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Thomas Jefferson is elected third U.S. president

Thomas Jefferson is elected third U.S. president


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On February 17, 1801, Thomas Jefferson is elected the third president of the United States. The election constitutes the first peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in the United States.

By 1800, when he decided to run for president, Thomas Jefferson possessed impressive political credentials and was well-suited to the presidency. In addition to drafting the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had served in two Continental Congresses, as minister to France, as secretary of state under George Washington and as John Adams’ vice president.

READ MORE: How the First 10 U.S. Presidents Helped Shape the Role of the Nation's Top Office

Vicious partisan warfare characterized the campaign of 1800 between Democratic-Republicans Jefferson and Aaron Burr and Federalists John Adams, Charles C. Pinckney and John Jay. The election highlighted the ongoing battle between Democratic-Republican supporters of the French, who were embroiled in their own bloody revolution, and the pro-British Federalists who wanted to implement English-style policies in American government. The Federalists abhorred the French revolutionaries’ overzealous use of the guillotine and as a result were less forgiving in their foreign policy toward the French. They advocated a strong centralized government, a standing military and financial support of emerging industries. In contrast, Jefferson’s Republicans preferred limited government, unadulterated states’ rights and a primarily agrarian economy. They feared that Federalists would abandon revolutionary ideals and revert to the English monarchical tradition. As secretary of state under Washington, Jefferson opposed Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton’s proposal to increase military expenditures and resigned when Washington supported the leading Federalist’s plan for a national bank.

After a bloodless but ugly campaign in which candidates and influential supporters on both sides used the press, often anonymously, as a forum to fire slanderous volleys at each other, the then-laborious and confusing process of voting began in April 1800. Individual states scheduled elections at different times and although Jefferson and Burr ran on the same ticket, as president and vice president respectively, the Constitution still demanded votes for each individual to be counted separately. As a result, by the end of January 1801, Jefferson and Burr emerged tied at 73 electoral votes apiece. Adams came in third at 65 votes.

This unintended result sent the final vote to the House of Representatives. Sticklers in the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives insisted on following the Constitution’s flawed rules and refused to elect Jefferson and Burr together on the same ticket. The highly influential Federalist Alexander Hamilton, who mistrusted Jefferson but hated Burr more, persuaded the House to vote against Burr, whom he called the most unfit manfor the office of president. (This accusation and others led Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel in 1804 that resulted in Hamilton’s death.) Two weeks before the scheduled inauguration, Jefferson emerged victorious and Burr was confirmed as his vice president.

A contingent of sword-bearing soldiers escorted the new president to his inauguration on March 4, 1801, illustrating the contentious nature of the election and the victors’ fear of reprisal. In his inaugural address, Jefferson sought to heal political differences by graciously declaring We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.

As president, Jefferson made some concessions to his opponents, including taking Hamilton’s advice to strengthen the American Navy. In 1801, Jefferson sent naval squadrons and Marines to suppress Barbary piracy against American shipping. He reduced the national debt by one-third, acquired the Louisiana Territory, and his sponsorship of the Lewis and Clark expedition opened the west to exploration and settlement. Jefferson’s first term ended in relative stability and prosperity, and in 1804 he was overwhelmingly elected to a second term.

The flawed voting system that was so problematic in the election of 1800 was later improved by the 12th Amendment, which was ratified in 1804.

READ MORE: Two Presidents Died on the Same July 4: Coincidence or Something More?


Biography of Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743–July 4, 1826) was the third president of the United States, after George Washington and John Adams. His presidency is perhaps best known for the Louisiana Purchase, a single land transaction that doubled the size of the United States' territory. Jefferson was an anti-Federalist who was wary of a large central government and favored states' rights over federal authority.

Fast Facts: Thomas Jefferson

  • Known For: Third president of the United States Founding Father drafted the Declaration of Independence
  • Born: April 13, 1743 in the Colony of Virginia
  • Died: July 4, 1826 in Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Education: College of William and Mary
  • Spouse: Martha Wayles (m. 1772-1782)
  • Children: Martha, Jane Randolph, Unnamed Son, Maria, Lucy Elizabeth, Lucy Elizabeth (all with wife Martha) a rumored six with an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings, including Madison and Eston
  • Notable Quote: "The government is best that governs least."

Before America was even a country, Thomas Jefferson was born in the colony of Virginia in his family home, Shadwell.

Upon his father’s death, he inherited approximately 5,000 acres of land, including the Monticello plantation.

Began boarding with the Reverend James Maury where he studied history, science, and the classics.

Entered the college of William & Mary where he studied multiple foreign languages, the violin, and law.

Was admitted to the Virginia bar.

Began construction on his primary residence, Monticello, with the work completed by local craftsmen and Jefferson’s slaves.

Began serving a six-year term in the VA House of Burgesses, where he often pursued slavery reforms.

His Shadwell home was destroyed by fire, including 200 cherished books he had inherited from his father.

Married his third cousin, a 23-year old widow, Martha Wayles Skelton.

Became the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.

Was elected to the VA House of Delegates for Albemarle County.

Was elected governor of Virginia this year, and the following year, for single-year terms, during which time he transferred the capital of the state from Williamsburg to Richmond.

Escaped Richmond, VA just ahead of its capture and burning by British forces.

Martha Jefferson dies following the birth of her sixth child with Thomas.

Was appointed as a VA delegate to the U.S. Congress of the Confederation.

Authored the “Land Ordinance of 1784,” which outlined nine new states and banned slavery in all U.S. territories.

Was sent as a minister to France to help negotiate trade agreements with England, France, and Spain.

Returned to America, intending to return to France soon, but was instead appointed by President George Washington as the first Secretary of State of the U.S.

Ran for, and lost, the presidency but became Vice President to John Adams.

Elected the third president of the U.S.

Re-elected for a second term.

Founded the University of Virginia, which he envisioned as a university free of church influences.

Began writing his autobiography, primarily focused on the Declaration of Independence, and the reforming of the government of VA.

Died on July 4, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Was carved as one of the figures of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Had the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. dedicated in his honor.


Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, a spokesman for democracy, was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the third President of the United States (1801–1809).

In the thick of party conflict in 1800, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a private letter, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

This powerful advocate of liberty was born in 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia, inheriting from his father, a planter and surveyor, some 5,000 acres of land, and from his mother, a Randolph, high social standing. He studied at the College of William and Mary, then read law. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, and took her to live in his partly constructed mountaintop home, Monticello.

Freckled and sandy-haired, rather tall and awkward, Jefferson was eloquent as a correspondent, but he was no public speaker. In the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress, he contributed his pen rather than his voice to the patriot cause. As the “silent member” of the Congress, Jefferson, at 33, drafted the Declaration of Independence. In years following he labored to make its words a reality in Virginia. Most notably, he wrote a bill establishing religious freedom, enacted in 1786.

Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France in 1785. His sympathy for the French Revolution led him into conflict with Alexander Hamilton when Jefferson was Secretary of State in President Washington’s Cabinet. He resigned in 1793.

Sharp political conflict developed, and two separate parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, began to form. Jefferson gradually assumed leadership of the Republicans, who sympathized with the revolutionary cause in France. Attacking Federalist policies, he opposed a strong centralized Government and championed the rights of states.

As a reluctant candidate for President in 1796, Jefferson came within three votes of election. Through a flaw in the Constitution, he became Vice President, although an opponent of President Adams. In 1800 the defect caused a more serious problem. Republican electors, attempting to name both a President and a Vice President from their own party, cast a tie vote between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The House of Representatives settled the tie. Hamilton, disliking both Jefferson and Burr, nevertheless urged Jefferson’s election.

When Jefferson assumed the Presidency, the crisis in France had passed. He slashed Army and Navy expenditures, cut the budget, eliminated the tax on whiskey so unpopular in the West, yet reduced the national debt by a third. He also sent a naval squadron to fight the Barbary pirates, who were harassing American commerce in the Mediterranean. Further, although the Constitution made no provision for the acquisition of new land, Jefferson suppressed his qualms over constitutionality when he had the opportunity to acquire the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803.

During Jefferson’s second term, he was increasingly preoccupied with keeping the Nation from involvement in the Napoleonic wars, though both England and France interfered with the neutral rights of American merchantmen. Jefferson’s attempted solution, an embargo upon American shipping, worked badly and was unpopular.

Jefferson retired to Monticello to ponder such projects as his grand designs for the University of Virginia. A French nobleman observed that he had placed his house and his mind “on an elevated situation, from which he might contemplate the universe.”

The Presidential biographies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey. Copyright 2006 by the White House Historical Association.

Learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s spouse, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson.


