The Election & Presidency of Thomas Jefferson

The Election & Presidency of Thomas Jefferson
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  • 0:00 The Election of 1800
  • 1:54 Jefferson's First Term
  • 2:52 Jefferson's Second Term
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the remarkable Election of 1800 and about the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. We will highlight the central events, people, situations, and themes surrounding Jefferson's election and his subsequent presidency. We will be able to summarize the important events that took place during his time in office.

The Election of 1800

The Election of 1800 was an insane election! If you think politics is dirty now with lots of name-calling and mud-slinging, this is nothing compared to what went on during the Election of 1800. So remember, George Washington was our first president. He served two terms. After him, his vice president, John Adams, became president, and served one term. That brings us up to 1800.

In the Election of 1800, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson ran against each other for president. And here you thought all our 'founding fathers' were just a bunch of good friends, right? The Election of 1800 was pretty intense. At one point, Jefferson called Adams a 'hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.' And Adams predicted that if Jefferson was elected, 'murder, robbery, adultery, and incest would be openly taught and practiced.' How is that for over the top?

Yep, it was a brutal campaign. Adams was a Federalist who favored a strong, central government, and Jefferson was considered a Democratic-Republican, which was basically an anti-Federalist. Jefferson wanted the masses to have a stronger voice than the government. He supported a more limited government.

In the end, Jefferson won. See, there were other guys who ran in the election as well. Aaron Burr was one of them, and there was also this other guy named Charles Pinckney. This complicated things as you can imagine. Basically, no man could get a majority of votes, so the Congress had to decide the outcome. Remember, elections were done a little differently back then!

Alexander Hamilton, who was actually a Federalist, helped Congress elect Jefferson, the man he believed was the lesser of two evils. The Election of 1800 was important because it set a precedent for the peaceful transition of power from one party to another.

Jefferson's First Term

Jefferson had always prided himself on being 'a common man,' so to demonstrate this, he walked to his inaugural ceremony, rather than ride a fancy horse or stage coach. The most notable achievement of Jefferson's first term was the Louisiana Purchase, in which the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon's France in 1803 for the super-cheap price of only $15 million dollars. This doubled the size of the United States and opened it up for exploration and settlement.

In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out with the purpose of exploring, mapping, and conducting scientific investigations throughout the newly-acquired territory. It was led, of course, by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark. They traveled all the way to the Pacific Ocean and returned home in 1806.

Jefferson was a very down-to-earth guy. He wasn't at all formal and he entertained many visitors to the White House. He was very popular with the lower classes.

Jefferson's Second Term

Jefferson won reelection in 1804 against his old rival, Charles Pinckney. The victory was a landslide for TJ. Jefferson's second term is generally considered as less eventful than his first. That said, there were a number of issues he had to navigate. He encountered a lot of opposition on domestic issues, and of course, there were serious foreign policy issues at stake.

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