Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Burr’

The Election of 1800

November 2, 2013

The election of 1800 was one of the nastiest and most contentious in American history. We have had other close elections and many campaigns that descended into the worst sort of character assassinations, but 1800 stands out. For one thing, the election of 1800 was the only election in American history that ended in a duel. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

As I have mentioned before, the rules for electing the president were slightly different in the first four elections. Each Elector in the Electoral College had two votes which he cast for two different men. The candidate with the largest number of votes would be President and the next largest Vice-President. This worked well enough in the first two elections when everyone knew that George Washington would be President and John Adams Vice-President. It worked less well in 1796 when John Adams, the Federalist, was elected President with Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republican. Although the two men were of opposing parties, they had long been friends and Adams had every expectation that Jefferson would be as loyal a Vice-President as Adams himself had been to Washington. He was badly disappointed with Jefferson. Jefferson spent the next four years undermining Adams at every opportunity and preparing to run against Adams in 1800.

In 1800, the Federalists selected John Adams to run for re-election, even though he was not especially popular in the party. Adams was really too independent to belong to any party and he and the Federalist party leader Alexander Hamilton hated each other, especially since Adams discovered that the members of his cabinet, holdovers from Washington’s administration, were more loyal to Hamilton than to him. For vice-president the Federalists selected Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the brother of Adams’s running mate in 1796. Pinckney had been the U.S. minister to France and had famously said, “Not a sixpence” when French officials had tried to bribe him in the XYZ Affair.

For their part, the Democratic Republicans selected Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr again.

The election of 1800 turned out to be one of the nastiest in American history. Adams was accused of wanting to set up a monarchy. He was for aristocracy and against giving any role to the common man in politics. He was said to be arranging for his sons to marry King George III’s daughters and hoped to have the United States rejoin the British Empire. Jefferson was an atheist, a deist,and a radical.  He was planning to bring the Jacobin Terror to America. Under a Jefferson administration all common decency would be forgotten and Bible would be burned. Newspapers and speakers of both parties gleefully spread the most scurrilous stories about the opposing party’s candidate.

As in the election of 1796, both parties tried to make arrangements so that their Vice-Presidential candidate would receive one fewer vote than their Presidential candidate, and as in 1796, something went wrong. The Federalists won all of New England along with New Jersey and Delaware. The Democratic Republicans won the South except for North Carolina, which along with Pennsylvania and Maryland split its vote. The total electoral vote for the Federalists was 65 votes for Adams and 64 votes for Pinckney. The total electoral vote for the Democratic Republicans was 73 votes for Jefferson and 73 votes for Burr, a tie. This presented a problem.

The Election of 1800

The Election of 1800

According to the constitution, if no candidate gets a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives would select the President from among the top five candidates, with each state getting one vote, which was determined by a majority of that state’s representatives. If there were a tie vote, the Congressional delegation would have to turn in a blank ballot. In 1801 there were sixteen states in the Union so a candidate had to have at least nine states supporting him in order to win the election.

On the first ballot, Jefferson got eight votes, Burr six, and the remaining two states were tied. For six days, vote after vote was taken with no change in the results. Many Federalists began to consider supporting Burr as the lesser of two evils. They tried to negotiate with Burr, offering their support in exchange for his maintaining Federalist policies. Burr listened, but didn’t commit himself. Then, the unexpected occurred. Alexander Hamilton intervened, on the side of his arch enemy, Jefferson.  Jefferson, he acknowledged was a “contemptible hypocrite” and “tinctured with fanaticism”, yet he did have some “pretensions to character”. Burr, by contrast, was without principles or honor, the “Catiline of America”. Catiline was a Roman Senator who had been accused of conspiring to overthrow the Republic in the 60’s BC. To educated Americans of the time, that was about the worst name Hamilton could have called Burr. Hamilton’s support of Jefferson was something like if Rush Limbaugh had supported Gore during the Florida recounts in 2000.

