United States presidential election, 1800

United States presidential election, 1800

Infobox Election
election_name = United States presidential election, 1800
country = United States
type = Presidential
ongoing = no
previous_election = United States presidential election, 1796
previous_year = 1796
next_election = United States presidential election, 1804
next_year = 1804
election_date = 1800

nominee1 = Thomas Jefferson
party1 = Democratic-Republican Party
running_mate1 = Aaron Burr
home_state1 = Virginia
electoral_vote1 = 73
states_carried1 = 8
popular_vote1 = 41,330
percentage1 = 61.4%

nominee2 = John Adams
party2 = Federalist Party (United States)
running_mate2 = Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Jay
home_state2 = Massachusetts
electoral_vote2 = 65
states_carried2 = 7
popular_vote2 = 25,952
percentage2 = 38.6%

map_size = 350px
map_caption = Presidential election results map. Green denotes states won by Jefferson, burnt orange denotes states won by Adams. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
title = President
before_election = John Adams
before_party = Federalist Party (United States)
after_election = Thomas Jefferson
after_party = Democratic-Republican Party

In the United States Presidential election of 1800, sometimes referred to as the “Revolution of 1800”, Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams. The election was a realigning election that ushered in a generation of Democratic-Republican Party rule and the eventual demise of the Federalist Party.

The election exposed one of the flaws in the original Constitution. Members of the Electoral College could only vote for President; each elector could vote for two candidates, and the Vice President was the person who received the second largest number of votes during the election. The Democratic-Republicans had planned for one of the electors to abstain from casting his second vote for Aaron Burr, leading to Jefferson receiving one vote more than Burr. The plan, however, was bungled, resulting in a tied electoral vote between Jefferson and Burr. The election was then put into the hands of the outgoing House of Representatives controlled by the Federalist Party. Most Federalists voted for Burr in order to block Jefferson from the Presidency, and the result was a week of deadlock. Federalist Alexander Hamilton, who detested both but preferred Jefferson to Burr, intervened on Jefferson's behalf, which allowed Jefferson to ascend to the Presidency. Hamilton's actions were one cause of his duel with Burr, [Kennedy, "Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson", p. 72.] which resulted in Hamilton's death in 1804.

The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, was added to the United States Constitution. The Twelfth Amendment stipulates that electors make a distinct choice between their selections for President and Vice President.

Jefferson's 22.8% victory margin in the popular vote is the largest ever victory margin for a challenger to an incumbent President.

General election

The Candidates

* John Adams, President of the United States from Massachusetts
* Aaron Burr, former U.S. senator from New York
* John Jay, Governor of New York
* Thomas Jefferson, Vice President of the United States from Virginia
* Charles Cotesworth Pinckney , former U.S. Minister to France from South Carolina


The 1800 election was a rematch of the 1796 election. The campaign was bitter and characterized by slander and personal attacks on both sides. Federalists spread rumors that the Democratic-Republicans were radicals who would murder their opponents, burn churches, and destroy the country (based on the Democratic-Republican preference for France over Britain. At the time, the rather violent French revolution was in full swing). In 1798, George Washington (who had no political party) had complained "that you could as soon scrub the blackamoor white, as to change the principles of a profest ["sic"] Democrat; and that he will leave nothing unattempted to overturn the Government of this Country.” [cite web |url=http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/documents/documents_p2.cfm?doc=341 |title=Gilder Lehrman Document Number: GLC 581 |accessdate=2006-09-20 |last=Mintz |first=S. |year=2003 |work=Digital History] Meanwhile, the Democratic-Republicans accused Federalists of destroying republican values, not to mention political support from immigrants, with the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were later ruled unconstitutional; they also accused Federalists of favoring Britain in order to promote aristocratic, anti-republican values. [Buel (1972)]

Adams was attacked by both the opposition Democratic-Republicans and by "High Federalists" in his own Federalist Party who were aligned with Hamilton. The Democratic-Republicans felt that Adams' foreign policy was too favorable toward Britain, feared that the new army called up for the Quasi-War would oppress the people, opposed Adams' new taxes, and attacked his Alien and Sedition Acts as violations of states' rights and the Constitution. A faction of “High Federalists” considered Adams too moderate; it would seem natural that Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton, in his third sabotage attempt towards Adams [McCullough (2001)] , schemed to elect Vice Presidential candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to the Presidency. One of Hamilton's letters, providing a scathing criticism of Adams and spanning fifty-four pages [Chernow (2004)] , became public when it came into the hands of a Republican, embarrassing Adams and damaging Hamilton's efforts on behalf of Pinckney [Ferling (2004)] , not to mention speeding up Hamilton's own political decline. [Chernow (2004)]

Hamilton had apparently grown impatient with Adams and wanted a new president who was more amenable to his pro-federal goals. During Washington's presidency Hamilton had been able to influence the federal response to the Whiskey Rebellion (which threatened the government's authority to tax citizens). Hamilton suggested to Washington that he lead the New York State militia to quash the rebellion in Pennsylvania. The Whiskey Rebellion infuriated Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson who felt the government was abusing its power against the rights of the citizens. When Washington announced that he would not seek a third term this prompted Hamilton to support VP John Adams in the 1796 election.

Hamilton appears to have hoped in 1796 that his influence within an Adams administration would be as great or greater than in Washington's. By 1800, Hamilton had come to realize that Adams was too independent and chose to support Charles Pickney of South Carolina. Given Pickney's lack of political experience he would have been likely to be open to Hamilton's influence. However, Hamilton's plan backfired and the split in the Federalist party allowed the Democratic Republicans to win in 1800.

