Thomas Jefferson & Aaron Burr

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  • 0:04 Thomas Jefferson & Aaron Burr
  • 1:03 Early American Politics
  • 1:45 The Election of 1800
  • 3:14 Jefferson & Burr in Office
  • 5:03 Aftermath
  • 5:24 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 relationship and the dynamics between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. We will explore their roles in the Election of 1800 and their leadership as the third President and Vice President of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson & Aaron Burr

In many respects, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr couldn't be more different. Their legacies certainly are about as opposite as they can be. Go to Washington, D.C., and you'll see the Jefferson Memorial. You'll also find Jefferson's face on Mount Rushmore. Oh, and don't forget the nickel.

Jefferson, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, is among the most revered men in American history. Aaron Burr, on the other hand is one of the most reviled and notorious figures in early American history. After all, this is the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a pistol duel, and later went on to conspire to carve up his own independent country out of parts of the Louisiana Territory. And yet, despite their very different legacies, these two men were connected to one another. Their strongest tie was the fact that they served together as the third President and Vice President of the United States.

Let's dig deeper and learn more about the ties between these two men.

Early American Politics

We can't really discuss Jefferson and Burr any further without setting the political context. In the early 19th century, two main political parties emerged: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalists supported a strong, centralized government, whereas the Democratic-Republicans favored government authority being dispersed at a more local level, directly among the people. Thomas Jefferson was a staunch Democratic-Republican, and Aaron Burr, though often described as a political opportunist, also seems to have favored Democratic-Republicanism. So to begin with, the Democratic-Republican Party tied Jefferson and Burr together: they belonged to the same political party.

The Election of 1800

The Election of 1800 was quite possibly the most unusual election in American history. It was nothing short of a fiasco. In this election four men ran against one another: incumbent John Adams (who was a Federalist), Charles Pinckney (also a Federalist), Aaron Burr, and Thomas Jefferson (both of whom were Democratic-Republicans). At this time in American history, political ''tickets'' featuring running mates didn't exist. Whoever won the most votes in the Electoral College became the president, and whoever won the second most electoral votes, became the vice president.

In the election of 1800, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson tied for votes in the Electoral College. This meant that the winner of the presidential election would be decided by a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The tie resulted in all kinds of political maneuvering within the Burr and Jefferson camps. Jefferson, who was generally regarded as the favorite, wrote a letter to Burr, telling him that if he settled for the vice presidency, he (Burr) would be given more responsibilities than normally fall to a vice president. Burr responded favorably to Jefferson's letter, telling him he would ''disclaim all competition.'' However, privately Burr went on to challenge Jefferson for the highest office in the land. Finally, on the 36th attempt, the House of Representatives voted Thomas Jefferson the third President of the United States. Burr would have to settle for the vice presidency.

Jefferson & Burr in Office

Whereas Jefferson served two terms as president, Burr only served one. Burr served as the vice president between 1801-1805. We'll find out why he only served one shortly.

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