Alexander Hamilton

As a result of Hamilton’s lobbying, the deadlock was broken on February 17. Several Congressmen who had been supporting Burr abstained and as a result, Jefferson got ten votes to Burr’s four. Jefferson was elected President just two week before Inauguration Day. Shortly after, the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, which changed the procedure of the Electoral College so that each elector has one vote and votes for the President and Vice-President as a team, was adopted to prevent anything like the election of 1800 from occurring again.

About the duel, that occurred in 1804. Jefferson never trusted Burr after the election, for obvious reasons, and saw to it that Burr had no role in the government. As the election of 1804 neared, Jefferson decided to replace Burr as his running mate with George Clinton. Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but once again his fellow New Yorker, Hamilton, opposed him and he lost the election. Burr seized on Hamilton’s description of him as “despicable” and challenged Hamilton to a duel. At the duel, Hamilton fired into the air, but Burr shot him in the abdomen, killing Hamilton and his own political career. Burr had to flee to avoid prosecution for murder and was eventually implicated in a conspiracy to seize power in the Spanish southwest and create his own empire. He was tried for treason but acquitted and spent most of the rest of his life in Europe.

Politics has always been a dirty and excitable business but it has gotten a lot tamer in recent years. Imagine if the contentious election of 2000 had been handled like 1800. We might have ended up with Bush and Gore fighting a duel. Oh well.

The good old days

 

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The Election of 1796

October 18, 2013

The presidential election of 1796 was the first real election for president that the United States had. In the first two elections, the elections of 1789 and 1792, everyone knew that George Washington was going to win. He had no opposition and it was simply inconceivable that anyone would run against him. Washington’s second term was not as successful as his first, especially in foreign policy. The young nation was being pressured to take sides in the war between Great Britain and Revolutionary France, and Washington’s insistence that the United State was neutral pleased neither side. The British would not respect American sovereignty while the French ambassador tried to undermine the government. Washington sent John Jay to Great Britain to negotiate a trade treaty and to deal with these issues. The resulting treaty was greatly to the advantage of the British and was very unpopular, especially among the supporters of Jefferson. This affected Washington’s popularity and in the second half of his second term, Washington faced more public opposition than he had before as president.

Still, if George Washington had wanted a third term, he would have gotten it. He didn’t want it. Washington was feeling old and tired. He was 64 years old and had lived a hard life. He was also aware that the men of his family tended to die young. Washington wanted to return to Mount Vernon and spend a few years in retirement.

As soon as it was clear that Washington would not serve a third term, the race was on. The first party system had begun to develop in George Washington’s second term. The party organizations were still rather rudimentary, however and there were none of the primaries, caucuses, or nominating conventions that were a feature later on in American politics. Instead the leader of each party met informally and chose candidates. Both parties decided to balance their tickets geographically with one candidate from the north and one from the south, in order to appeal to the whole country.

The Federalists picked John Adams to be their candidate for president. He had served as vice-president for eight years under Washington and many felt that he deserved the top job. Adams was known to be capable and honest and was a good choice. For vice-president, the Federalists chose Thomas Pinckney from South Carolina. Pinckney is not well known today. He had fought in the Revolutionary War and had served as governor of South Carolina from 1787 to 1789. He was Washington’s minister to Britain in 1792 and had negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo with Spain. In fact, the Federalist Party leader, Alexander Hamilton preferred Pinckney to Adams and tried to arranged for him to get more electoral votes.

The Democratic-Republicans chose their party leader, Thomas Jefferson. For vice-president they decided on Aaron Burr from New York. This might seem a  strange choice considering Burr’s later notoriety, but Burr was also a Revolutionary War veteran and a prominent attorney. He was also the leader of the Democratic Republican Party in the state of New York.

The rules for electing the president were different before the passage of the twelfth amendment. The electors were selected in November either by state legislatures or in some states by popular vote. When the Electoral College met, each elector had two votes which he cast for two different men. The candidate with the most votes was elected president while the runner up got to be vice-president. This system worked well enough in the first two elections, when everyone knew Washington would be president. It did not work so well in the election of 1796 and caused a crisis in the election of 1800.