Contents

Jefferson ran for president in the 1796 election as a Democratic-Republican, but finished second in the electoral vote to Federalist John Adams under the laws then in place, Jefferson's second-place finish made him the Vice President of the United States. [1] Jefferson strongly opposed the Federalist program, including the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the nation became increasingly polarized. [2] Jefferson and Adams were once again the major presidential candidates of their respective parties in the 1800 presidential election, and Aaron Burr was the Democratic-Republican Party's vice presidential nominees. [3] Adams's campaign was weakened by unpopular taxes and vicious Federalist infighting over his actions in the Quasi-War. [4] The Democratic-Republicans accused the Federalists of being secret monarchists, while the Federalists charged that Jefferson was a godless libertine in thrall to the French. [5]

Under the election system in place at the time, the members of the Electoral College were permitted to vote for two names for president any tie would be decided in a contingent election in the United States House of Representatives. Jefferson and Burr each received 73 electoral votes, while Adams finished in third place with 65 votes. The House of Representatives, still controlled by the Federalists, held a contingent election in February 1801 to decide whether Jefferson or Burr would accede to the presidency. Though some Federalists preferred Burr, Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton strongly preferred Jefferson. On the thirty-sixth ballot of the contingent election, enough Federalist congressmen abstained from the vote to allow Jefferson to win the presidency. [6] Jefferson regarded his victory as "America's Second Revolution," and he hoped to transform the country by limiting government and weakening the power of elites. [7]

Before Jefferson could take office, there was a transition period in which he was the president-elect following his victory in the contingent election. [8] The transition between Adams and Jefferson represented the first transfer of the presidency between two different political parties in United States history, a and set the precedent for all subsequent inter-party transitions. [9] It was the first time in United States history the a president handed over the presidency to a political opponent. [8]

Unlike the presidential transitions of today, transitions at this time were informal affairs, with relatively minimal activity required of the president-elect. [10]

During the transition, Jefferson picked members of his Cabinet. [10] He also selected individuals less principal positions of his administration, such as Meriwether Lewis to serve as his personal secretary. [10]

Before leaving office, the lame duck, to the outrage of the Democratic-Republicans, at the last minute Adams appointed many federal judges (mostly belonging to the Federalist Party) to fill positions created by the Judiciary Act of 1801. These would be dubbed "midnight judges". [11] Jefferson denounced this action. [12]

Jefferson's first inauguration, on March 4, 1801, was the first to be held in the nation's new capital, Washington, D.C. [13] That morning an artillery company on Capitol Hill had fired shots to welcome the daybreak, and in a first for a newspaper, Jefferson gave a copy of his speech to the National Intelligencer for it to be published and available right after delivery. [14] He delivered a 1721-word speech in the United States Capitol's Senate Chamber. He was not a strong speaker, and the audience could barely catch his words, which called for national unity. The speech was widely reprinted and celebrated by Democratic-Republicans across the country as a clear statement of the party's principles. [15] The presidential oath of office was administered by Chief Justice John Marshall. [13] Outgoing President Adams had left the capital earlier that day, and did not attend the ceremony. [16]

Cabinet Edit

The Jefferson Cabinet
OfficeNameTerm
PresidentThomas Jefferson1801–1809
Vice PresidentAaron Burr1801–1805
George Clinton1805–1809
Secretary of StateJames Madison1801–1809
Secretary of the TreasurySamuel Dexter1801
Albert Gallatin1801–1809
Secretary of WarHenry Dearborn1801–1809
Attorney GeneralLevi Lincoln Sr.1801–1805
John Breckinridge1805–1806
Caesar Augustus Rodney1807–1809
Secretary of the NavyBenjamin Stoddert1801
Robert Smith1801–1809

By July 1801, Jefferson had assembled his cabinet, which consisted of Secretary of State James Madison, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, Attorney General Levi Lincoln Sr., and Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith. After his decision to pursue the presidency in the contingent election, Burr was excluded from any role in the Jefferson administration. Jefferson sought to make collective decisions with his cabinet, and each member's opinion was elicited before Jefferson made major decisions. [17] Gallatin and Madison were particularly influential within Jefferson's cabinet they held the two most important cabinet positions and served as Jefferson's key lieutenants. [18]

Patronage and the Federalists Edit

When Adams took office in 1797, he carried many of outgoing President George Washington's supporters over into his new administration. As a result, there was little change in the federal government during the transition between Washington and Adams, the first presidential transition in U.S. history. With Jefferson's election in 1800, there was a transfer of power between parties, not simply a transition between presidents. As president, Jefferson had the power of appointment to fill many government positions that had long been held by Federalists. Jefferson resisted the calls of his fellow Democratic-Republicans to remove all Federalists from their appointed positions, but he felt that it was his right to replace the top government officials, including the cabinet. He also replaced any lower-ranking Federalist appointees who engaged in misconduct or partisan behavior. Jefferson's refusal to call for a complete replacement of federal appointees under a "spoils system" was followed by his successors until the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828. [19]

In the final days of his presidency, Adams had appointed numerous federal judges to fill positions created by the Judiciary Act of 1801. Democratic-Republicans were outraged by the appointment of these "midnight judges," almost all of whom were Federalists. [20] Jefferson and his allies sought to reverse the Judiciary Act of 1801, partly because they did not believe the new judicial positions were necessary, and partly to weaken Federalist influence on the courts. Federalists vehemently opposed this plan, arguing that Congress did not have the power to abolish judicial positions that were occupied. Despite these objections, the Democratic-Republicans passed the Judiciary Act of 1802, which largely restored the judicial structure that had prevailed prior to the Judiciary Act of 1801. [21] The Jefferson administration also refused to deliver judicial commissions to some Adams appointees who had won Senate confirmation but had not yet formally taken office. One such appointee, William Marbury, sued Secretary of State Madison to compel him to deliver the judicial commissions. In the 1803 Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, the court ruled against Marbury, but also established the precedent of judicial review, thereby strengthening the judicial branch. [21]

Still unhappy with Federalist power on the bench even after the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1802, the Democratic-Republicans impeached district court Judge John Pickering and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Federalist congressmen strongly opposed both impeachments, criticizing them as attacks on judicial independence. Pickering, who frequently presided over cases while drunk, was convicted by the Senate in 1804. However, the impeachment proceedings of Chase proved more difficult. While serving on the Supreme Court, Chase had frequently expressed his skepticism of democracy, predicting that the nation would "sink into mobocracy," but he had not shown himself to be incompetent in the same way that Pickering had. Several Democratic-Republican senators joined the Federalists in opposing Chase's removal, and Chase would remain on the court until his death in 1811. Though Federalists would never regain the political power they had held during the 1790s, the Marshall Court continued to reflect Federalist ideals until the 1830s. [22]

Jefferson appointed three people to the Supreme Court during his presidency. The first vacancy of Jefferson's presidency arose due to the resignation of Alfred Moore. Determined to appoint a Democratic-Republican from a state unrepresented on the Court, Jefferson selected William Johnson, a young attorney who had previously served as an appellate judge in South Carolina. After the death of William Paterson in 1806, Jefferson appointed Henry Brockholst Livingston, a justice of the New York Supreme Court. After Congress added another seat to the Supreme Court with the Seventh Circuit Act of 1807, Jefferson asked individual members of Congress for their recommendations on filling the vacancy. Though Representative George W. Campbell of Tennessee emerged as the most popular choice in Congress, Jefferson was unwilling to appoint a sitting member of Congress. Jefferson instead appointed Thomas Todd, another individual popular among members of Congress, and who served as the chief justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Jefferson hoped that his appointments would weaken Chief Justice Marshall's influence on the Court, but, with the partial exception of Johnson, his Supreme Court appointments tended to support Marshall's decisions. [23] Jefferson also appointed seven United States circuit court judges and nine United States district court judges.

Jeffersonian democracy Edit

After the American Revolution, many Federalists hoped that society would remain largely as it had been during the colonial era, but Jefferson wanted to upend the social order. [24] He advocated a philosophy that historians would later call Jeffersonian democracy, which was marked by his belief in agrarianism and strict limits on the national government. In a world in which few believed in democracy or egalitarianism, Jefferson's belief in political equality stood out from many of the other Founding Fathers of the United States, who continued to believe that the rich and powerful should lead society. [25] Under pressure from Jeffersonian Republicans, states achieved greater suffrage by eliminating property requirements. Expanding suffrage and the mobilization of ordinary people ensured that individuals outside of the elite class had the opportunity to become government officials, especially in the North. [26] Prior to the 1790s, campaigning was considered an interference on each citizen's right to think and vote independently. Without competition for office, voter turnouts were often low, sometimes fewer than 5 percent of eligible men. [27] With the rise of the two-party system, many regions saw voter participation rise to approximately 20 percent in the 1790s and to 80 percent during Jefferson's presidency. Wood writes, "by the standards of the early nineteenth century America possessed the most popular electoral politics in the world." [28]

The egalitarianism of the age extended beyond voting rights, as the practice of indentured servitude declined and traditional hierarchies in employment and education were challenged. [29] In a reflection of his own belief in egalitarianism, Jefferson broke with many of the precedents set by Adams and Washington. Jefferson accepted visitors without regard to social status, discontinued the practice of delivering speeches to Congress in person, and enforced a less formal protocol at White House events. [30]

