National Elections of 1808
National Elections of 1808
Contested Nomination. Thomas Jefferson’s second term was marred by disputes within his party that threatened the nomination of James Madison as Jefferson’s successor in 1808. Congressman John Randolph of Virginia objected to several administration measures that he believed deviated from strict republican principles, and he also resented Jefferson’s successful interference in congressional affairs. When Georgia ceded its western lands to the federal government in 1802, the Jefferson administration inherited the problem of straightening out fraudulent land claims granted by the Georgia legislature in 1795. In 1804 Randolph vehemently opposed the recommendation of a committee composed of James Madison, Albert Gallatin, and Levi Lincoln that the federal government compensate the owners of the disputed Yazoo land claims, many of whom were northern speculators. In 1806 Randolph broke completely with Jefferson after the president simultaneously denounced Spain and requested that Congress appropriate funds to acquire Florida from Spain with French help. Randolph and other dissatisfied Republicans, who opposed Jefferson and Madison, their local party leaders, or various national and local policies, formed a loose opposition known as the “Tertium Quids.” Their limited numbers, lack of influence in Congress, and the absence of a unified philosophy prevented the Tertium Quids from developing into a third national party or preventing Madison’s presidential nomination. Randolph and some of the Tertium Quids supported James Monroe of Virginia as a presidential candidate, while other opponents of Madison favored Vice President George Clinton. Fortunately for Madison, neither supporters of Monroe nor Clinton attended the Republican congressional caucus, which nominated Madison by a vote of 83-6 and renominated Clinton for vice president.
In April 1810 Massachusetts Republicans regained the governor’s chair and a small majority in the legislature after a brief period of Federalist resurgence caused by opposition to the Embargo Act of 1807. In 1811 Gov. Elbridge Gerry was reelected, and the Republicans captured both branches of the legislature. Convinced that Federalist opposition to President James Madison’s nonintercourse acts would lead to rebellion, Republicans proposed a series of electoral reforms to increase their numbers and throw Federalists out of office. In February 1812 the Republicans redrew the state’s senatorial districts along partisan lines instead of following county boundaries, allowing their party to gain more seats. When El-kanah Tisdale, a Federalist artist, drew a map of one of the new districts, some people thought it looked like a salamander, prompting someone to suggest that it looked more like a “gerrymander.” Despite having his name attached to the process of redrawing electoral districts for political purposes, Governor Gerry actually disapproved of the bill. The gerrymander helped the Republicans gain seats in the Senate, but the forty-five hundred new Federalist voters added as a result of other Republican reforms to increase the electorate allowed the Federalists to regain the governor’s chair and the House of Representatives.
Federalist Convention. By the election of 1808 the young Federalists had established statewide organizations in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, in addition to Delaware, where Federalist organization had begun in the 1790s. Opposition to the Embargo Act encouraged the Federalists to take steps toward national organization for the presidential election of 1808. Charles Willing Hare, a Philadelphia lawyer and prominent Federalist, suggested that Harrison Gray Otis of Massachusetts take the lead in organizing such an effort. Otis and other Massachusetts Federalists proposed a national meeting of Federalists in New York. Committees of correspondence in Massachusetts, New York, and Philadelphia communicated with Federalists in adjacent states to begin the process of uniting behind a
presidential candidate. The Federalists do not seem to have established committees of correspondence south of the Potomac. It is an exaggeration to call the meeting that convened in New York in August 1808 a “national convention.” Only eight states were represented—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina—and seven of the eight were north of the Potomac. In addition, the secrecy surrounding the convention and the number of Federalists who either criticized or ignored the convention’s authority to nominate candidates demonstrates that Federalists were not yet comfortable with the legitimacy of a national nominating convention. The members of the convention considered supporting the Republican George Clinton, but they ended up renominating their party ticket from 1804: Charles Cotes-worth Pinckney for president and Rufus King for vice president.
Republican Revolution Continues. Republican opponents of Madison in the key states of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York were unable to rally sufficient support to prevent Madison’s election. Madison received 122 electoral votes (40 votes fewer than Jefferson’s vote in 1804) to Pinckney’s 47. New York gave 6 votes to Clinton, who was reelected vice president. The Federalists regained all of New England except Vermont, carried Delaware, and received 5 votes from Maryland and North Carolina. The results of the presidential election clearly indicate that the Federalists’ secret convention in New York was unsuccessful, but the Federalists did double their representation in the Eleventh Congress (1809–1811). The Federalists also made gains on the statewide level after 1808. In Massachusetts, after two years of defeat, the Federalists regained control of the state House of Representatives in the 1808–1809 session and the governorship in 1809. The Federalists controlled Maryland, Massachusetts, and Delaware and played a role in Pennsylvania politics into the 1820s. The Republicans still controlled the Eleventh Congress, with almost twice the number of seats as the Federalists, but that control, which had been an asset to Jefferson, became a liability to Madison. The Republican congressional caucus had made James Madison president, and that fact, coupled with Madison’s own weaknesses as an executive, meant that Madison could never guide the Republican Congress the way Jefferson had. The result was a difficult and frustrating presidency.
James M. Banner Jr., To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789–1815 (New York: Knopf, 1970);
William Nisbet Chambers, Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience, 1776–1809 (New York: Oxford University 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, 1801–1815 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968).