Today in 1800, electors in the states cast ballots that resulted in an electoral tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in the United States presidential election.
The contest was the product of a bitter campaign season, the first contested presidential election of its kind, wherein the Federalist and Republican press engaged in harsh vitriol against opposing candidates.
In one case, Adams was branded “a hideous and hermaphroditic character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a women.” Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson was lambasted as an atheistic Jacobin who would unleash the chaos of the French Revolution on American shores. One attack suggested that under Jefferson, “murder, robbery, rape, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”
President Adams lost popularity in many circles for his willingness to embrace the Alien and Sedition Acts, response to the XYZ Affair, and stewardship of the Quasi-War. Adams’ lapses fueled the appeal of Jefferson’s Republican faction, which argued that the Federalists were attempting to subvert the Constitution and engage in unnecessary war with France.
The 1800 election exposed a peculiarity of the Electoral College. Even though it was openly known that Thomas Jefferson was running for president, and Aaron Burr had intended only to serve as vice president, Burr did not acquiesce. The election was placed in the hands of the House of Representatives, where it took dozens of ballots to decide the contest. Several Federalists cast blank ballots on the 36th ballot to give Jefferson the votes of a majority of state delegations.
In 1804, the Twelfth Amendment was ratified by the requisite number of states, ensuring that electors make a singular choice for President and Vice President on the same ballot, allowing for presidential running mates. The amendment was directly inspired by the 1800 election.
Jefferson called the election the “Revolution of 1800,” viewing it as a popular mandate against the Federalists. The Federalists had fallen out of power, never to assume control of the general government again. Had it not been for the Judiciary Act of 1801 and midnight judges, Federalist influence in the government may have been gone for good.
In his inaugural address, Jefferson portrayed his administration of one that would embrace “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none,” and “the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies.”
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