In reaction to the expansion of the franchise, even Federalists began to adopt partisan techniques, such as party organization, newspapers, and the establishment of auxiliary societies. [31] The Federalists peacefully accepted the transfer of power to the Democratic-Republicans in 1800, but most party leaders hoped that it would be just a temporary anomaly. Many Federalists continued to serve in state or local office, though prominent Federalists like John Jay and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney retired from public life. Reflecting the fears of other ambitious young Federalists, John Quincy Adams wrote that the Federalist Party had been "completely and irrevocably abandoned. it never can and never will be revived." [32] As Jefferson's presidency continued, Adams's prediction proved accurate, and the Federalists struggled to compete outside of New England. [33]

Fiscal policy Edit

Much of Jefferson's early agenda focused on undoing the Federalist program of the 1790s. Upon taking office, he repealed the remaining provisions of the Alien and Sedition Acts and pardoned all ten individuals who had been prosecuted under the acts. [34] He also began dismantling Hamilton's fiscal system with help from Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin. [35] Jefferson's administration eliminated the whiskey excise and other taxes after closing "unnecessary offices" and cutting "useless establishments and expenses". [36] [37] After the repeal of these taxes, over 90 percent of federal revenue came from import duties. [38] Despite Jefferson's earlier opposition to the national bank, Gallatin persuaded Jefferson to retain the First Bank of the United States. [39] With the repeal of the Federalist program, many Americans had little contact with the federal government, with the exception of the postal service. [40]

Jefferson's ultimate goal was to abolish the national debt, which he believed to be inherently dangerous and immoral. [38] Though Gallatin and Jefferson did not find as much Federalist governmental waste as they had expected, their fiscal cuts and the benign economic conditions that persisted for much of Jefferson's presidency allowed them to run budget surpluses. [41] Jefferson shrank the army and the navy, deeming them largely unnecessary in peacetime. [42] He transformed the navy into a fleet consisting of inexpensive gunboats used only for defense, with the idea that they would not provoke foreign hostilities. [36] His administration discharged numerous soldiers, leaving the army with 3,350 officers and enlisted men. [38] At the end of his two terms, Jefferson had lowered the national debt from $83 million to $57 million. [43] In 1806, believing that the country would soon abolish its national debt, Jefferson proposed enlarging the army and passing a constitutional amendment to explicitly allow Congress to spend funds on internal improvements and education, but these proposals were not acted on by Congress. [44] That same year, Congress authorized the construction of the National Road, a route designed to connect the East Coast to St. Louis, although construction on the road did not begin until 1811. [45]

Yazoo controversy Edit

In the early 1800s, much of the American frontier was subject to the competing claims of settlers, land speculators, and Native Americans. The Yazoo lands of western Georgia were no exception, and they emerged as a point of major tension during Jefferson's administration. In what became known as the Yazoo land scandal, Georgia had engaged in a massive real estate fraud by selling large tracts of Yazoo land before passing a law retroactively invalidating the grants. With the Compact of 1802, the federal government purchased western Georgia (now the states of Alabama and Mississippi), agreed to seek to extinguish all Native American claims in the region, and also agreed to settle all claims against the land from those who had been defrauded in the scandal. [46] In 1804, Jefferson sought to compensate those defrauded in the Yazoo land scandal by giving them some of the lands acquired in the compact, but Congressman John Randolph successfully mobilized opposition to the proposal, castigating it as a giveaway to land speculators. The incident marked the start of a factionalism within the Democratic-Republican Party that would prove problematic for Jefferson and his successors, as Randolph's "tertium quids" freely criticized presidents of their own party. [47] Controversy over the Yazoo lands would continue until 1814, when Congress finally agreed to compensate the claimants. [48]

Lewis and Clark and other expeditions Edit

Even before the 1803 purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson had begun planning for an expedition to the lands west of the Mississippi River. [49] Jefferson considered it important for the United States to establish a claim of "discovery" to Oregon Country by documenting and establishing an American presence there before Europeans could establish strong claims. [50] Jefferson also hoped the expedition would discover the long-sought-for Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, which would greatly promote commerce and trade for the country. [51] In 1804, he appointed his personal secretary Meriwether Lewis, along with William Clark, as the leaders of a western expedition, dubbing it the Corps of Discovery. [52] [53] Jefferson chose Lewis to lead the expedition rather than someone with only the best scientific credentials because of Lewis' military experience in the woods and "familiarity with the Indian manners and character." Jefferson possessed the largest collection of books in the world on the subject of the geography and natural history of the North American continent, and before the expedition he tutored Lewis in the sciences of mapping, botany, natural history, mineralogy, astronomy, and navigation. [54]

In May 1804, the Corps of Discovery, consisting of about 40 men, departed from St. Louis and traveled up the Missouri River. [55] Guided by Sacagawea and various Native American tribes along the way, the expedition, traveling on the Columbia River, reached the Pacific Ocean by November 1805. After the winter thaw the expedition began their return trip on March 22, 1806, and returned to St. Louis on September 23 that year, adding a wealth of scientific and geographical knowledge of the vast territory, along with knowledge of the many Indian tribes. [56] Two months after the expedition's end, Jefferson made his first public statement to Congress giving a one sentence summary about its success before asserting the justification for the expenses involved. [51] The American Philosophical Society ultimately became the repository for many of the expedition's findings, including seeds, fossils, plant, and other specimens. [57] In 1808, businessman John Jacob Astor established a transcontinental fur trading company, and in 1811 his company established Fort Astoria, the first American settlement on the Pacific Coast. [58]

In addition to the Corps of Discovery, Jefferson organized other western exploration expeditions, some of which traveled through Spanish territory. [59] William Dunbar and George Hunter led an expedition on the Ouachita River, Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis led the Red River Expedition, and Zebulon Pike led the Pike Expedition into the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest. [60] All of the exploration expeditions sent out under Jefferson's presidency produced valuable information about the American frontier. [60]

National military academy Edit

Jefferson strongly felt the need for a national military university that could produce a competent officer engineering corps that would not have to rely on foreign sources for top grade engineers. [61] An academy would also help to replace many of the Federalist officers who Jefferson dismissed when he took office. [62] Jefferson signed the Military Peace Establishment Act on March 16, 1802, thus founding the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Act documented in 29 sections a new set of laws and limits for the military. [63]

Twelfth Amendment Edit

In reaction to the Electoral College tie between Jefferson and Burr in 1800, Congress approved an amendment to the United States Constitution providing a new procedure for electing the president and vice president, and submitted it to the state legislatures for ratification in December 1803. The Twelfth Amendment was ratified by the requisite number of states (then 13) to become part of the Constitution in June 1804. [64]

Admission of Ohio Edit

One new state, Ohio, was admitted to the Union while Jefferson was in office. The exact date upon which Ohio became a state is unclear. On April 30, 1802, the 7th Congress had passed an act "authorizing the inhabitants of Ohio to form a Constitution and state government, and admission of Ohio into the Union." On February 19, 1803, the same Congress passed an act "providing for the execution of the laws of the United States in the State of Ohio." Neither act, however, set a formal date of statehood. An official statehood date for Ohio was not set until 1953, when the 83rd Congress passed a Joint resolution "for admitting the State of Ohio into the Union", which designated March 1, 1803, as that date. [65] It was the first state created from the Northwest Territory.

Barbary War Edit

For decades prior to Jefferson's accession to office, the Barbary Coast pirates of North Africa had been capturing American merchant ships, pillaging valuable cargoes and enslaving crew members, demanding huge ransoms for their release. [66] Before independence, American merchant ships were protected from the Barbary pirates by the naval and diplomatic influence of Great Britain, but that protection came to end after the colonies won their independence. [67] In 1794, in reaction to the attacks, Congress had passed a law to authorize the payment of tribute to the Barbary States. At the same time, Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794, which initiated construction on six frigates that became the foundation of the United States Navy. By the end of the 1790s, the United States had concluded treaties with all of the Barbary States, but weeks before Jefferson took office Tripoli began attacking American merchant ships in an attempt to extract further tribute. [68]

Jefferson was reluctant to become involved in any kind of international conflict, but he believed that force would best deter the Barbary States from demanding further tribute. He ordered the U.S. Navy into the Mediterranean Sea to defend against the Barbary Pirates, beginning the First Barbary War. The administration's initial efforts were largely ineffective, and in 1803 the frigate USS Philadelphia was captured by Tripoli. In February 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a successful raid on Tripoli's harbor that burned the Philadelphia, making Decatur a national hero. [69] Jefferson and the young American navy forced Tunis and Algiers into breaking their alliance with Tripoli which ultimately moved it out of the war. Jefferson also ordered five separate naval bombardments of Tripoli, which restored peace in the Mediterranean for a while, [70] although Jefferson continued to pay the remaining Barbary States until the end of his presidency. [71]

Louisiana Purchase Edit

Jefferson believed that western expansion played an important role in furthering his vision of a republic of yeoman farmers. By the time Jefferson took office, Americans had settled as far west as the Mississippi River, though vast pockets of land remained vacant or inhabited only by Native Americans. [72] Many in the United States, particularly those in the west, favored further territorial expansion, and especially hoped to annex the Spanish province of Louisiana. [73] Given Spain's sparse presence in Louisiana, Jefferson believed that it was just a matter of time until Louisiana fell to either Britain or the United States. [74] U.S. expansionary hopes were temporarily dashed when Napoleon convinced Spain to transfer the province to France in the 1801 Treaty of Aranjuez. [73] Though French pressure played a role in the conclusion of the treaty, the Spanish also believed that French control of Louisiana would help protect New Spain from American expansion. [74]

