After hearing a rumor that Virginia Republicans were going to drop votes for Burr to ensure Jefferson’s victory, Burr’s friend David Gelston sent two anxious letters to Madison, reminding him that personal honor was at stake. “I am not willing to believe it possible that such measures [as dropping votes for Burr] can be contemplated,” he wrote, suggesting just the opposite. “We know that the honour of the Gentlemen of Virgina, and N.Y. was pledged at the adjournment of Congress,” and to violate such an agreement would be “a sacrilege.”[6] A letter from Madison to Jefferson reveals that Gelston’s fears were well founded. Gelston “expresses much anxiety & betrays some jealousy with respect to the integrity of the Southern States,” Madison wrote. “I hope the event will skreen all the parties, particularly Virginia[,] from any imputation on this subject tho’ I am not without fears, that the requisite concert may not sufficiently pervade the several States.” Such fears eventually compelled Jefferson himself, as he later explained, to take “some measures” to ensure Burr Virginia’s unanimous vote.[7]

Clearly, this was no election of simple party politics. Nor did it represent a sudden acceptance of a “modern” politics. The Federalist and Republican congressional caucuses of May 1800 suggest as much. Led astray by the word “caucus,” many scholars pinpoint these meetings as a modern innovation. But in truth, they were something quite different. Participants sometimes referred to them as “caucuses,” but they also called them “the agreement,” “the promise,” “the compromise,” and “the pledge,” to which they would be “faithful” and “true.”[8] Clearly, these caucuses involved negotiation and compromise between men of different views, rather than the simple confirmation of a presidential ticket. Nor was the result of these compromises—electoral tickets featuring a northerner and a southerner—a foregone conclusion, regardless of how obvious such a strategy seems to us. For national politicians, a cross-regional ticket was risky, for it required a high degree of national partisan loyalty and mutual trust between North and South. The national caucuses were attempts to create national party unity, not expressions of it. Indeed, as suggested by words such as “pledge” and “promise,” national party loyalty was so weak that it had to be supplemented by personal vows. To compel politicians to stay the course, they had to commit themselves by pledging their word of honor and their reputations the only way to unite Northerners and Southerners was to appeal to them as gentlemen who would be dishonored if they abandoned their allies. These honor-pledging ceremonies were not party caucuses as we understand them today.

The election was ultimately decided by a Federalist who abandoned his political loyalties, putting his loyalty to his home state above all else James Bayard, the lone representative from Delaware, had an entire state’s vote in his power during the deadlock in the House. A letter to Hamilton written shortly after the tie was announced reveals Bayard’s dilemma. First and foremost, he considered himself a Federalist who would require “the most undoubting conviction” before he separated himself from his Federalist friends. He also thought of himself as a Northerner whose intense dislike of Virginia seemed to make Burr the preferable choice for president. Under normal circumstances, these two perspectives would have been in accord, for the Federalists were largely a Northern party with a particular hatred of Virginia, the heart of their Republican opposition. Bayard’s problems arose when he perceived a conflict between Federalist concerns and the welfare of his home state. New England Federalists seemed willing to sacrifice the Union rather than install Jefferson as president. And if the Union collapsed, the tiny state of Delaware would probably be swallowed by another state or a foreign power. As Bayard explained after the election, “Representing the smallest State in the Union, without resources which could furnish the means of self protection, I was compelled by the obligation of a sacred duty so to act as not to hazard the constitution upon which the political existence of the State depends.”[9] Compelled to decide between loyalty to Federalism and to his home state, Bayard abandoned Federalism.

In all of these ways, the election of 1800 cannot be summed up as a stepping-stone to modern party politics. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules, and not surprisingly, Aaron Burr offers one exception. Inspired by the prevailing sense of crisis (as well as by his sheer enjoyment of the political game), Burr pushed political innovation to an extreme. Anxieties were certainly at an extreme in the spring of 1800, for New York City was the most crucial contest of the campaign, capable of deciding the election. The challenge of the moment spurred Burr to new heights of political creativity. For example, he personalized his campaign to an extraordinary degree, purportedly compiling a roster with the name of every New York City voter, accompanied by a detailed description of his political leanings, temperament, and financial standing. His plan was to portion the list out to his cadre of young supporters, who would literally electioneer door-to-door in the process, he was politically organizing the citizenry—not his goal, but the logical outcome. Similarly, rather than selecting potential electors based on their rank and reputation, he selected the men “most likely to run well,” canvassing voters to test the waters. Perhaps his most striking innovations concerned his advance preparations for the city’s three polling days. As one contemporary described it, Burr “kept open house for nearly two months, and Committees were in session day and night during that whole time at his house. Refreshments were always on the table and mattresses for temporary repose in the rooms. Reporters were hourly received from sub-committees, and in short, no means left unemployed.”[10] In essence, Burr created an early version of a campaign headquarters.

