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From the Book:
A Short History of United States Politics – Book 1
During this period of the election of 1800 the modern practice of mudslinging politics began to arise. The Election of 1800 featured former friends and now political foes, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
The Election of 1800 saw the rise of the modern, cut throat, mudslinging political campaign that 21st Century voters would recognize. The election took place between former friends, now political foes, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Each man had far different ideas about how the federal government should function.
As outlined previously, Jefferson had founded the Democratic-Republican Party to advance his belief that the United States should be primarily an agrarian nation with the yeoman, or independent land owning, farmer as its foundation. he believed in a decentralized federal government in which the states, the political entities closest to the people, should hold the most power. He believed that the traits of the yeoman farmer, those of frugality and self-reliance, should be emulated in government. The Democratic-Republicans also disliked the high taxes enacted by the Federalists. When the party formed in the early 1790’s it drew support from most merchants, farmers, and laborers. By the 1800 election urban workers and artisans had joined this coalition.
As previously noted, the Federalists favored a strong federal government. They also believed that manufacturing should be an important component to the United States economy. Washington, who did not join any political party but apparently favored the Federalists, had set several precidents, including that of a fully financed government. Merchants, bankers and manufacturers tended to follow the Federalists.
Each political party used a political device called the congressional nominating caucus to choose their candidates for the first time. Under this arrangement congressmen from each party met in an informal meeting to choose their candidates for President and Vice President. Each party met secretly in May 1800 to choose their respective candidates. Under the Constitution at the time each candidate would still run as an individual, the parties hoped this would produce a President and Vice President of the same party. The Federalists chose John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as President and Vice President respectively. The Democratic-Republicans chose Thomas Jefferson as President and Aaron Burr as Vice President.
Aaron Burr Jr. (February 6, 1756 – September 14, 1836)
The son of Aaron Burr Sr. and Esther Edwards Burr, Aaron was native to Newark, New Jersey. Aaron’s father died when he was one year old. His mother passed away a year later, thus Aaron and his sister Sarah were orphaned. The children went to live with their grandparents, Sarah and Jonathan Edwards. Sarah Edwards passed away in 1757 and Jonathan in 1758, leaving the children in the care of the William Shippen, who lived in Philadelphia. Their uncle, Timothy Edwards, who was 21 at the time, took the children in and raised them.
An intelligent boy, Aaron applied for admittance to the College of New Jersey when he was eleven years old. The college rejected him, but accepted him two years later when he was thirteen. Burr earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1772 when he was sixteen years old. After attaining his BA, he studied theology for two years, then he moved to Connecticut and switched to law. In 1775 hostilities between the British and their American colonies broke out and Aaron enlisted in the Continental Army.
Burr resigned his commission in 1779 and returned to New York to practice law. In 1791 he gained election to the United States Senate. He ran for president in the 1800 campaign. He received the second largest total of votes, making him vice president to Thomas Jefferson according to election laws at the time. During his term as vice president he engaged in a duel with Alexander Hamilton. He delivered a fatal shot to Hamilton. Even though Burr was never charged, the duel ended his political career. Jefferson had already developed a distrust for Burr and had him dropped from the ticket in the 1804 election.
Surrogates for the candidates did the lion’s share of the mud slinging during these early campaigns. It was considered undignified for the actual candidates to do any campaigning.
Adam’s supporters leveled several claims of the consequences of a Jefferson win. These included:
A leading newspaper opined, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.”
Fear that the Democratic Republicans would ruin the country
A Jefferson supporter alleged that Adams, “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”
Democratic-Republicans also laid charges that the Federalists had subverted the Constitution with the Alien and Sedition Acts and use the army they had raised during the Quasi War to subdue the people.
The organized slander campaigns from both parties laid these charges, and many more, to try to politically destroy their opponents.
During the early days of the Republic, the states were free to choose their own election day. Thus, voting started in April and dragged out to October. By October, the electoral vote between the Federalists and Democratic Republicans was tied at 63 each. The last state to vote, South Carolina, threw its support to the Democratic Republicans. Jefferson and Burr had won, however, both men had the same number of electoral votes, so the vote to choose the next President fell on the House of Representatives.
The vote to choose the President took place in the outgoing Congress, which was heavily Federalist. The Democratic Republicans would take a decisive majority in the new Congress, which would convene in 1801, however it was the old Congress that would choose. Most Federalists saw Burr as the lesser of the two evils and threw their support to him. All of the Democratic-Republicans in the House supported Jefferson. The political struggle lasted 17 days as member cast 35 ballots, all undecisive. Alexander Hamilton, who favored Jefferson, embarked on a campaign to gain support for him. He succeeded as on February 17 the 36th, and final, ballot ended up with Jefferson as President, Aaron Burr as Vice President.
The result created the first peaceful change of power between opposing political parties in the United States. However the hard feelings left by political strife created deep wounds. Formerly good friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did not exchange hand shakes as they switched positions.
This story is excerpted from my book, A Short History of United States Politics Book 1, which is part of my United States History Series. You can find the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other online retailers in both ebook and softbound format. You can also find the book on my website, http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for listening.
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