Napoleon's dreams of a re-established French colonial empire in North America threatened to reignite the tensions of the recently concluded Quasi-War. [73] He initially planned to re-establish a French empire in the Americas centered around New Orleans and Saint-Domingue, a sugar-producing Caribbean island in the midst of a slave revolution. One army was sent to Saint-Domingue, and a second army began preparing to travel to New Orleans. After French forces in Saint-Domingue were defeated by the rebels, Napoleon gave up on his plans for an empire in the Western Hemisphere. [75] In early 1803, Jefferson dispatched James Monroe to France to join ambassador Robert Livingston in purchasing New Orleans, East Florida, and West Florida from France. [76] To the surprise of the American delegation, Napoleon offered to sell the entire territory of Louisiana for $15 million. [77] The Americans also pressed for the acquisition of the Floridas, but under the terms of the Treaty of Aranjuez, Spain retained control of both of those territories. On April 30, the two delegations agreed to the terms of the Louisiana Purchase, and Napoleon gave his approval the following day. [78]

After Secretary of State James Madison gave his assurances that the purchase was well within even the strictest interpretation of the Constitution, the Senate quickly ratified the treaty, and the House immediately authorized funding. [79] The purchase, concluded in December 1803, marked the end of French ambitions in North America and ensured American control of the Mississippi River. [80] The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States, and Treasury Secretary Gallatin was forced to borrow from foreign banks to finance the payment to France. [81] Though the Louisiana Purchase was widely popular, some Federalists criticized it Congressman Fisher Ames wrote, "We are to give money of which we have too little for land of which we already have too much." [82]

Burr conspiracy Edit

Having been dropped from the 1804 Democratic-Republican ticket, Burr ran for the position of Governor of New York in an April 1804 election, and was defeated. Federalist Party leader Alexander Hamilton was a key factor in Burr's defeat, [83] having made callous remarks regarding Burr. Believing that his honor was offended, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. [84] On July 11, 1804, Burr mortally wounded Hamilton in a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey. [83] Burr was indicted for Hamilton's murder in New York and New Jersey causing him to flee to Georgia, although he remained President of the Senate during Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase's impeachment trial. The two Burr indictments were "quietly allowed to die". [83]

After Aaron Burr was disgraced in the duel of 1804 and his own presidential ambitions were ended, he was reported by the British ambassador as wanting to "effect a separation of the western part of the United States [at the Appalachian Mountains]". Jefferson believed that to be so by November 1806, because Burr had been rumored to be variously plotting with some western states to secede for an independent empire, or to raise a filibuster to conquer Mexico. At the very least, there were reports of Burr's recruiting men, stocking arms, and building boats. New Orleans seemed especially vulnerable, but at some point, the American general there, James Wilkinson, a double agent for the Spanish, decided to turn on Burr. Jefferson issued a proclamation warning that there were U.S. citizens illegally plotting to take over Spanish holdings. Though Burr was nationally discredited, Jefferson feared for the very Union. In a report to Congress January 1807, Jefferson declared Burr's guilt "placed beyond question". By March 1807, Burr was arrested in New Orleans and placed on trial for treason in Richmond, Virginia, with Chief Justice John Marshall presiding. On June 13, Jefferson was subpoenaed by Burr to release documents that favored Burr's defense. [85] Jefferson stated he had no loyalty to Burr and only released a few documents Burr had requested having invoked executive privilege. [85] Jefferson refused to appear at Burr's trial. [85] The weak government case led to Burr's acquittal, but with his reputation ruined he was never able to mount another adventure. [86] Burr later died on his Staten Island residence in October 1836. [87]

Florida and Haiti Edit

After early 1802, when he learned that Napoleon intended to regain a foothold in Saint-Domingue and Louisiana, Jefferson proclaimed neutrality in relation to the Haitian Revolution. The U.S. allowed war contraband to "continue to flow to the blacks through usual U.S. merchant channels and the administration would refuse all French requests for assistance, credits, or loans." [88] The "geopolitical and commercial implications" of Napoleon's plans outweighed Jefferson's fears of a slave-led nation. [89] After the rebels in Saint-Domingue proclaimed independence from France in the new republic of Haiti in 1804, Jefferson refused to recognize Haiti as the second independent republic in the Americas. [90] In part he hoped to win Napoleon's support over the acquisition of Florida. [91] American slaveholders had been frightened and horrified by the slave massacres of the planter class during the rebellion and after, and a southern-dominated Congress was "hostile to Haiti." [92] They feared its success would encourage slave revolt in the American South. Historian Tim Matthewson notes that Jefferson "acquiesced in southern policy, the embargo of trade and nonrecognition, the defense of slavery internally and the denigration of Haiti abroad." [93] According to the historian George Herring, "the Florida diplomacy reveals him [Jefferson] at his worst. His lust for land trumped his concern for principle." [94]

Jefferson's non-recognition of Haiti did little to advance his goal of acquiring East Florida and West Florida, which remained under the control of Spain. Jefferson argued that the Louisiana Purchase had extended as far west as the Rio Grande, and had included West Florida as far east as the Perdido River. He hoped to use that claim, along with French pressure, to force Spain to sell both West Florida and East Florida. In 1806, he won congressional approval of a $2 million appropriation to obtain the Floridas eager expansionists also contemplated authorizing the president to acquire Canada, by force if necessary. [95] In this case, unlike that of the Louisiana Territory, the dynamics of European politics worked against Jefferson. Napoleon had played Washington against Madrid to see what he could get, but by 1805 Spain was his ally. Spain had no desire to cede Florida, which was part of its leverage against an expanding United States. Revelations of the bribe which Jefferson offered to France over the matter provoked outrage and weakened Jefferson's hand, and he subsequently gave up on Florida. [96]

Native American relations Edit

In keeping with his Enlightenment thinking, President Jefferson adopted an assimilation policy towards American Indians known as his "civilization program" which included securing peaceful U.S.–Indian treaty alliances and encouraging agriculture. Jefferson advocated that Indian tribes should make federal purchases by credit holding their lands as collateral for repayment. Various tribes accepted Jefferson's policies, including the Shawnees led by Black Hoof and the Creek. However, Jefferson dreamed of a transcontinental nation, and he became increasingly skeptical of assimilation efforts. As his presidency continued, Jefferson prioritized white settlement of the western territories over peaceful assimilation. [97]

When Jefferson assumed power, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa were leading raids against American settlements in the Ohio Valley, with munitions provided by British traders in Canada. Attempting to form a confederation of Indian people in the Northwest Territory, the two brothers would be a continual source of irritation to westward settlers. The Indian Nations followed Tenskwatawa who had a vision of purifying his society by expelling American settlers, the "children of the Evil Spirit". [98] The success of the Indians gave Britain hope that it could create an Indian satellite nation in parts of the American territory. [99] The raids became a major cause of the later War of 1812. [100]

Slave trade Edit

In the 1790s, many anti-slavery leaders had come to believe that the institution of slavery would become extinct in the United States in the foreseeable future. These hopes lay in part on the enthusiasm for the abolition of slavery in the North, and in the decline of the importation of slaves throughout the South. The Constitution had included a provision preventing Congress from enacting a law banning the importation of slaves until 1808. [101] In the years before Jefferson took office, the growing fear of slave rebellions led to diminished enthusiasm in the South for the abolition of slavery, and many states began to enact Black Codes designed to restrict the behavior of free blacks. [102] During his presidential term, Jefferson was disappointed that the younger generation was making no move to abolish slavery he largely avoided the issue until 1806. He did succeed in convincing Congress to block the foreign importation of slaves into the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. [103]

Seeing that in 1808 the twenty-year constitutional ban on ending the international slave trade would expire, in December 1806 in his presidential message to Congress, he called for a law to ban it. He denounced the trade as "violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, in which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe." Jefferson signed the new law and the international trade became illegal in January 1808. The legal trade had averaged 14,000 slaves a year illegal smuggling at the rate of about 1000 slaves a year continued for decades. [104] "The two major achievements of Jefferson's presidency were the Louisiana Purchase and the abolition of the slave trade," according to historian John Chester Miller. [105]

