The election was just plain awful. Coarse. Brutal. Mean.
Two totally different plans for America with two totally different candidates vying for the American presidential office within two major political parties.
An unfair media.
The population and the delegates in throes of indecision and division.
The election of 1800. America had been a free nation since 1776….or….officially since 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. The 1800 presidential election is considered America’s beginning of tumultuous ‘bloodsport’ political campaigns and elections even though it was not the first of putting leaders into position in the new, free nation. George Washington was chosen unanimously as the first United States of America President, inaugurated in April of 1789. No real debate or problem. He served for eight years and although there were thoughts and wants of his holding office ‘indefinitely’ in some form or another, he understood the meaning of what he had fought for as Commander in the recent Revolutionary War.
In 1796, an election was necessary as Washington had chosen to retire back to his main love, his Mount Vernon home and farm in Virginia. This election, although contested, went relatively calm. John Adams had been George Washington’s Vice President with Thomas Jefferson having been the Administration’s Secretary of State, although resigning within his term because of political frustration. Both wanted the position as well as two others….Charles Pinckney, and Aaron Burr. This early election and its outcome did begin our nation’s varied sectional divisions. The Federalist, Adams, won with 71 electors, compared to Jefferson’s 68.
Thomas Jefferson became President John Adams’ Vice President, the format as outlined by the Founders in their beginning nation even though they were completely at odds with one another on policy, plans, beliefs, and visions for the burgeoning new country. Jefferson continued his quest for wanting the top position all the while he served as the Vice President—quietly, meticulously, even viciously, so that at the end of the four-year Adams’ presidency, he was ready again to challenge for the top office.
Adams and Jefferson had been compatriots in working on the Declaration of Independence in 1776. They both had been on the committee of five to draw a declaration for America’s wish to be free. Adams was better as an orator; Jefferson as a writer. There is no record in the historical documents where Jefferson ever made an effective speech. In fact, it was Adams who had suggested that Jefferson was the brilliant writer and should take control. Adams, then, along with the other three, including Benjamin Franklin, edited and corrected Jefferson’s excellent prose and presentation of reasons and direction. Now, decades later, however, Adams and Jefferson became bitter political enemies in their fight for their vision for America and the top position of a country they helped form and both loved.
The American election of 1800 became a deep change from one historical process to the next because Adams had been attuned to the philosophies and leadership of George Washington, but Jefferson had begun his own philosophy of vision and began what we now know as the division of political parties. This election set a precedent of peacefully transferring power between two who had come to detest one another.
Four men were running again. Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as Federalists and Jefferson and Aaron Burr as Republican-Democrats.
There were now 16 states from the 13 states that had created the new nation in 1776; the population had doubled. One in six were enslaved with 150,000 free blacks being legal everywhere except Massachusetts and Vermont. Rural was stronger in population than the cities. Adams was only one of the four who had never owned slaves. Burr was fighting against ownership but owned himself and some say that also applied to Jefferson although he did not directly fight against ownership, his writings for the country indicated equality and freedom.
Adams also had a presidential record of some good, some bad. The bad was efficiently used against him by Jefferson and his able use of the media of the day. Adams was serious, pedantic, irascible, opinionated, and often difficult to like, unable to converse in ‘small talk.’ Physical features also mattered. Adams was seven years older than Jefferson, but looked older….poor teeth, balding, pallid complexion, short, overweight who had worked hard at farming. He had acquired position by hard work and attending college to learn the law with his own grit and finances. Jefferson was tall, handsome, with striking red hair and excellent teeth. He was cultured and refined from inheritance education and wealthy living. He hated confrontation (that Adams thrived upon) and often had others do his ‘dirty political work’ for him…as he specifically accomplished through a toxic political writer and supporter, James Callendar, a major media reporter of the day.