The first contested election was fiercely fought. Adams and Jefferson took no part in the campaign, it wasn’t considered seemly to actively campaign in those days, and they remained friends. Their partisans, however, attacked each other mercilessly. Adams was accused of being a monarchist who planned to make himself king and his sons lords. Jefferson was attacked as a  fanatic Jacobin and atheist who wanted to import the French Revolution to America. When the votes were cast, Adams won by a narrow margin. He got 71 electoral votes, winning all of New England along with New York and New Jersey. Jefferson had 68 electoral votes, winning the entire south including the new states  of Kentucky and Tennessee and also won Pennsylvania. In the states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, one elector had voted for Adams, while Maryland was split with seven votes for Adams and four votes for Jefferson.

The Election of 1796

The Election of 1796

In both parties the plan had been for all but a few electors to cast their second vote for their party’s choice for vice president, thus allowing either Pinckney or Burr to be in second place. This didn’t work out because of the slow speed of communications at the time, so the electors’ second votes were distributed among a variety of men. Thomas Pinckney got 59 votes, fewer than Jefferson. Burr was a distant fourth with only 30 votes. So John Adams, the Federalist was elected president with Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic Republican as his vice president. This might be a little like Barack Obama having John McCain as his vice president.

Despite the differences in party, Adams and Jefferson expected to work well with each other and Jefferson was gracious in defeat, saying, “Adams has always been my senior from the commencement of my public life”. Maybe he had an idea of just how rough the next four years were going to be.

 

 

The Election of 1800

March 13, 2012

The election of 1800 was one of the nastiest and most contentious in American history. We have had other close elections and many campaigns that descended into the worst sort of character assassinations, but 1800 stands out. For one thing, the election of 1800 was the only election in American history that ended in a duel. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

The first thing to know is that the rules for electing a President were slightly different for the first three elections. According to the Constitution;

 The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed;

 This means that each Elector in the Electoral College got two votes. The man with the most votes is President. The man with the second most votes is Vice-President. This would have some interesting results if that were the rule today. Imagine the election of 2008 with Obama the President and John McCain (or Sarah Palin!) the Vice-President. You will notice that there is no mention of a popular election for President. That is because there is none. Here is the rule for selecting electors.

 Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

This clause says nothing about how each state should appoint Electors. That is up to each individual state. At first, the state legislatures picked them. By the early nineteenth century, they were selected by popular vote. This means that Americans do not actually vote for a presidential candidate. Technically, we are voting for a slate of Electors.

It might seem obvious to us that having a President and Vice-President who had run against each other and would probably be of opposing parties would not work all that well. This wasn’t a problem for the elections of 1788 and 1792. Everyone agreed that George Washington was the only choice for president. John Adams was the consensus choice for vice-President.  So, the first two presidential elections were uncontested and Washington was the only presidential candidate to win a unanimous vote of the Electoral College.

The first American political parties began to take shape during Washington’s second term. These early parties were the Federalists, led by Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and the Democratic-Republicans led by Washington’s Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. These two men, Hamilton and Jefferson, were not just political rivals but personal enemies who wrote newspaper articles under pseudonyms attacking each other. Their constant fighting caused Washington much grief and may have been one of the reasons he declined to serve a third term.

The election on 1796, then, was the first contested presidential election. The Democratic-Republicans backed Jefferson, while the Federalists supported Adams, who was really too independent to belong to any party. The campaigning was fierce but neither Adams nor Jefferson took part in it, actual campaigning being considered too undignified for candidates, and they managed to maintain their personal friendship. The election turned out to be a close one, with Adams getting 71 electoral votes and Jefferson getting 68 votes, making Adams the second President of the United States and Jefferson his vice-President.  Jefferson pronounced himself content with this arrangement saying that Adams had always been his senior. The good feelings were not to last. For the next four years, Jefferson quietly prepared to run against Adams.