Relations with European Powers and the Embargo Act Edit

American trade boomed after the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in the early 1790s, in large part because American shipping was allowed to act as neutral carriers with European powers. [106] Though the British sought to restrict trade with the French, they had largely tolerated U.S. trade with mainland France and French colonies after the signing of the Jay Treaty in 1794. [107] Jefferson favored a policy of neutrality in the European wars, and was strongly committed to the principle of freedom of navigation for neutral vessels, including American ships. [108] Early in his tenure, Jefferson was able to maintain cordial relations with both France and Britain, but relations with Britain deteriorated after 1805. [109] Needing sailors, the British Royal Navy seized hundreds of American ships and impressed 6,000 sailors from them, angering Americans. [110] The British began to enforce a blockade of Europe, ending their policy of tolerance towards American shipping. Though the British returned many seized American goods that had not been intended for French ports, the British blockade badly affected American commerce and provoked immense anger throughout the nation. Aside from commercial concerns, Americans were outraged by what they saw as an attack on national honor. In response to the attacks, Jefferson recommended an expansion of the navy, and Congress passed the Non-importation Act, which restricted many, but not all, British imports. [111]

To restore peaceful relations with Britain, Monroe negotiated the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty, which would have represented an extension of the Jay Treaty. [112] Jefferson had never favored the Jay Treaty, which had prevented the United States from implementing economic sanctions on Britain, and he rejected the Monroe–Pinkney Treaty. Tensions with Britain heightened due to the ChesapeakeLeopard affair, a June 1807 naval confrontation between an American ship and a British ship that ended in the death or impressment of several American sailors. Beginning with Napoleon's December 1807 Milan Decree, the French began to seize ships trading with the British, leaving American shipping vulnerable to attacks by both of the major naval powers. [113] In response to attacks on American shipping, Congress passed the Embargo Act in 1807, which was designed to force Britain and France into respecting U.S. neutrality by cutting off all American shipping to Britain or France. Almost immediately the Americans began to turn to smuggling in order to ship goods to Europe. [114] Defying his own limited government principles, Jefferson used the military to enforce the embargo. Imports and exports fell immensely, and the embargo proved to be especially unpopular in New England. In March 1809, Congress replaced the embargo with the Non-Intercourse Act, which allowed trade with nations aside from Britain and France. [115]

Most historians consider Jefferson's embargo to have been ineffective and harmful to American interests. [116] Even the top officials of the Jefferson administration viewed the embargo as a flawed policy, but they saw it as preferable to war. [117] Appleby describes the strategy as Jefferson's "least effective policy", and Joseph Ellis calls it "an unadulterated calamity". [118] Others, however, portray it as an innovative, nonviolent measure which aided France in its war with Britain while preserving American neutrality. [119] Jefferson believed that the failure of the embargo was due to selfish traders and merchants showing a lack of "republican virtue." He maintained that, had the embargo been widely observed, it would have avoided war in 1812. [120]

Like both of his predecessors, Jefferson ran for a second term. The election of 1804 was the first to be held after the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, which instituted the current electoral system in which separate electoral votes are cast for the presidency and vice presidency. With Burr having little chance at re-nomination, the party's congressional nominating caucus chose Governor George Clinton of New York as Jefferson's running mate. The Federalists nominated Charles Cotesworth Pinckney for president and Rufus King for vice president. The Federalists made attacks on Jefferson's alleged atheism, his support for democratization, and his affair with Sally Hemings the centerpiece of their campaign, arguing that Jefferson's affair with an enslaved woman was hypocritical given his continuing support for slavery. The Democratic-Republicans enjoyed a marked advantage in party organization, while the Federalists and their ethos of government-by-the-elite were becoming increasingly unpopular. Jefferson won every state except for Connecticut and Delaware, taking 162 of the 174 electoral votes. [121]

Jefferson, who believed that incumbents should not serve indefinitely, followed the two-term tradition precedent established by Washington, and declined to seek a third term. Instead, he endorsed his advisor and friend James Madison for the presidency. Jefferson's assertive foreign policy created intra-party criticism from the tertium quids, led by Randolph. [122] Randolph and other powerful Democratic-Republican leaders opposed to Madison, including Samuel Smith and William Duane, rallied around the potential candidacy of James Monroe. [123] Additionally, Vice President Clinton, who had accepted the vice presidential nomination again, announced his own candidacy for President. It took all of Jefferson's prestige and charm to convince dissident Democratic-Republicans not to bolt from the party out of disdain for Madison. [124] In the end, Madison headed off the intra-party challenges and defeated Federalist nominee Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, winning 122 of the 176 electoral votes in the 1808 election. [125]

Meacham opines that Jefferson was the most influential figure of the democratic republic in its first half century, succeeded by presidential adherents James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and Martin Van Buren. [126] Jefferson's reputation declined during the Civil War due to his support of states' rights. In the late 19th century, his legacy was widely criticized conservatives felt his democratic philosophy had led to that era's populist movement, while Progressives sought a more activist federal government than Jefferson's philosophy allowed. Both groups saw Hamilton as vindicated by history, rather than Jefferson, and President Woodrow Wilson even described Jefferson as "though a great man, not a great American". [127]

In the 1930s, Jefferson was held in higher esteem President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New Deal Democrats celebrated his struggles for "the common man" and reclaimed him as their party's founder. Jefferson became a symbol of American democracy in the incipient Cold War, and the 1940s and '50s saw the zenith of his popular reputation. [128] Following the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, Jefferson's slaveholding came under new scrutiny, particularly after DNA testing in the late 1990s supported allegations he had a relationship with Sally Hemings. [129] Noting the huge output of scholarly books on Jefferson in recent years, historian Gordon Wood summarizes the raging debates about Jefferson's stature: "Although many historians and others are embarrassed about his contradictions and have sought to knock him off the democratic pedestal . his position, though shaky, still seems secure." [130]


1800: America’s First Explosive Election

220 years ago Americans considering presidential candidates Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were in a now-familiar pickle. (L-R, White House Collection/White House Historical Association National Portrait Gallery)

By Peter R. Henriques
October 26, 2020

Polarized partisanship, deep animosity among candidates, worry about the peaceful transfer of power—sound familiar?

Among pivotal American episodes, the 1800 election occupies a central place. That race, labeled by Thomas Jefferson “the Revolution of 1800,” introduced to the world the modern political campaign as well as the peaceful transfer of power in a nation-state. Fittingly, that campaign’s key figures—Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Aaron Burr—were larger than life. Jefferson, having served as Adams’s vice president since 1797, was challenging the incumbent for the presidency. The contest brought intense scrutiny to bear on the 1787 Constitutional Convention’s choice of how to select a chief executive. The result was less than ideal.

The country as it stood in 1800 was narrowly and sharply divided between the Federalist and the Republican perspectives. (Photo by Interim Archives/Getty Images)

Debating extensively in 1787 about how to choose a president, virtually no delegates to the Constitutional Convention had supported the notion of having the people vote directly. Delegates decided to trust the choice of leader to a group of electors, men of stature to be chosen for this role in a manner decided by each state’s legislature.

This raised the issue of how many electors each state should field. Accustomed to the great sway that was accorded all states by the Articles of Confederation, smaller states feared a system that parceled out power according to population would cost them influence and protection. Hence the Convention’s decision that each state’s electors would equal in number the state’s representation in Congress—House membership plus two. Each elector was to vote for two individuals for president, at least one of those from a state other than the elector’s. The candidate receiving the majority of electoral votes would be president whoever received the next highest number of electoral votes would be vice president. Electors had no means of distinguishing which choice they preferred for president and which for vice president.

An option was required should no candidate get a majority. While the delegates all expected George Washington to win by huge majorities—and in 1788 and 1792, he uniquely received every elector’s vote—they anticipated that normally no candidate would amass a majority. The solution that the Constitutional Convention embraced to address the absence of a majority was another effort to balance power between large states and small states. The founders expected electors to function as an elite nominating committee, with the House of Representatives choosing the president from among the top five vote-getters. In making this selection each state, regardless of congressional delegation size, would have one vote, to be determined by the majority of its delegation. Proportionally speaking, this gave small states significantly more power over the outcome. For example, Virginia with 19 representatives in the House would have one vote, as would Delaware, with its single delegate.

The idea of electors as an elite body proved impracticable, and quickly—the Framers had not accounted for the power of party loyalty. Once parties came into existence during the 1790s, electors were picked to support a given party’s choice, not to use their individual best judgment.

The decade preceding the Civil War aside, the last years of the 18th century may have been the most divisive in American history. Convinced the country’s fate rested on it winning and holding power, each party portrayed the opposition as dangerously, even fatally wrong. Despite that resemblance, there was no close equivalent to today’s party system. The Federalist party, which split into factions, one affiliated with John Adams and the other with Alexander Hamilton, eventually evolved into today’s Republican party. The original Republican party, represented by Jefferson and James Madison, evolved into the modern Democratic organization. Federalists tilted to the right Republicans, to the left.

The most dramatic factor affecting America in the 1790s had been the French Revolution and its aftermath. Reading into that tumultuous sequence of events, Federalists concluded that unfettered democracy imposed a leveling faction that would lead to anarchy, atheism, and tyranny. Federalists saw the Republican party, and especially Jefferson, as head-over-heels Francophiles, little more than a French front openly hostile to the American government.

Relations between America and France descended to a nadir in 1798 following the XYZ Affair. In that international ruckus, French officialdom behaved so contemptibly toward ambassadors sent by President Adams on a peace mission that, for a time, war seemed inevitable. In the “quasi-war” which followed, Adams and the Federalists gained popularity and political power, putting Republicans on the defensive.