Some of the coarse, brutal, and mean political messages and questionable political direction that election, just on Adams and Jefferson, included the following~~~
~~~Thomas Jefferson poisoned with ambition
~~~Jefferson had set up printing presses in every town and country throughout the land (a Federalist cry, somewhat exaggerated…..about 40% was partisan press)
~~~The lame, the crippled, the diseased, the blind…..were led, lifted or brought in carriages to the poll and permitted many to vote who were ineligible….some often accepting bribes
~~~Adams a war monger (French war was lingering and often on the brink during Adams’ presidential term)
~~~Adams term was ‘a reign of witches’
~~~Jefferson would loosen all bonds of society. He had a consumed hate of George Washington (the latter had some truth; Jefferson respected, admired, and feared Washington, but did not love)
~~~”Hide your Bibles!”……God’s vengeance would be called down if Jefferson was elected,
~~~Adams’ reign has been one of continued tempest of malignant passions
~~~Adams will extinguish the only beam of happiness that glimmers through the dark and despicable farce of life…..
~~~”Fake News” reported that Jefferson had died that summer campaign
~~~Batteries of slander are fully opened for the campaign which is to decide the Presidential election
~~~Washington was a liar who longed to be a dictator (this was to tie Adams to Washington, their both being Federalists)
Election time commitment was for electors to vote for two, one of which could not be from his state.
The Federalist vote lost—Adams and Pinckney. The Federalists attribute the defeat to ruinous fissures within the party. They had lost the urban vote that had grown by one third since 1790.
The voter turnout had been greater than in 1796, some areas as high as 70%. However, the Federalists held the House in the 16 states, 64-42.
Jefferson was convinced he had won the presidency, but when the tally came in, he and Burr, allies in their political fight as Republican-Democrats, had tied with 73 votes each.
It was deadlocked for four days with 33 ballots.
Lobbying and courtship had to continue, even in heavier earnest.
Jefferson’s state of Virginia even threatened secession if their candidate was not elected. The Constitutional Convention threatened to reorganize the government.
No elector would budge.
Delaware Congressman James Bayard was approached about abandoning his current vote for Aaron Burr. If he would abstain, it would reduce the victory to eight states instead of nine.
Bayard finally would agree, but with his conditions.
Speculation is that Bayard went to Jefferson with his wanted Federalist positions of supporting the banking system, maintaining the Naval system, and, as President, that he would not remove any political officer because of political positions or support. Further speculation is that Bayard also approached Burr, but that Burr had refused any bargaining that included a sellout of the principles of his party.
Jefferson swore that he never made the deal when Bayard finally ended the deadlock and Thomas Jefferson became America’s third President of the United States.
Bayard insisted that Jefferson had
accepted the Federalist terms and evi
dence might suggest that he did as President Jefferson never did touch the Bank of the United States, tolerating continued borrowing by the Federal Government; he did not remove any Federalist office holders, and he protected the Naval rights (although there were some reductions, but with Federalist legislation), all agendas that he had been against as a candidate.
Thomas Jefferson elected. John Adams was devasted and bitter. He did not stay to attend the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, leaving early in the morning, but had signed paperwork in his last days as President to pack the judiciary with Federalist magistrates, who later became known as “midnight judges”. Abigail Adams called her old friend (who she had exchanged letters with through the years and had helped him with his daughter while they were both in France during the war years) an “infidel president” (and Martha Washington cried when she heard that Jefferson had won the election; George Washington had died in 1799).
Thomas Jefferson would not have been elected had it not been for the Constitution’s black population’s 3/5 clause; it inflated the number of electors allocated to the South.
Reporting became that Jefferson had “ridden into the temple of the Liberty on the shoulders of slaves.”
The election of 1800 had created a new era, some considered the second birth of freedom akin to 1776, destroying a friendship and political comradery of Adams and Jefferson that did not heal for decades following Jefferson’s election, Adams returned home to his farm in Massachusetts. Years later Abigal Adams sent a letter to Jefferson, now also retired at his Monticello home in Virginia, and John and Thomas became friends only through correspondence. They never saw one another again, but their legacy continued with the irony of their deaths on the very same historical date of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence that meant so much to both of them. July 4, 1826.
A few of the famous quotes from Thomas Jefferson that still relate to American elections and who is elected….
“American Revolution had been about who would be supreme….the people or a small elite.”
“One party exists in its favor of the many. The other of the few.”
“How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of and which no other people on earth enjoy”