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United States presidential election, 1801 (Federalist America)

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1796 US flag 15 stars 1805 ›
United States presidential election, 1801
October 31st - December 3rd 1801
Hamilton Thomas Jefferson
Nominee Alexander Hamilton Thomas Jefferson
Party Federalist Party Democratic-Republican
Home state New York Virginia
Running mate Charles Pinckney Aaron Burr
Electoral vote 79 56
States carried 11 6
Popular vote 35,231 32,051
Percentage 52.3% 47.15%
Alt-1801 (Revised with Hamilton added
Presidential election results map. Green denotes states won by Jefferson, orange denotes states won by Hamilton, and gray denotes non voting territories. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.
President before election
John Adams
Federalist Party
President-elect
Alexander Hamilton
Federalist Party

The United States Presidential election of 1801 was the 4th presidential election and the first and only quinquennial election. It was held from Friday, October 31 to Wednesday, December 3, 1801. In what is sometimes referred to as the "High Federalist Revolution of 1800," Alexander Hamilton defeated incumbent John Adams in the Federalist primaries and later defeated Thomas Jefferson in the election. The election was a realigning election that ushered in a generation of High Federalist rule and the eventual demise of the Democratic-Republican Party in the First Party System. It was a long, bitter re-match of the 1796 election between the pro-French and pro-decentralization Democratic-Republicans under Jefferson and Aaron Burr, against the radical Alexander Hamilton and Charles Pinckney's pro-British and pro-centralization Federalists. The chief political issues included opposition to the tax imposed by Congress to pay for the mobilization of the new army and the navy in the Quasi-War against France in 1798, and the question of statehood over the recently accumulated land in the Treaty of London.

While the Democratic-Republicans were well organized at the state and local levels, the Federalists were disorganized, and suffered a bitter split between their two major leaders, President Adams and Alexander Hamilton. The jockeying for electoral votes, regional divisions, and the propaganda smear campaigns created by both parties made the election recognizably modern. Hamilton, running as an extremely popular military leader during the Quasi-War, rectified his previous dishonor and managed to soundly win the election. Styling himself as "General Alex," Hamilton picked up four vital electoral votes in Georgia - a state that voted for him out of mere appreciation for his military protection.

The election exposed one of the flaws in the original Constitution. Members of the Electoral College were authorized by the original Constitution to vote for two names for President. (The two-vote ballot was created in order to try to maximize the possibility that one candidate received votes from a majority of the electors nationwide; the drafters of the Constitution had not anticipated the rise of organized political parties, which made attaining a nationwide majority much easier.) The Federalists had planned for one of the electors to abstain from casting his second vote for Charles Pinckney, which would have led to Hamilton receiving one electoral vote more than Pinckney. The plan, however, was mishandled. Each elector who voted for Hamilton also voted for Pinckney, resulting in a tied electoral vote. The election was then put into the hands of the outgoing House of Representatives, which, after 11 votes in which neither Hamilton nor Pinckney obtained a majority, elected Hamilton on the 12th ballot.

To rectify the flaw in the original presidential election mechanism, the Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, was added to the United States Constitution, stipulating that electors make a discrete choice between their selections for president and vice-president.


General election

Candidates

Federalist candidates gallery

Democratic-Republican candidates gallery

Delayed Election

By 1800, the Franco-American War was winding down to a close. Hamilton and Washington's victory at Baton Rouge brought the immediate threat of Franco-Spanish invasion to a close. But fear of French invasion remained just as poignant as it had during General Francis's invasion of Kentucky and Ohio. The trepidation only grew in 1801, when the French fleet shuttled nearly 12,000 soldiers across to the Atlantic, intent on invading the American south. Although even Napoleon believed this to be impossible, and reversed his decision in favor of striking British Caribbean islands, Jefferson and Adams concluded that a delay in election would be safest for the nation. The Delay Act of 1800, passed by 92% of Congress, did not follow usual constitutional procedure and was enforced as an emergency, non-amendment act, despite its contradictions to the Constitution. But because the act was widely supported by Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, the Delay Act was not contested by either establishment. 