The Federalist-controlled Congress focused on two major domestic perils. One was an increase in the number of immigrants of questionable loyalty. The other was the growing power of the Republican press in an era in which newspapers basically functioned as party mouthpieces. Federalists regarded opposition papers’ attacks on government as scurrilous, even seditious. Consequently, in 1798 Congress passed, and President Adams signed, the very controversial Alien and Sedition Acts.

The Alien Acts lengthened from five to 14 years the period of residency required to qualify for citizenship. Under them, a president had authority to expel immigrants with roots in any country at war with the United States, as well as any immigrant he considered “dangerous.” The Sedition Act made a crime punishable by fine and prison of publishing “false, scandalous, and malicious” criticism of the government, the president, or Congress that might stir Americans to sedition. One supporter claimed to see abundant evidence of “the necessity of purifying the country from the sources of pollution.”

Cartoons in 1800 piled on a great deal more content with their punch. Here, Jefferson faces a raptor’s revenge for his letter to Philip Mazzei. (Monticello)

A Federalist editorial writer summarized that party’s position: “You who are for French notions of government for the tempestuous sea of anarchy and misrule for arming the poor against the rich for fraternizing with the foes of God and man go to the left and support the leaders, or dupes of the anti-federal junto. But you that are sober, industrious, thriving, and happy, give your votes for those men who mean to preserve the union of the states, the purity and vigor of our excellent constitution, the sacred majesty of the laws, and the holy ordinances of religion.” A Federalist pamphlet declared that Republicans “have made liberty and equality the pretext, whilst plunder and dominion has been their object.” One pamphleteer wrote that Republicans’ “democracy” would be little different from the French Revolution’s “Jacobin tyranny.”

Contrasting views of the French Revolution and its aftermath played a crucial role in the election of 1800. The Federalists championed Adams as their best chance of holding onto power and eventually selected South Carolinian Charles C. Pinckney for the vice presidential slot. The Republicans looked to their acknowledged leader, Thomas Jefferson, to head that party and eventually decided on Aaron Burr as his running mate.

Fearing no Republican figure as greatly as they feared Thomas Jefferson, Federalists spared no effort to castigate the Republican candidate as a “head in the clouds” philosopher whose impractical and naive ideas would wreck the country. Jefferson was too “theoretical and fanciful” to lead a growing confederacy, they said. Make him president of a college, perhaps. President of the United States? Never.

Reviving the infamous Mazzei letter as a campaign cudgel, Federalists reminded Americans that Jefferson had slandered their greatest hero. In April 1796, venting spleen about George Washington to a former neighbor, Philip Mazzei, in what he thought to be a private exchange, Jefferson had raged obliquely at the sitting president. “It would give you a fever were I to name to you the apostates [emphasis added] who have gone over to these heresies [against republicanism],” he wrote. “Men who were Samsons in the field and Solomons in the council, but who have had their head shaved by the harlot England.” Published in the United States in May 1797, the letter had embroiled Jefferson in a firestorm of criticism that the Federalists were happy to stoke again in 1800. Washington had been dead only a year, they argued how could Americans elect a man who would malign him?

The most pervasive Federalist accusation was that Jefferson was an atheist. “Our churches may become temples of reason,” a pamphlet warned, invoking French revolutionaries’ label for deconsecrated sanctuaries. “Our Bibles cast into the fire.” “Those morals which protect our lives from the knife of the assassin—which guard the chastity of our wives and daughters from seduction and violence will be jettisoned,” trumpeted another broadside. “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced,” a partisan said. “And the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes.” “Every American must lay his hand upon his heart and ask, whether he continues in allegiance to “GOD AND RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT or impiously declare for JEFFERSON AND NO GOD. ” read a headline.

Republicans counterattacked. “Federalism was a mask for monarchy,” the newspaper Aurora declared. In Republicans’ eyes, Federalists differed little from Revolutionary-era Loyalists as foes of the new nation. Jefferson saw in the Sedition Act a first step toward ending the American experiment in republicanism and establishing a monarchy.

Alleging Sedition Act violations, the Federalists shut down newspapers and jailed journalists. One imprisoned publisher, Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon, became so prominent a symbol of Federalist oppression that in 1798 he won re-election from behind bars.

Besides creating a standing army, the Federalist crackdown illustrated President Adams’s despotic disregard for individual liberty, Republicans said. Adams and his Federalist gang, they claimed, were spurning the principles of 1776—seeking war with France, cosseting the rich and established churches, victimizing immigrants, and increasing public debt and taxes. As president, supporters said, Jefferson would tax less, spend less, and do less, leaving people freer, especially in worshipping as they chose.

Alexander Hamilton despised Adams and favored South Carolinian Charles Pinckney, in part because he believed he would have more influence over Pinckney and because he considered Adams too dovish on France. (Corbis Historical/Getty Images)

To win in 1800, the magic number was 70 electoral votes. In 1796, Adams had narrowly defeated Jefferson, 71-68 thanks to the system of split voting, Jefferson became Adams’s vice president. Planning for 1800, Republicans analyzed where Adams had gotten those 71 votes, calculating which states were ripe for flipping. Northern states were solid for Adams the South, except perhaps Pinckney’s South Carolina, was solid for Jefferson. The middle states were key. In 1796 Adams had carried a vote each from Republican states Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. Had two of those votes gone to Jefferson, he would have been president. To help ensure its native son’s victory in 1800 by getting him all 21 Virginia electoral votes, that state’s legislature changed its rules. Now a single statewide election was to choose electors. This tactic eliminated any possibility of Federalists casting electoral votes in Virginia.

The other crucial takeaway from 1796 was that the Federalists had carried all 12 New York electoral votes. If the Republicans could sweep New York or pry away at least some New York electoral votes, Jefferson likely would win. To that end, Republicans tried to have New York choose electors by district vote, instead of by the legislature. That effort failed. The Republicans’ only remaining hope was to win control of the New York legislature, a feat that rested on winning New York City, historically a Federalist enclave controlled by Alexander Hamilton.

Aaron Burr, perhaps America’s first modern politician, stumped like a 21st century candidate in his determination to gain the vice presidency. (Oil painting by John Vanderlyn, 19th century. Granger, NYC)

Enter New Yorker Aaron Burr, a man of great intellect, charm, and political acumen—arguably America’s first modern politician. “He possessed in a preeminent degree the art of fascinating the youthful,” a contemporary wrote. Few fellow politicians fully trusted Burr. Many actively disliked him. However, not a one doubted his influence over New York City politics. With a singleness of purpose that awed friend as well as foe, Burr, intent on becoming vice president, worked tirelessly to carry New York City for the Republicans in the April 1800 state elections.

In an age that expected demurely self-effacing candidates, Burr politicked robustly. Against Hamilton’s lackluster list, he recruited a stellar slate, including ex-governor George Clinton and Horatio Gates, a hero of the Revolution.

On election day, Burr wrangled a remarkable vote-getting push, especially in quarters thick with immigrants. The city’s poorest political district, the 6th Ward, comprising the mostly unsettled part of Manhattan Island above what is now Canal Street, made the difference. Immigrant voters tipped the scale. The legislature that would determine New York’s 12 electoral votes now was controlled by the Republicans, whose caucus had nominated Jefferson for president and Burr for vice president. Those men would oppose Adams and Pinckney.

New York was a critical but not necessarily essential state. The other keys were South Carolina and Pennsylvania. The situation in Pennsylvania was complicated. Republicans completely controlled the House Federalists narrowly ran the Senate. A compromise, very unsatisfactory to the Republicans, eventually gave Jefferson an 8-7 victory. To take the White House, the Republicans needed to take South Carolina.

Matters in South Carolina also were confused. Charles Pinckney, who had fought in the Revolution, was the older brother of the well-regarded and well-connected Federalist Representative Thomas Pinckney, who had run as Adams’s No. 2 in 1796. The elder Pinckney, popular in his home state, was likely to pull some electoral votes there. If South Carolina went for Jefferson and Pinckney, Pinckney might end up president—a fervent desire of Alexander Hamilton, who believed C.C. Pinckney to be more susceptible to his arguments than the strong-willed and independent Adams. Hamilton, backed by the party’s conservative wing—sometimes called “Ultras” or “High” Federalists—viewed Adams’s overtures to France and fresh peace negotiations as a disastrous election-year mistake. Indeed, Hamilton so profoundly despised Adams that at one point he was heard to declare that he would rather see Jefferson win—in that case, he said, at least a man would know who his enemy was.

In October, Hamilton articulated his animosity in a scathing message that circulated among Federalist leaders. The document went viral, pre-industrial style, when the Aurora printed it. Hamilton derided Adams as mentally unstable and unfit to serve, excoriating the incumbent for showing “extreme egotism,” “distempered jealousy,” “ungovernable temper,” and “vanity without bounds.” Though probably not a deciding factor in the election, the communique cost Hamilton dearly in party influence and status.