Indeed, as a whole, the election featured a number of electoral innovations. Newspapers were used with particular effectiveness, partly the result of creative politicking, and partly the result of the ever-spreading power of the press—a growing technology. Also, some elite politicians spent more time electioneering among voters than they had before for example, both Burr and Hamilton pledged “to come forward, and address the people” during the course of the election. During New York City’s three days of voting, both men scurried from polling place to polling place, addressing the crowds. As Burr supporter Matthew Davis noted, this Burr had “never done at any former election.”[11] The partisan presses recognized the novelty of such a gesture. How could a “would be Vice President . . . stoop so low as to visit every corner in search of voters?” asked the Federalist Daily Advertiser. The Commercial Advertiser likewise commented on the “astonished” electorate that greeted Hamilton’s efforts.[12]

The tone of politics was slowly shifting. But such changes do not signal a simple acceptance of a “modern” form of politics. In the crisis-ridden election of 1800, the many prevailing anxieties about the fate of the Union pushed people to change past habits. Of course, people did not accept such change in a blind rush. Rather, they forged a gradual, intricate series of compromises between “shoulds” and “should-nots,” negotiating between past standards and the demands of the moment. For the political elite, this involved new levels of communication with the populace. Examined closely, this type of compromise reveals the complex dynamic of political change. The nature of politics changed slowly, one decision at a time.

[1] James Madison, “Advice to My Country,” 1834, in Irving Brant, James Madison, Commander in Chief, 1812–1836 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1961), 530–31 Alexander Hamilton to Theodore Sedgwick, July 10, 1804, Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 27 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961–87), 26:309.

[2] See Alexander Hamilton, [Statement on Impending Duel with Aaron Burr], [June 28–July 10, 1804], The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 26:278, 280.

[3] Henry Lee to James Madison, April 3, 1790, Robert Rutland and J. C. A. Stagg, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 17 vols. to date (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1962– ), 13:136.

[4] George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, August 26, 1792, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 12:276.

[5] See Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 481. This book offers a detailed discussion of the many crises of the 1790s.

[6] David Gelston to James Madison, October 8 and November 21, 1800, The Papers of James Madison, 17:418–19, 438 James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, October 21, 1800, ibid., 17:425–26.

[7] Jefferson, memorandum, January 26, 1804, in Franklin B. Sawvel, ed., The Complete Anas of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Round Table Press, 1903), 224–28.

[8] See, for example, James Monroe to James Madison, October 21, 1800, George Jackson to Madison, February 5, 1801, The Papers of James Madison, 17:426, 460–61 Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to James McHenry, June 10, 1800, Bernard C. Steiner, ed., The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers, 1907), 459–60 Robert Troup to Rufus King, December 4, 1800, Fisher Ames to Rufus King, August 26, 1800, Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, 6 vols. (New York: Putnam’s, 1897), 3:295–97, 340–41 John Rutledge, Jr. to Alexander Hamilton, July 17, 1800, and George Cabot to Alexander Hamilton, August 21, 1800, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 25: 30–38, 74–75 David Gelston to Madison, October 8 and November 21, 1800, The Papers of James Madison, 17:418–19, 438.

[9] James Bayard to Alexander Hamilton, January 7, 1801, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 25:199–203 James Bayard to John Adams, February 19, 1801, “Papers of James A. Bayard, 1796–1815,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association 2 (1913): 129–30.

[10] Diary of Benjamin Betterton Howell, in Milton Lomask, Aaron Burr, 2 vols. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979), 1:244 Matthew Davis to Albert Gallatin, March 29, 1800, Albert Gallatin Papers, New-York Historical Society [New York] Daily Advertiser, April 2, 1800, in Lomask, Aaron Burr, 1:244 [New York] General Advertiser, April 3, 1800, ibid.

