The Election of 1800
THE ELECTION OF 1800 1
TheElection of 1800
The election of 1800 was one of the most contested campaigns inAmerican history. It pitted Federalist John Adams againstDemocrat-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Each party believed that theother would enact destructive policies upon winning the election.Democratic-Republicans wanted to establish an agrarian republic thatwould cater for the needs of local farmers. On the other hand, theFederalists were convinced that a strong manufacturing industry couldcreate sustainable economic growth (Shankman, 2013). In this paper, Iwill argue that the election of 1800 was a fundamental occurrence inAmerican history since it determined how the country would begoverned.
Backgroundof the 1800 Election
President George Washington stabilized the country by suppressingarmed resistance and reducing reliance on other countries. In thisregard, the federal government had enough resources to implement itsprojects. The country had also avoided any involvement in the Frenchrevolutionary wars. Hence, Washington opposed the emergence ofideological differences within his cabinet. Jefferson, the Secretaryof State, was recognized as the leader of the Democratic-RepublicanParty (Sisson & Hartmann, 2014). On the other hand, theFederalist Party was represented by Alexander Hamilton, the Secretaryof the Treasury. Although many people valued Washington for hisunifying policies, he chose not to run for a third term in office.John Adams not only succeeded Washington as president but also becamethe focal point of the Federalists (Shankman, 2013). Therefore, theelection of 1800 was quite significant since it would determine howthe new nation would be governed.
Several issues emerged in the run-up to the election of 1800. Forexample, both parties had different views regarding the properresponse to the ensuing French Revolution. Federalists criticizedJefferson for being sympathetic towards the French forces. The formerfeared that Jefferson would expose the country to unprecedented chaosand bloodshed. Instead, the Federalists wanted the U.S. to maintainneutrality with regards to the French Revolution.Democratic-Republicans believed that federal power was to bedecentralized. They were opposed to the new taxes established duringthe presidency of John Adams (Sisson & Hartmann, 2014).Democratic-Republicans were opposed to military expansion and deficitspending. Consequently, the election of 1800 was a pivotal moment inAmerican history.
Democratic-Republicans wished to reduce the authority exercised bythe federal government. Jefferson had played a considerable role indrafting the Declaration of Independence (Sisson & Hartmann,2014). Hence, he believed that all humans were equally deserving ofhonor and respect. Jefferson was strongly opposed to the fact thatpopular majorities could exercise their power to suit selfishinterests. He was convinced that centralization would prevent abuseof power (Sisson & Hartmann, 2014). Democratic-Republicanscampaigned for direct rulership through the action of stategovernments. Adams had signed the Alien and Sedition Acts prior tothe election. The two legislations made it harder for immigrants toacquire American citizenship. People could also be criminallyprosecuted for criticizing the federal government.Democratic-Republicans were opposed to the Alien and Sedition Actssince the latter were viewed as unconstitutional. The First Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution contained provisions upholding the right tofree speech. The clause stated that “Congress shall make no lawrespecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the freeexercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or of thepress or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and topetition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Shiffrin,2014, p. 8). Hence, the Alien and Sedition legislations wereconsidered oppressive.
Aftermathof the 1800 Election
Democratic-Republicans won both houses of Congress and ascended topower after the 1800 election. Adams had become widely unpopular dueto the Sedition and Alien Acts. Many Americans were also opposed tothe national government. Similarly, Hamilton offered little supportto his party’s presidential candidate. Both Jefferson and hisrunning mate, Aaron Burr, had 73 electoral votes while Adams garnered65 electoral votes (Robertson, 2013). Subsequently, a tie-breakingvote was held in the House of Representatives. The Federalists werebitterly opposed to Jefferson since he advocated for the separationof church and state. Nevertheless, Hamilton played a fundamental rolein ensuring that Jefferson became president (Robertson, 2013). Theelection of 1801 was quite revolutionary since the Constitution madeno provisions for the existence of political parties.
Although the transfer of power was quite peaceful, Adams refused toshake the hand of Jefferson. The latter promised to include bothparties in his presidency (Sisson & Hartmann, 2014). The 1800election led to the eventual decline of the Federalist Party. Theensuing partisanship also caused widespread political realignment(Shankman, 2013). The first party system was severely weakened in theaftermath of the 1800 election. The electoral victory of theDemocratic-Republicans made it mandatory for the government tomanifest accountability (Shankman, 2013). American citizens couldquestions the federal government without fear of victimization.Similar checks and balances exist today through Congress and theJudiciary. The President cannot exercise absolute power since theCongress is empowered to approve certain decisions. Therefore, thesafeguards established against the abuse of power still exist today.
Indeed, the election of 1800 was a critical event in American historysince it determined the manner in which the country would begoverned. President Washington had managed to unify the nation andstrengthen the federal government. However, two members of hiscabinet developed different ideologies that led to the formation oftwo parties. Hamilton favored the growth of the manufacturing sectorwhile Jefferson wanted to establish an agrarian republic. TheFederalist Party supported Adams while the Democratic-Republicanscampaigned for Jefferson. The latter party was also opposed to theAlien and Sedition Acts since the legislations were viewed asunconstitutional. In the aftermath of the election, the federalgovernment showed more accountability for its actions. The checks andbalances enacted after the 1800 election still permeate moderngovernments.
Robertson, A. W. (2013). The Deadlocked Election of 1800: Jefferson,Burr and the Union in the Balance. Journal of the Early Republic,33(1), 140-144.
Shankman, A. (2013). How Should We Think About the Election of 1800?.Journal of the Early Republic, 33(4), 753-761.
Shiffrin, S. H. (2014). The First Amendment, democracy, andromance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sisson, D., & Hartmann, T. (2014). The American Revolution of1800: How Jefferson Rescued Democracy from Tyranny and Faction—andWhat This Means Today. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
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