Charles C. Pinckney, that rarest of beasts, a Southern Federalist, had a chance at the presidency if electors in his home state, South Carolina, cast their ballots for him and Thomas Jefferson. (Getty Images)

Among the 16 state legislatures, whose votes had to be in by December 3, South Carolina’s 151-member body voted last, convening November 24, 1800. Each party ran eight electors of those 16, legislators were to vote for eight. Some electors seemed poised to vote for Jefferson and for Pinckney. However, Pinckney, acting out of a sense of honor and anger at Hamilton’s epistolary tirade, said he wanted only support from men who would vote both for him and for Adams. Ultimately, the legislators chose all eight electors pledged to Jefferson and Burr.

As word was spreading about the South Carolina result, Jefferson seemed certain to beat Adams—until a disturbing wrinkle intruded. In instructing their slates, the Republicans had not made clear which elector was to vote for Jefferson and which was to vote for someone other than Burr. Thanks to this grievous oversight, Jefferson and Burr tied at 73 votes. Adams got 65 Pinckney, 64. John Jay received one vote.

Each of the 73 electors had intended Jefferson to be president and Burr to be his vice president but had not been able to so specify. Under the Constitution, an electoral-vote tie clearly bounced the choices of president and vice president to the U.S. House of Representatives. In the general election, control of the House had gone to the Republicans—but not until after the incoming Congress was sworn in the following year. The lame-duck body that was going to be deciding the 1800 presidential election had more Federalists than Republicans. Almost all of the Federalist congressmen interpreted the constitutional mandate to mean that they were to use their best individual judgment to pick the man they believed most suited to be president, not to do the will of the majority. To these Federalists, the unexpected tie vote offered a heaven-sent opportunity to fence Thomas Jefferson out of the White House.

One prominent Federalist disagreed. Alexander Hamilton’s strong loathing for Aaron Burr trumped the enmity he felt toward Jefferson, and Hamilton worked ferociously to convince fellow Federalists not to vote for Burr, whose personal ambition Hamilton saw posing a fatal risk to the new nation. “As to Burr, there is nothing in his favor,” Hamilton wrote. “His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement . . . I take it he is for or against nothing but as it suits his interest or ambition . . . Burr loves nothing but himself . . . He is sanguine enough to hope everything—daring enough to try anything—wicked enough to scruple nothing…if we have an embryo Cesar in the United States it is Burr.”

Hamilton’s protestations exerted minimal impact. Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts, Federalist speaker of the House, acknowledging Burr’s flawed character—besides loving power, “he is ambitious, selfish, profligate”—nonetheless said Burr should be president, observing him to be well bred and bereft of “pernicious theories,” Sedgwick said. “His very selfishness prevents his entertaining any mischievous predilections for foreign nations,” he added. Additionally, Sedgwick argued, in order to be able to govern effectively, Burr would need to engineer Federalist support, obtainable only by acceding to Federalist views.

Despite laying claim to a lame-duck majority, House Federalists did not control a sufficiency of states to elect Burr. With 16 states in all, the winning number was nine.

Jefferson and the Republicans held eight states—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Adams and the Federalists had six—New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and South Carolina. Two delegations—Maryland’s and Vermont’s—were divided.

When the House met in Washington, DC, the new capital, in February 1801, to choose a president, the first ballot was eight for Jefferson, six for Burr, and two divided. The same occurred on the second ballot and the third, and through a week of more than 30 ballots.

Speculation arose about what might happen if the election had not been decided by March 4, when by law a president was to be inaugurated. Rumors swirled of assassination plots, arson schemes, military preparations, revolution, and nascent civil war. A Republican newspaper wrote, “Usurpation must be resisted by freemen whenever they have the power of resisting,” Jefferson warned Adams to expect “resistance by force and incalculable consequences.”

Aaron Burr’s role in the crisis is murky. There is no evidence that Burr offered anything specific to Federalists in exchange for their support. But neither did Burr emulate Pinckney’s statesmanly stance in South Carolina and remove himself from contention.

Instead, once it was clear that there was to be a tie, Burr declared to a Jefferson ally that he would accept the presidency if offered. He could become president only if some Republicans decided to vote for him to avoid a crisis. Had Burr openly sought those politicians’ support, he would never have received it. He followed the best course open to him, despite the fact that none of the electors wanted him to win.

To win, Burr needed three votes Jefferson, one. Moderate Federalist James Bayard, a champion of Hamilton’s financial program, including the establishment of a national bank, was Delaware’s sole delegate. If Bayard were to switch his vote, Jefferson would have nine states and the presidency. In a long, passionate letter, Hamilton lobbied Bayard, not only savaging Burr but backhandedly endorsing Jefferson. “I admit his politics are tinctured with fanaticism. . . that he has been a mischievous enemy to the principle measures of our past administration, that he is crafty & persevering in his objects, that he is not scrupulous about the means of success, nor very mindful of truth, and that he is a contemptible hypocrite,” Hamilton wrote, balancing that harsh portrait by observing that Jefferson was no zealot but rather inclined to temporizing. A man of character, Jefferson would not ruin the financial system, making him by far the better of two bad choices, Hamilton maintained.

After 30 ballots by the electors, moderate Federalist James Bayard of Delaware “accepted certain guarantees” from Jefferson and withheld his vote, giving the Virginian the presidency. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bayard, fearful of seeing the stalemate drag on, conveyed to Jefferson that his vote depended on certain guarantees, such as that Jefferson would not undermine the bank and that he would leave in place individuals Bayard had placed in government jobs.

Did Jefferson make concessions? Maybe.

At any rate, Bayard pronounced himself satisfied. He withheld his vote, as did Federalists in Maryland and Vermont, giving Jefferson 10 states—without a single Federalist who voted for Burr actually changing his vote to Jefferson. The logjam broke, and after 36 ballots the House elected Thomas Jefferson the third president of the United States.

The American presidential election of 1800 had not been pretty at all. The balloting almost didn’t occur, and events came close to triggering violence. However, for the first time in history a nation saw power pass peacefully from one political party to its opponents, beginning an American tradition that has persisted even in the midst of civil war.


Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia to Jane and Peter Jefferson. His father was a Virginia planter, surveyor, and slave owner. At age fourteen, Jefferson’s father died, and Thomas inherited some thirty enslaved individuals. Jefferson fully embraced the lifestyle of an affluent member of the planter class, and over the course of his lifetime he owned over 600 enslaved people—the most of any American president.

In addition to building and managing his Monticello plantation, Jefferson pursued careers in law and public service. After receiving an education at the College of William & Mary, Jefferson studied law in Williamsburg. By 1769, he was serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses and three years later married Martha Wayles Skelton. They would have six children together, though only two survived to adulthood.

As tensions grew between the American colonies and Great Britain, Jefferson was elected to the Continental Congress. In 1776, he completed one of his greatest career achievements—The Declaration of Independence. As the primary author of this founding document, Jefferson drew upon Enlightenment ideals and the writings of John Locke, Montesquieu, and George Mason to formulate its most famous line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

After the outbreak of the American Revolution, Jefferson was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he worked tirelessly to revise state laws and draft Virginia’s state constitution. In 1786, he proudly authored a bill establishing religious freedom. Jefferson was also elected twice as Governor of Virginia for two one-year terms in 1779 and 1780.

Around the same time, Jefferson authored a treatise on the history, politics, geography, law, culture, and economics of Virginia. Published in 1785, Notes on the State of Virginia included Jefferson’s views on slavery. He argued for gradual emancipation of the state’s enslaved population, while also perpetuating racial prejudices about the inferiority of African Americans.

After his wife’s death in 1782, Jefferson joined Benjamin Franklin and John Adams as U.S. Minister to France. He brought along his daughters, Martha (known as Patsy) and Mary (known as Maria or Polly), and two enslaved individuals from Monticello—a brother and sister named James and Sally Hemings. Both Sally and James leveraged better positions for themselves in France, as that country had abolished slavery. Since they were technically free, Jefferson was willing to negotiate in order to bring them back to the United States. James eventually bargained for his freedom, while Sally, who entered into a sexual relationship with Jefferson, negotiated privileges for herself and her family before agreeing to return to Monticello. Jefferson fathered at least six of Sally’s children, four of whom survived to adulthood and were later freed by the former president. Click here to learn more about the enslaved households of President Thomas Jefferson.

In 1789, Jefferson returned from France and accepted an invitation to serve as Secretary of State for President George Washington. He quickly found himself at odds with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, clashing on issues such as the national debt, the location of a new and permanent capital city, and America’s diplomatic relationship with France. Eventually, Jefferson left Washington’s cabinet in 1793, but his rivalry with Hamilton reflected a broader political conflict, as two separate parties formed—the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Jefferson soon emerged as a leader of the Democratic-Republicans, receiving enough Electoral College votes in 1796 to become vice president under John Adams. Four years later, Jefferson defeated Adams and Aaron Burr, assuming the presidency on March 4, 1801.

