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National Elections of 1804

National Elections of 1804


The Republican Ticket. Thomas Jeffersons renomination as the Republican Partys presidential candidate in 1804 was just a formality. Jefferson had proven to be a strong executive and an effective party leader who carefully guided administration-sponsored legislation through Congress. With commanding Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, Jefferson had fulfilled his inaugural address promises of establishing a wise and frugal government, restoring civil liberties, and creating economic opportunity by repealing internal taxes, reducing government expenses, repealing the Judiciary Act of 1801, letting the Sedition Act expire, and acquiring the Louisiana Territory. On 25 February 1804 the Republican congressional caucus, meeting openly for the first time, unanimously cast 108 votes for Jefferson. The Republican caucus, also for the first time, appointed a central committee to promote the success of republican nominations on a nationwide basis. The caucus was equally unanimous in their decision to drop Aaron Burr from the partys ticket, replacing him with George Clinton of New York, who received 67 out of 108 votes. The decision to remove Burr was a wise one. Burr, whose flirtation with the Federalists in the election of 1800 had stripped him of any influence in Jeffersons administration, decided to run for governor of New York in 1804. Sen. Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts and other Federalists, who were plotting secession from the republic they felt was controlled by Jeffersons democracy so they could form a northern confederacy, offered to help Burr get elected if he could bring New York into the fold. When Alexander Hamilton, who had criticized Burrs character and opposed his political ambitions for more than ten years, expressed his despicable opinion of Burr in print, Burr challenged him to a duel. On 11 July 1804 Burr mortally wounded Hamilton and, in the process, destroyed his own political career.

Old and Young Federalists. Public support for Jefferson and the Republican Party and its cohesive national organization were difficult obstacles for the Federalists to overcome. While Timothy Pickering and other older Federalists recoiled in disgust from Jeffersonian democracy and considered secession as a solution, a younger generation of Federalists began to adopt some of the Republicans electioneering techniques. This second generation of Federalist political leaders, born between 1760 and 1789, whose members included Harrison Gray Otis and Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts, Robert Goodloe Harper of Maryland, and John Rutledge Jr. of South Carolina, recognized the need to organize caucuses and committees to nominate candidates and spread the Federalist message to voters through pamphlets, newspapers, mass meetings, barbecues, and other public celebrations. Most of all, the young Federalists, even though they may have been as aristocratic as the old Federalists, accepted the democratic trends in American political life. The almost universal use of secret ballots by 1800, the declining property qualifications for voters, and the phenomenal increase of voter participation after 1800 meant that no successful politician could ignore the power of this increasing body of people who could and did vote. Unfortunately, the young Federalists had only begun to organize on a statewide level by 1804. The national elections were still in the hands of the older generation of leaders who, at an informal meeting, nominated Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the vice-presidential candidate in 1800, for president and Rufus King of New York as vice president, both of whom were Federalists of the old school.

Republican Landslide. The success of the Republican Partys philosophy and organization is evident in the final results of the presidential election of 1804. Jefferson received 162 electoral votes to Pinckneys 14. Pinckney received 9 votes from Connecticut, 3 from Delaware, and 2 of Marylands 11 votes. To the horror of New England Federalists, Jefferson carried Massachusetts. The Republicans were just as successful in returning majorities to the House and Senate. The elections of 1804 may have lacked the excitement of 1800, but they were an important phase in American political development. Under the Twelfth Amendment the election of 1804 was the first national election with separate ballots for president and vice president, indicating the acceptance of party tickets. As evidence of the democratization of American politics, ten of the seventeen states chose presidential electors in either statewide or district popular elections, as compared to 1800, when the legislatures chose electors in ten

of sixteen states. Pinckney, the Federalist candidate, carried Connecticut and Delaware, two states where the legislature still chose electors. In addition, Connecticut had abolished the paper ballot in favor of oral voting, an undemocratic procedure that may have contributed to Federalist victory. The Federalists appeared to be headed for extinction, but reaction against Jefferson and James Madisons embargo and nonintercourse policies and the decision to declare war against England in 1812 kept the two-party system alive. The Federalists would never regain the presidency, but their organizational efforts brought some success in congressional elections during the Madison administration.


William Nisbet Chambers, Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience, 17761809 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963);

Noble E. Cunningham Jr., The Jeffersonians in Power: Party Operations, 18011809 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963);

David Hackett Fischer, The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965);

Marshall Smelser, The Democratic Republic, 18011815 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968).

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