[11] Matthew Davis to Albert Gallatin, March 29, 1800, Albert Gallatin Papers, New-York Historical Society.

[12] [New York] Daily Advertiser, April 2, 1800, in Lomask, Aaron Burr, 1:244 [New York] General Advertiser, April 3, 1800, ibid.

Joanne B. Freeman, Professor of History at Yale University, is the author of Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (2001), which explores the logic and culture of national politics in the early American republic, and the editor of Alexander Hamilton: Writings (2001).

Political Parties Threw a Monkey Wrench in the Electoral College

WATCH: America 101: What is the Electoral College?

The framers of the Constitution hoped that political parties wouldn’t be necessary given the limited powers of the federal government, but presidential candidates started coalescing into political factions as early as the 1796 election, the first after George Washington. Almost immediately, the existence of warring political parties created headaches for the Electoral College system.

In the first four U.S. presidential elections, each Elector cast two ballots for president. The candidate who won the majority of Electoral College votes was the president and the second-place finisher was the vice president. In the 1796 election, John Adams won the presidency, but the second-place finisher was Thomas Jefferson, Adams’ arch political rival and now his vice president.

“That was one of the first clues that the Electoral College created by the founders wasn’t working as intended,” says Robert Alexander, a professor of political science at Ohio Northern University and author of Representation and the Electoral College.

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The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate -- the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted -- The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. [And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. --]* The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States. [3]

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 went over several different proposals for electing the President. Some wanted Congress to choose the President. [4] Other suggestions included selection by the state legislatures, by the state governors or by a congressional committee. [4] Near the end of the convention the question was turned over to a committee called the Committee of Eleven for leftover business. They devised a system called the Electoral College. [4] The plan was accepted and was added to the Constitution. [4]

In 1789 the Electoral College unanimously elected George Washington as the first president. He was reelected in 1792. In both cases he was the only president to receive all of the electoral votes. In the 1796 election, Washington declined to run. His Vice President, John Adams, and his running mate Thomas Pinckney ran for President and Vice President respectively. [5] Alexander Hamilton tried to use his influence to get Pinckney more votes, making Adams the Vice President again. [5] But the scheme backfired when Thomas Jefferson got more votes than Pinckney, but Adams won more of the electoral votes. [5] This made Adams the President and Jefferson the Vice President. [5]

The 1800 Presidential election showed the deep problems in the electoral college system. Jefferson ran against Adams again. [6] Both had running mates. Pinckney was again the running mate of Adams for the Federalist Party. [6] Aaron Burr was Jefferson's running mate for the Democratic-Republican Party. [6] Jefferson and Burr received the same number of votes creating a tie between two candidates from the same political party. [7] Under the Constitution, the matter was to be decided by the House of Representatives. [7] In the House, the two tied again in 35 votes. [6] Only on the 36th ballot was the deadlock broken and Jefferson was elected president. [6]

The solution to the problem became the Twelfth Amendment. [6] It was proposed by Congress on December 9, 1803. [6] Three days later it was submitted to the states for ratification. Fourteen of the seventeen states (at the time) ratified it and the amendment was added to the Constitution on September 25, 1804. [6]

The Electoral College remained much the same under the Twelfth Amendment. But the process for choosing a president and vice president changed. Under the Twelfth Amendment an elector must cast separate votes for the President and Vice President. [6] If nobody gets the majority of the votes, the process remains the same as before the House of Representatives decides. [6]

History notes: American electoral college

What Happens If There's a Tie in a US Presidential Election?
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes. A bitterly divided House of Representatives finally chose the winner.
Mark Makela/Getty Images

When the Electoral votes were tallied in the 1800 U.S. presidential election—only the fourth election in the young nation’s history—there was a problem. Two candidates received exactly 73 electoral votes, producing the first and (so far) only Electoral College tie in American history.
Thankfully, the Constitution has a contingency plan for tie elections laid out in Article II, Section 1: f there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President.”
If only it was that easy. A bitterly divided House of Representatives deadlocked 36 times before it finally picked Thomas Jefferson as the winner of the 1800 election, and in the process laid bare a host of problems with the Electoral College that could only be fixed with a constitutional amendment.
Political Parties Threw a Monkey Wrench in the Electoral College

WATCH: America 101: What is the Electoral College?
The framers of the Constitution hoped that political parties wouldn’t be necessary given the limited powers of the federal government, but presidential candidates started coalescing into political factions as early as the 1796 election, the first after George Washington. Almost immediately, the existence of warring political parties created headaches for the Electoral College system.