During Jefferson’s presidency, he focused on reducing the national debt by cutting military budgets and minimizing expenditures. He also fought to keep the United States out of the Napoleonic wars raging across Europe, opting to enact an unpopular embargo that closed American ports and crippled foreign trade—consequences that were felt by American merchants, businesses, and industries. As president, Jefferson also acquired 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River from France for $15 million. This land deal, known as the Louisiana Purchase, doubled the size of the United States, while setting up the fledgling nation for westward expansion throughout the nineteenth century.

Jefferson’s White House reflected his prior diplomatic experience. Preferring white laborers, he hired a French chef and butler, as well as several other white domestic workers. Jefferson also brought three enslaved teenagers from Monticello to train in the art of French cooking and hired out several enslaved individuals from local Washington slave owners.

After leaving the presidency in 1809, Jefferson retired to Monticello and spent his remaining years tending to the daily operation of his plantation, planning the University of Virginia, and hosting his friends and other esteemed guests. He died on July 4, 1826 at the age of eighty-three, fifty years to the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted.


Thomas Jefferson

Why Famous: Thomas Jefferson has engraved on his tombstone the three actions in his life he was most proud of "Author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia", leaving out his term of office as President.

Born into a sale owning family of wealth and standing, Jefferson trained and practised as a lawyer. In 1775 his friendship with John Adams led to a request he draft the Declaration of Independence while attending the Second Continental Congress. The finished draft was presented to Congress in June 1776.

Aged 36 Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia and later as the Virginian representative in Congress. Jefferson spent 5 years as US Minister to France in Paris and on his return was appointed the first US Secretary of State by President Washington.

Jefferson became Vice-president in 1797 and was elected 3rd US President in 1800. As President he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase and encouraged efforts to expand towards the West. He retired to his estate at Monticello, founding the University of Virginia in 1819.

Born: April 13, 1743
Birthplace: Albemarle County, Virginia, USA
Star Sign: Aries


Thomas Jefferson

Most of us know Thomas Jefferson as the man who authored the Declaration of Independence, the United States’ first Secretary of State, the third U.S. President, and the founder of the University of Virginia. But Jefferson was also an inventor with many accomplishments, including his great influence in the area of patent law.

One of ten children, Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia. He became a lawyer in Virginia and then a member of the Continental Congress. At age 33, he authored the Declaration of Independence. He also married and built a home in Virginia called Monticello.

Jefferson was named Secretary of State under President George Washington in 1790. That year, the United States’ first Patent Act was drafted in order to create a patent system similar to the one used in Britain at the time. Jefferson, as the Secretary of State, led a group working on this project and created guidelines for obtaining patents, as well as a review system for those who would grant them to the inventors. The laws that survive today are based on the ideas that Jefferson put forth during his tenure.

Jefferson served as Vice President under John Adams, and he was elected the third president of the United States in 1801. Throughout his years in service to the nation, he maintained a keen interest in new technology. He created a new mould board, the front part of a plow that lifts and turns sod, which was more efficient than earlier models. He also developed a wheel cipher that could be used to scramble and unscramble letters in order to code messages. He also designed his own sundial.

Jefferson created a time keeping device, now known as the Great Clock, which adorned the entrance hall at Monticello. The clock was made using cannonballs that hung on either side of the doorway, powered by gravity, and the time was read by looking at where the cannonballs hit markings on the wall. The Great Clock was connected to a large copper gong on the roof. Jefferson also invented a folding ladder for repairs to the clock, which was later adopted for use in pruning trees and for retrieving books in libraries.

As Jefferson traveled often, he was inspired to create a portable copying press, a compact variation on the model that had been invented earlier by James Watt. He also created a lap desk that held all of the tools and personal belongings that he needed on a given day away from the office.

Jefferson is credited with inventing a macaroni machine, a revolving chair with a leg rest and writing arm, and new types of iron plows created especially for hillside plowing. He also designed beds for his home that were built into alcoves on webs of rope hung from hooks, as well as automatic doors for his parlor. He created other devices for use in his home as well, including a revolving book stand with adjustable book rests and mechanical dumb waiters that allowed him to pull wine up to the dining room from the cellar.


Lewis and Clark History

Jefferson's accomplishments:
Writer of the Declaration of Independence, naturalist, meteorologist, paleontologist, architect, musician (violin), botanist, Native American collector & purchaser of the Louisiana Territory.

Jefferson's Historical Timeline

  • 1797 - 1801- Jefferson served as Vice President
  • 1800- The National government moved from Philadelphia (after 10 years) to the new Federal City on the Banks of the Potomac. The exact site of the new Federal City was to be selected by Washington himself, and it was later named in his honor.

    1801- Thomas Jefferson became the 3rd President of the United States (he was 58 years old).

Interesting Factoid

  • On December 20, 1803, in the Sala Capitular - New Orleans, two commissioners signed the transfer document , giving lower Louisiana officially to the United States . Learn More>>

Jefferson's Vision, thirst for knowledge & Jefferson's Papers

Jefferson Monuments, Memorials & Westward Journey Nickel Series


Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC.


Louisiana Purchase Commemorative Statue
Jefferson City, Missouri


Thomas Jefferson Commemorative Statue
Jefferson City, Missouri


Mount Rushmore
Keystone, South Dakota


Founding Fathers' dirty campaign

(Mental Floss ) -- Negative campaigning in America was sired by two lifelong friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Back in 1776, the dynamic duo combined powers to help claim America's independence, and they had nothing but love and respect for one another. But by 1800, party politics had so distanced the pair that, for the first and last time in U.S. history, a president found himself running against his vice president.

Despite their bruising campaign, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams became friends again.

Things got ugly fast. Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."

As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. See 8 great campaign slogans »

Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was "one of the most detestable of mankind." Mental Floss: Jefferson: The sensitive writer type

Jefferson hires a hatchet man

Back then, presidential candidates didn't actively campaign. In fact, Adams and Jefferson spent much of the election season at their respective homes in Massachusetts and Virginia.

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But the key difference between the two politicians was that Jefferson hired a hatchet man named James Callendar to do his smearing for him. Adams, on the other hand, considered himself above such tactics. To Jefferson's credit, Callendar proved incredibly effective, convincing many Americans that Adams desperately wanted to attack France. Although the claim was completely untrue, voters bought it, and Jefferson stole the election.

Jefferson paid a price for his dirty campaign tactics, though. Callendar served jail time for the slander he wrote about Adams, and when he emerged from prison in 1801, he felt Jefferson still owed him.

After Jefferson did little to appease him, Callendar broke a story in 1802 that had only been a rumor until then -- that the President was having an affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. In a series of articles, Callendar claimed that Jefferson had lived with Hemings in France and that she had given birth to five of his children.

The story plagued Jefferson for the rest of his career. And although generations of historians shrugged off the story as part of Callendar's propaganda, DNA testing in 1998 showed a link between Hemings' descendents and the Jefferson family.

Just as truth persists, however, so does friendship. Twelve years after the vicious election of 1800, Adams and Jefferson began writing letters to each other and became friends again. They remained pen pals for the rest of their lives and passed away on the same day, July 4, 1826. It was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Mental Floss: The post-White House lives of presidents

John Quincy Adams gets slapped with elitism

John Adams lived long enough to see his son become president in 1825, but he died before John Quincy Adams lost the presidency to Andrew Jackson in 1828. Fortunately, that meant he didn't have to witness what many historians consider the nastiest contest in American history.

The slurs flew back and forth, with John Quincy Adams being labeled a pimp, and Andrew Jackson's wife getting called a slut.

As the election progressed, editorials in the American newspapers read more like bathroom graffiti than political commentary. One paper reported that "General Jackson's mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!"

What got Americans so fired up? For one thing, many voters felt John Quincy Adams should never have been president in the first place. During the election of 1824, Jackson had won the popular vote but not the electoral vote, so the election was decided by the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, one of the other candidates running for president, threw his support behind Adams. To return the favor, Adams promptly made him secretary of state. Jackson's supporters labeled it "The Corrupt Bargain" and spent the next four years calling Adams a usurper. Mental Floss: 5 secrets left off the White House tour

Beyond getting the short end of the electoral stick, Andrew Jackson managed to connect with voters via his background -- which couldn't have been more different than Adams'.

By the time John Quincy was 15, he'd traveled extensively in Europe, mastered several languages, and worked as a translator in the court of Catherine the Great.

Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson had none of those privileges. By 15, he'd been kidnapped and beaten by British soldiers, orphaned, and left to fend for himself on the streets of South Carolina.

Adams was a Harvard-educated diplomat from a prominent New England family. Jackson was a humble war hero from the rural South who'd never learned to spell. He was the first presidential candidate in American history to really sell himself as a man of the people, and the people loved him for it.

Having been denied their candidate in 1824, the masses were up in arms for Jackson four years later. And though his lack of education and political experience terrified many Adams supporters, that argument didn't hold water for the throngs who lined up to cast their votes for "Old Hickory." Ever since Jackson's decisive victory, no presidential candidate has dared take a step toward the White House without first holding hands with the common man.

But losing the 1828 election may have been the best thing to happen to John Quincy Adams. After sulking home to Massachusetts, Adams pulled himself together and ran for Congress, launching an epic phase of his career.