Election of 1800 Results

Election of 1800 Results Law and Politics American History American Presidents Government

This image depicts the results of the 1800 election in which Thomas Jefferson (a Democratic-Republican) defeated the sitting President, John Adams (a Federalist).

Adams believed that America needed a powerful U.S. (federal) government.  Jefferson believed that a powerful U.S. government was not in America's best interests.

Although it was clear that the Federalists had lost to the Democratic-Republicans—leading to the first time that one U.S. political party would hand-over power to an opposing political party—it was not clear which of the two Democratic-Republican candidates (for President and Vice President) would actually become President.

How could that be? Because the Electoral-College vote was 73 for Jefferson and 73 for Aaron Burr (his running mate).

This result was especially strange because Jefferson was the Presidential candidate and Burr was the Vice-Presidential candidate.

So how was it that both men had the same amount of votes to become President? Because the Constitution did not call for separate Presidential and Vice-Presidential ballots in the Electoral College—and—the Constitution did not require Electors to note, on their single ballot, whether they were voting for a President or a Vice President.

Electors merely wrote down the names of both individuals—Jefferson and Burr—without also writing down the job that the elected candidate would hold. As a result, the 73 Electors each voted for both men, leading to a 73-73 tie.

Curators at the National Archives lay-out the difficulty and explain the solution:

By the election of 1800, the nation's first two parties were beginning to take shape. The Presidential race was hotly contested between the Federalist President, John Adams, and the Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson. Because the Constitution did not distinguish between President and Vice-President in the votes cast by each state's electors in the Electoral College, both Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr received 73 votes.

According to the Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, if two candidates each received a majority of the electoral votes but are tied, the House of Representatives would determine which one would be President. Therefore, the decision rested with the lame duck, Federalist-controlled House of Representatives.

Thirty-five ballots were cast over five days but neither candidate received a majority.

Many Federalists saw Jefferson as their principal foe, whose election was to be avoided at all costs. But Alexander Hamilton, a well-respected Federalist party leader, hated Burr and advised Federalists in Congress that Jefferson was the safer choice.

Finally, on February 17, 1801, on the thirty-sixth ballot, the House elected Thomas Jefferson to be President.

The tie vote between Jefferson and Burr in the 1801 Electoral College pointed out problems with the electoral system. The framers of the Constitution had not anticipated such a tie nor had they considered the possibility of the election of a President or Vice President from opposing factions - which had been the case in the 1796 election.

In 1804, the passage of the 12th Amendment corrected these problems by providing for separate Electoral College votes for President and Vice President.

Hamilton had facilitated the tie-breaker, allowing Tom Jefferson to become America's third President. One might say, however, that Burr's payback was drastic in the extreme.

Some years later, when Aaron Burr was still America's sitting Vice President, he shot and killed Hamilton in a famous duel. That duel—and the men's testy relationship—is the subject of a 21st-century, award-winning musical.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5189stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Dec 07, 2019

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.



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