In the first four U.S. presidential elections, each Elector cast two ballots for president. The candidate who won the majority of Electoral College votes was the president and the second-place finisher was the vice president. In the 1796 election, John Adams won the presidency, but the second-place finisher was Thomas Jefferson, Adams’ arch political rival and now his vice president.
“That was one of the first clues that the Electoral College created by the founders wasn’t working as intended,” says Robert Alexander, a professor of political science at Ohio Northern University and author of Representation and the Electoral College.
READ MORE: What Is the Electoral College and Why Was It Created?
A Tie Between Two Candidates From the Same Political Party
The 1800 tie election made an even stronger case that the Electoral College needed to be fixed. By 1800, two political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, held full sway over Electors, who pledged to cast their ballots for the parties’ handpicked slate of candidates.

Map illustrates votes by state, in the U.S. presidential election of 1800, broken down as votes for Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, or 'Blank Ballot.'
Interim Archives/Getty Images

“[Candidates for president] ran as a ticket,” says Alexander. “That created problems when Electors pledged to the Democratic-Republicans cast one vote for each of the two people on the ticket. The result was a 73-73 tie between Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, both Democratic-Republicans.”
Meanwhile, the Federalist candidate, incumbent John Adams, only received 65 votes. According to the Constitution, an electoral tie goes to the House of Representatives, where each state casts one ballot to pick a winner from among the two tied candidates. So Adams was out of the running and Burr, Jefferson’s running mate, could have stepped aside, but didn’t.

The Federalists, who still held a majority in the lame duck Congress, were now in the awkward position of picking a president from two enemy candidates. Federalist leaders like Alexander Hamilton hated Jefferson’s politics, but they distrusted the opportunistic Burr even more.
Pennsylvania and Virginia began to mobilize their militias, wondering if the stalemate would spark a civil war. It took 36 consecutive tie votes in the House before Jefferson was picked as the president and catastrophe was narrowly averted.
READ MORE: What Was Alexander Hamilton's Role in Aaron Burr's Contentious Presidential Defeat?
12th Amendment: One Vote for President, One for Vice President

WATCH: America 101: Why Do We Have a Two-Party System?
The 1800 election fiasco demonstrated how the existing Electoral College system wasn’t equipped for party-line voting. Just in time for the 1804 presidential election, Congress passed and the states ratified the 12th Amendment, which now instructed Electors to cast one ballot for president and a second for vice president.
“Even though the Electoral College has been one of the most controversial institutions created by the framers—there have been over 700 attempts to amend or abolish it—only a few of those attempts have borne fruit, the 12th Amendment being the first of those,” says Alexander. “That actually changed the practice of the Electoral College considerably.”
In addition to creating separate ballots for president and vice president, the 12th Amendment also limited the field of presidential candidates that could be voted on in a contingent election in the House of Representatives. The amendment states that if no candidate wins the majority of Electoral votes, the election is thrown to the House, but only the top three Electoral vote-getters make the cut.
Andrew Jackson Loses Election After ‘Corrupt Bargain’
That seemingly harmless provision of the 12th Amendment had serious ramifications in the 1824 presidential election, in which four candidates received substantial Electoral votes, denying the front-runner Andrew Jackson the majority required to claim the presidency.
Because only the top three vote-getters moved on to the contingency election in the House, the fourth-place finisher, Henry Clay, was out of the running. But Clay, who was Speaker of the House at the time, allegedly used his influence to get John Quincy Adams elected instead of Jackson.
When Jackson, who had also won the popular vote, learned that Adams named Clay as his Secretary of State, he fumed at what he saw as a brazenly “corrupt bargain” to steal the White House.
“Jackson has the distinction of being the only presidential candidate to receive a plurality of Electoral College vote and a plurality of the popular vote and still not come away with the presidency,” says Alexander.

Watch the video: The American Presidential Election of 1804