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The Election of 1800

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

The Election of 1800

In the election of 1800, Jefferson and Aaron Burr were the Democratic-Republican candidates, President Adams and Charles Pinckney the Federalists. When the election resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, responsibility for choosing the new president was passed to the House of Representatives. In thirty-five rounds of voting, the House failed to break the tie, at which point Alexander Hamilton took a hand in the proceedings. Hamilton had never agreed with Jefferson’s politics, but he disliked and distrusted Burr much more; he therefore persuaded several of the electors to vote for Jefferson, thus swinging the election to him. Later in the session, Congress passed the Twelfth Amendment, which altered the electoral procedure, preventing further crises of this kind. (Personal relations between Burr and Hamilton did not improve; four years after the election, Burr shot and killed Hamilton in a duel.)

Before Adams left office, he took steps to secure the Federalist position in the government. He signed the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created a number of new circuit courts and federal judgeships, then appointed many Federalists to the bench on the night before his term ended. Since Jefferson was of the opposing political party, these “midnight appointments” struck him as a personal insult, and he and Adams would not resume their friendship for several years. Some time after both had retired from politics, Adams wrote a friendly letter to Jefferson, who eagerly responded; the two men continued a lively correspondence for the rest of their lives. In an odd historical coincidence, both men died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, whose adoption both had done so much to bring about.

The most significant of Adams’s last-minute legal appointments was that of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who was to serve more than thirty years and establish many important legal precedents. The most important of these was judicial review, established in a case called Marbury v. Madison. Marbury was one of the last-minute judges appointed by Adams; Jefferson ordered Madison, his secretary of state, to forbid Marbury to serve. Marbury sued Madison. The Supreme Court ruled against Marbury on the grounds that the Judiciary Act of 1801 was unconstitutional. This set the precedent for the Court to determine the legality of laws passed by Congress—an important judicial check on the power of the legislative branch.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Establishing a New Nation and the First Four Presidents Practice Test

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