Presidential Election of 1800: Candidates, Summary & Significance

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  • 0:00 The Presidential…
  • 0:39 The Candidates
  • 3:03 Summary of the Results
  • 4:34 Significance of the Results
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ronald Kotlik

Ron has taught history and educational technologies at the high school and college level and has a doctorate in American History.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the candidates who ran for president in 1800, the issues that divided them, the historical significance of the election, and why this election was termed the 'Revolution of 1800.'

The Presidential Election of 1800

On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson delivered his first inaugural address to the American people. The election of 1800 had been a bitter battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, and Jefferson used his address to bridge the gap between the two opposing political parties. 'We have called by different names brethren of the same principle,' stated Jefferson, 'we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.'

Despite Jefferson's appeal to end political divisions, the separations that were so clearly defined and displayed during the campaign revealed the permanent existence of political parties within the nation's government.

The Candidates

The election of 1800 was initially a contest between President John Adams, a Federalist seeking a second term and Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic- Republican vice president seeking his own term as President. This election was essentially a rematch of the 1796 election where John Adams was the winner in the Electoral College and Thomas Jefferson was the runner up.

During this point in history, the winner in the Electoral College received the presidency and the runner up received the vice presidency. The founders of the Constitution did not envision well-defined political parties. However, by 1796, two organized parties had emerged: the Federalists and the Democratic- Republicans.

Therefore, in 1796, you had a Federalist president, John Adams, and a Democratic-Republican vice president, Thomas Jefferson. The parties tried to correct this problem for the 1800 election. Federalist congressmen decided that John Adams would be the presidential candidate, while Charles Pinckney would be the vice presidential candidate. Democratic-Republican congressmen nominated Thomas Jefferson as their first choice and Aaron Burr as the vice presidential candidate.

The campaign was bitterly fought with personal and character assassinations conducted by both parties using the press as their mouthpiece. Adams was still plagued with the characterization of being a monarchist, a man who despite leading the charge for independence in 1776, had turned his back on the true ideals of the revolution and had revealed his true passion for the British monarchical system.

Democratic-Republicans used Adams' neutral position on the war between England and France and his failure to help the new French republic against attacks from England as evidence of his rejection of the revolution. Adams was also characterized as being old, jealous, vain, and a man who had an 'ungovernable temper.' On the other hand, the Federalists attacked Jefferson as a coward for failing to stand up to the British during the revolution when he fled his home at Monticello when it was under attack. They also characterized him has a man consumed by material wealth who was out of touch with the real sufferings of the common individual, and that he was a 'howling atheist radical' who was too fond of the bloodshed and violence of the French Revolution. In addition to print media, political cartoons were also used to attack each candidate.

Summary of the Results

Despite both parties' attempts to destroy each other in the press, the real contest of this election was between Jefferson and Burr. When ballots were counted in February of 1801, Jefferson and Burr received 73 electoral votes, Adams received 65 electoral votes, and Pinckney received 64 electoral votes.

The electors had mistakenly given the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate an equal number of votes. The Constitution stipulated that if there was a tie of electoral votes, the House of Representatives must vote and decide the victor. During this process, each state's delegation of representatives got one vote with nine votes being needed to capture the presidency.

Many expected Burr to step aside and let Jefferson assume the presidency, since he was the designated presidential candidate. However, Burr relished the opportunity to win the presidency and forced a battle between the two candidates. Initially there was some Federalist support for Burr. However, Alexander Hamilton used his influence within the party to shift the tide toward Jefferson.

Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury and unofficial leader of the Federalist Party, certainly disliked Jefferson, but thought Burr was a corrupt individual without principle. Hamilton's influence helped Jefferson receive 10 votes in the House and win the election. Burr would later find out how Hamilton had undermined his chances and would challenge and kill Hamilton in a duel in 1806.

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