National Elections of 1800
National Elections of 1800
Federalist Divisions. Federalist victories in the 1798 congressional elections and public support for Adams’s peace mission to France in November 1799 were encouraging signs for the Federalists in the presidential election of 1800. But the success of Adams’s peace mission also threatened the future of Alexander Hamilton’s expanded army and deprived the “High Federalists” of the position that their version of federalism was the only means to protect the nation from French invasion and Republican subversion. In May 1800 a caucus of Federalist congressmen pledged the party’s equal support to President John Adams and vice-presidential candidate Charles Cotes-worth Pinckney of South Carolina, supposedly to prevent Republican victory, but Hamilton presumed that support for Pinckney in South Carolina would bring victory to Pinckney, not Adams. An outraged Adams exploded at Hamilton’s political manipulations, which he believed had already cost him the election in New York, where Republican victory in the state elections resulted in control of the legislature and the choice of Republican presidential electors. In a meeting with Secretary of War James McHenry, Adams denounced Hamilton as “a man devoid of every moral principle” and McHenry as a tool of Hamilton. Adams then fired McHenry and Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, another Hamilton supporter. Hamilton responded with a pamphlet titled Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq., President of the United States (1800). Hamilton’s scathing attack on Adams’s “disgusting egotism,” “distempered jealousy,” “ungovernable indiscretion,” and “vanity without bounds” became public when Aaron Burr, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, circulated Hamilton’s pamphlet to the newspapers. Republicans took full advantage of the treachery, spitefulness, and political disunity among the Federalists revealed in Hamilton’s pamphlet to present their party as a unified national party devoted to republican principles and the public good.
Republicans Unite. In May 1800 the Republican congressional caucus united behind Thomas Jefferson, who was no longer the reluctant candidate of 1796. Aaron Burr’s successful political organizing in New York, which gave the Republicans control of the state legislature and the appointment of Republican presidential electors, earned him the vice-presidential nomination and the national support that was lacking in the 1796 elections. In pamphlets and newspapers the Republicans attacked the Federalists for high taxes and the threats to liberty posed by the enlarged army and the Alien and Sedition Acts. In their condemnations of President Adams the Republicans had plenty of quotes to choose from in Hamilton’s pamphlet on Adams’s multiple character defects. The Republicans also used the press to present Jefferson’s “platform,” promising limited government, the discharge of the national debt, and the restoration of civil liberties that the Federalists had violated. The Republicans’ successful use of the press may have contributed to popular support for Jefferson, but it did not necessarily translate into electoral victory. In ten of the sixteen states the legislature chose electors, and in three states electors were chosen by district elections. In Pennsylvania popular support for the Republicans was apparent in congressional elections, where the voters elected ten Republicans and only three Federalists, but presidential electors were chosen by a more closely divided legislature. The Republican House and the Federalist Senate compromised, appointing eight Republican and seven Federalist electors. District elections in Maryland and North Carolina resulted in support being divided between Federalist and Republican electors. Republican electioneering was more successful in South Carolina, where Republican Charles Pinckney, a relative of the Federalist vice-presidential candidate Charles Cotes-worth Pinckney, used promises of patronage, which were honored by Jefferson, to ensure that the legislature chose eight electors committed to Jefferson and Burr.
The Revolution of 1800. In trying to influence the election of Federalist electors, Federalists denounced Jefferson as “a howling atheist,” an “intellectual voluptuary,” and the father of mulatto slave children. In contrast, “A Republican,” writing in the Newport, Rhode Island Guardian of Liberty, called supporters of Jefferson “republicans in the true signification of the term, patriots of ’76 … in fine, all true Americans” and condemned Federalists as “Friends to monarchy … speculators, land jobbers, and monopolists, British agents and hirelings, degenerate Americans.” Skillful party organization was evident in congressional elections, where the Republicans won 66 out of 106 seats in the House of Representatives. All Federalist electors but one divided their votes between Adams and Pinckney, while the Republican electors divided their votes equally between Jefferson and Burr. The final result showed Jefferson and Burr with seventy-three votes each, Adams with sixty-five, and Pinckney with sixty-four. The tie between Jefferson and Burr left it up to the members of the Federalist-controlled Sixth Congress, not the newly elected Republican Seventh Congress, to decide between Jefferson and Burr. For thirty-five ballots Jefferson carried eight states to Burr’s six, with Vermont and Maryland divided, leaving Jefferson one short of the nine states required for election. James Bayard of Delaware, tired of waiting for Aaron Burr to solicit his support and assured by Sen. Samuel Smith of Maryland that Jefferson would not endanger Federalist economic or foreign policies or remove subordinate government officials, decided to support Jefferson. Bayard and Federalist representatives from South Carolina, Vermont, and Maryland submitted blank ballots, allowing Republican votes in Vermont and Maryland to give Jefferson the election. (Because of this election the Twelfth Amendment, providing separate ballots for president and vice president, was adopted in 1804.) The “revolution of 1800” marked a new stage in the evolution of party politics: the peaceful transition of power from one political party to another.
Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993);
John C. Miller, The Federalist Era, 1789–1801 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963);
Eugene H. Roseboom and Alfred E. Eckes Jr., A History of Presidential Elections, fourth edition (New York: Collier, 1979).