President of the Senate John Adams

The election of 1800 turned out to be one of the nastiest in American history. Adams ran for reelection with Charles Pinckney as his running mate. Thomas Jefferson made another attempt under the Democratic-Republican banner with Aaron Burr. Adams was accused of wanting to set up a monarchy. He was said to be arranging for his sons to marry King George III’s daughters. Jefferson was supposedly planning to bring the Jacobin Terror to America. Newspapers and speakers of both parties gleefully spread the most scurrilous stories about the opposing party’s candidate.

To prevent a repeat of the results of the election of 1796, in which the President and Vice-President were of different parties, the Federalist and Democratic-Republican leadership made arrangements that their electors would end up casting one fewer vote for their Vice-Presidential candidate than for their President. This way whichever party won the election would be assured that the winners of the first and second place would be of the same party. On Election Day the Democratic-Republicans won by a clear majority. There was just one problem. While the Federalist electors cast 65 votes for John Adams and 64 votes for Pinckney, there was some miscommunication among the Democratic-Republicans and both Jefferson and Burr received 73 votes.  Burr should have stepped down since everyone knew that Jefferson was meant to be President. Burr decided that he liked the idea of being President and while he did not campaign actively to be chosen, he wasn’t going to decline if anyone else decided to support him.\

 

In the event that no candidate gets a majority, the constitution states

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peal...

Thomas Jefferson

and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice-President

 

Or, in other words, the House of Representatives picks the president with each state getting one vote.  In 1801, there were sixteen states so the winner needed nine votes. When Congress met on February 11, 1801, many Federalists were inclined to support Burr as the lesser of two evils. On the first ballot, Jefferson got eight states, one less than the nine he needed. Burr got six states. The two remaining states’ Congressional delegations were evenly divided so they had to cast blank ballots. Over the next six days vote after vote was taken all with the same result.  As the inauguration date of March 4 approached, many people began to worry that the President wouldn’t be chosen in time. There were attempts to make deals to end the deadlock but they all fell through.

Aaron Burr, 3rd Vice President of the United S...

Aaron Burr

 

Then, something unimaginable occurred. Alexander Hamilton intervened, on the side of his archenemy Jefferson. Jefferson, he acknowledged was a “contemptable hypocrite” and “tinctured with fanaticism”, yet he did have some “pretensions to character”. Burr, by contrast, was without principles or honor, the “Catiline of America”. Catiline was a Roman Senator who had been accused of conspiring to overthrow the Republic in the 60’s BC. To educated Americans of the time, that was about the worst name Hamilton could have called Burr. Hamilton’s support of Jefferson was something like if Rush Limbaugh had supported Gore during the Florida recounts in 2000.

As a result of Hamilton’s lobbying, the deadlock was broken and on the next ballot, Jefferson won ten votes and Burr four. Jefferson was finally elected President and the inauguration went ahead as planned.  Shortly after, the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, which changed the procedure of the Electoral College so that each elector has one vote and votes for the President and Vice-President as a team, was adopted to prevent anything like the election of 1800 from occurring again.

About the duel, that occurred in 1804. Jefferson never trusted Burr after the election, for obvious reasons, and saw to it that Burr had no role in the government. As the election of 1804 neared, Jefferson decided to replace Burr as his running mate with George Clinton. Burr decided to run for governor of New York, but once again his fellow New Yorker Hamilton opposed him and he lost the election. Burr seized on Hamilton’s description of him as “despicable” and challenged Hamilton to a duel. At the duel, Hamilton fired into the air, but Burr shot him in the abdomen, killing Hamilton and his own political career. Burr had to flee to avoid prosecution for murder and was eventually implicated in a conspiracy to seize power in the Spanish southwest and create his own empire. He was tried for treason but acquitted and spent most of the rest of his life in Europe.

Alexander Hamilton

Politics has always been a dirty and excitable business but it has gotten a lot tamer in recent years. Imagine if the contentious election of 2000 had been handled like 1800. We might have ended up with Bush and Gore fighting a duel. Oh well.

 

The good old days


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