Selection method changes

Partisans on both sides sought any advantage they could find. In several states, this included changing the method of selection to ensure the desired result. In Georgia, Democratic-Republican legislators replaced the popular vote with selection by the state legislature. Federalist legislators did the same in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (This may have had some unintended consequences in Massachusetts, where the delegation to the federal House of Representatives was changed from 12–2 Federalist to 8–6 Federalist by irate voters.) Pennsylvania also switched to legislative choice, but this resulted in an almost evenly split set of electors. Virginia switched from electoral districts to winner-take-all, a move that probably switched one or two votes from the Federalist column to the Democratic-Republican column.


Each state could choose its own election day, voting lasted from April to October. In April, Burr succeeded in reversing the Federalist majority and getting a Democratic-Republican majority in New York's state legislature. With the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans tied 65–65 in the Electoral College, the last state to vote, South Carolina, chose eight Democratic-Republicans, giving the election to Jefferson and Burr.

Under the United States Constitution, each Presidential elector cast two votes, without distinction as to which was for President or Vice President. The recipient of a majority of votes was elected President, while the Vice Presidency went to the recipient of the second greatest number of votes. The Federalists therefore had one of their electors vote for John Jay rather than for Vice Presidential candidate Pinckney. The Democratic-Republicans had a similar plan to have one of their electors cast a vote for another candidate instead of Burr, but, by a misadventure, failed to execute it. As a result, the Democratic-Republican electors each cast their two votes for Jefferson and Burr, giving each of them 73 votes. A contingent election had to be held in the outgoing, Federalist dominated, House of Representatives (the old House elected in 1798). [Ferling (2004)]


Defective certificates

When the electoral ballots were opened and counted on February 11, 1801, it turned out that the certificate of election from Georgia was defective; while it was clear that the electors had cast their votes for Jefferson and Burr, the certificate did not take the Constitutionally mandated form of a "List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each." Jefferson, who was counting the votes in his role as President of the Senate, immediately counted the votes from Georgia as votes for Jefferson and Burr. No objections were raised. The total number of votes for Jefferson and Burr was 73, a majority.


Jefferson and Burr tied for first place, so the election was thrown into the House of Representatives.

Source (Popular Vote): [http://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=59539 U.S. President National Vote] ." [http://www.ourcampaigns.com Our Campaigns] ". (February 10, 2006).
Source (Electoral Vote): National Archives EV source| year=1800| as of=July 30, 2005

(a) "Votes for Federalist electors have been assigned to John Adams and votes for Republican electors have been assigned to Thomas Jefferson."
(b) "Only 6 of the 16 states chose electors by any form of popular vote."
(c) "Those states that did choose electors by popular vote had widely varying restrictions on suffrage via property requirements."

Breakdown by ticket

Contingent election

The members of the House of Representatives balloted as states to determine whether Jefferson or Burr would become President. There were sixteen states, and an absolute majority—in this case, nine—was required for victory.

While it was common knowledge that Jefferson was the candidate for President and Burr for Vice President, the lame-duck House was controlled by the Federalists, who were loath to vote for Jefferson (with one exception, Alexander Hamilton [Chernow (2004)] ), their partisan nemesis; Jefferson was the key opponent of Federalists since 1789. Seizing a chance to elect Burr as opposed to Jefferson, most Federalists voted for Burr, giving Burr six of the eight states controlled by Federalists. The seven states controlled by Democratic-Republicans all voted for Jefferson, and Georgia's lone living Federalist representative also voted for Jefferson, giving Jefferson eight states. Vermont was evenly split, casting a blank ballot. The remaining state, Maryland, had five Federalist representatives to three Democratic-Republicans; one of its Federalist representatives voted for Jefferson, forcing the state delegation to cast a blank ballot.

Over the course of seven days from February 11 to February 17, the House cast a total of 35 ballots, with Jefferson receiving the votes of eight state delegations each time—one short of the necessary majority of nine. During the confusion, Alexander Hamilton said he supported Jefferson because he was “by far not so dangerous a man” as Burr; in short, he would much rather have someone with wrong principles than someone devoid of any. [Chernow (2004)] Hamilton embarked on a frenzied letter-writing campaign to get delegates to switch votes. [Roberts (2008)] He narrowly succeeded, and on Tuesday, February 17, on the 36th ballot, Jefferson was elected.

Federalist James A. Bayard of Delaware and his allies in Maryland and Vermont all cast blank ballots. This resulted in the Maryland and Vermont votes changing from no selection to Jefferson, giving him the votes of 10 states and the presidency. Bayard, as the sole representative from Delaware, changed his vote from Burr to no selection. [Ferling (2004)] The four present representatives from South Carolina also changed their 3-1 selection of Burr to four abstentions. The final count was Jefferson with ten votes to Burr's four.


In the following table, results for the state delegation are expressed as (<"votes for Jefferson">-<"votes for Burr">-<"abstentions">).

(a) "The votes of the individual representatives is typical and may have fluctuated from ballot to ballot, but the result for each individual state did not change."
(b) "Even though Georgia had two representatives apportioned, one seat was vacant due to the death of James Jones."
(c) "Even though South Carolina had six representatives apportioned, Thomas Sumter was absent due to illness, and Abraham Nott departed for South Carolina between the first and final ballots."

Electoral college selection

See also

* First Party System
* History of the United States (1789-1849)
* United States House elections, 1800






External links

* [http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=559 Documentary Timeline] Lesson plans from NEH
* [http://elections.lib.tufts.edu/aas_portal/index.xq A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1825]


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