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What Was Alexander Hamilton's Role in Aaron Burr's Contentious Presidential Defeat?

June 25, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Hamilton lobbied against Burr, but another federalist cast the deciding vote for Thomas Jefferson.

As the presidential election of 1800 approached, Americans were more divided than ever before. The incumbent President John Adams faced off against Vice President Thomas Jefferson, the former secretary of state and author of the Declaration of Independence.

To Jefferson and his supporters in the rising Democratic-Republican (or Republican) opposition, building the strong national government favored by Adams’s Federalist Party meant trampling on the rights of states and individuals, and destroying the revolutionary freedom on which the nation had been founded.

At the time, there was no popular vote, and no separate ballots for presidential and vice presidential candidates. Electors from each of the 16 states in the Union each cast two votes; the candidate who received the most votes became president, while the runner-up became vice president. This undeniably flawed system had led to Jefferson becoming Adams’s VP in 1796, after losing the nation’s first contested presidential race by just three electoral votes.

In the 1800 election—a drawn-out battle between two starkly different visions of America’s future—it would cause an outright constitutional crisis.

A Historic Tie Between Jefferson and Burr

Voting in 1800 took place over a period of months, and the campaign, which was largely fought in the nation’s partisan press, got really nasty. Republican newspaper editor James Callender notoriously accused Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” while a Federalist writer named “Burleigh” claimed that if Jefferson won, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest, will openly be taught and practiced.”

By mid-December 1800, it was clear Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, had beaten out the Federalist ticket of Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. But there was a problem: At least Republican one elector had been expected to withhold his vote from Burr to allow Jefferson to come out ahead. None of them did, and each man had received exactly 73 electoral votes.

A Federalist Plot to Thwart Jefferson

The tie sent the election to the lame-duck House of Representatives, where Federalists dominated. Though public opinion favored Jefferson, many Federalists decided to throw their support to Burr, hoping to keep Jefferson from the nation’s highest office. Burr refused to confirm that he would turn down the presidency if the House voted in his favor, leading some people to conclude that he was secretly angling for the …read more


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