Federalist Primary

In the months preceding the election, tensions within the Federalist Party were escalating to a dangerous climax. High Federalists, supporters of Hamilton, attacked Adams' centirst Federalists, with accusations of weakness during the war. Adams had only accepted war with France after the massacre at Fort Hartford -- High Federalists slammed the incumbent President for allowing the French to slaughter American settlers. Adams and his supporters responded by accusing Hamilton of Monarchism and Radicalism. These two accusations were nothing new to Hamilton, who was frequently attacked for his radical, if not extreme, economic policies. In addition, Adams argued that the American people would not elect an iniquitous politician, referring to the Hamilton–Reynolds sex scandal.

The effects of the attacks were reversed when General Washington praised Hamilton for his military leadership and decisive action in ending the war. Although unintentional, Washington's remarks reversed Hamilton's unpopularity in swing states, and even made him a popular figure in the frontier states of Georgia and Kentucky. As the primary continued, stories of Hamilton's military prowess circulated and quickly, Adams was on the defensive. Hamilton pressed for more internal duties and higher tariffs, and in some cases, even went so far as to present constitutional amendments that would lengthen Presidential and Senatorial terms. Many Federalists feared that Hamilton was pressing the plan he had proposed during the Constitutional Convention, which suggested a life-time Presidency and Senate.

Midway through the primary, Hamilton delivered a discourse to a local Long Island newspaper. New York's 1st Congressional District was holding an emergency election after the sudden death of the incumbent, Jonathan Nicoll Havens. In his discourse to the paper, Hamilton gave an official endorsement to Federalist Silas Wood, the heavy underdog to Havens' chosen successor, John Smith. Hamilton's brief and limited support was all that Wood needed; he was elected by a sizable majority over his opponent. The victory, although marginal, gave Hamitlon unprecedented support. Many Federalists cried (in a declaration that would later become his slogan), "One letter from General Alex - that's all we'll need!" Incumbent President Adams was defeated by Hamilton in the third round of primary voting and withdrew his name from contention.

Campaign

The 1800 election was an ideological rematch of the 1796 election. The campaign was bitter and characterized by slander and personal attacks on both sides. Federalists spread rumors that the Democratic-Republicans were radicals who would ruin the country (based on the Democratic-Republican support for the French Revolution in spite of the American War with France). In 1798, George Washington had complained "that you could as soon scrub the blackamoor white, as to change the principles of a professed Democrat; and that he will leave nothing unattempted to overturn the Government of this Country". Meanwhile, the Democratic-Republicans accused Federalists of destroying Republican values; they also accused Federalists of favoring Britain in order to promote aristocratic, anti-American values. Hamilton believed that posting the Democratic-Republicans as traitors in the Franco-American War would end the campaign immediately, but Jefferson was swift to accuse Hamilton of fighting the war on behalf of Monarchy.

Hamilton was attacked by both the opposition Democratic-Republicans and a group of so-called "Center Federalists" aligned with President Adams. The Democratic-Republicans felt that the Adams' foreign policy was too favorable toward Britain; feared that the new army called up for the Quasi-War would now oppress the general citizenry, and opposed new taxes to pay for the war's profound expenses.

"Center Federalists" considered Hamilton too radical and preferred the leadership of President Adams instead. Adams, in his first sabotage attempt towards Hamilton, schemed to elect vice-presidential candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to the presidency. Pinckney deflected these attempts when he pronounced his loyalty to the "High Federalists."

It is widely accepted by modern historians that Hamilton deployed his military popularity to win over voters. Not so different as Washington, Hamilton glorified himself in his victories and earned himself praise from vulnerable states who were exposed to Franco-Spanish invasion. These states included Georgia and Kentucky, which both voted consistently Democratic-Republican in the previous elections. 

Voting

Because each state could choose its own election day, voting lasted from October to December. In April, Hamilton's successful mobilization of the vote in New York City succeeded in reversing the Federalist majority in the state legislature. In addition, a shock victory for Hamilton in Georgia (orchestrated by Pinckney), ensured a Federalist victory by a profound margin. Notably, the electoral vote of Pennsylvania and Maryland was split by divides in East and West, and North and South, respectively. Jackson and Burr took six states: Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky (marginally), and Tennessee. Hamilton and Burr won in: Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Jefferson was defeated by twenty-three electoral votes, and approximately four-thousand popular ballots. Both parties had planned for one of the electors to abstain from casting their votes to the Vice-President. The plan, however, was mishandled. Each elector who voted for Hamilton also voted for Pinckney, resulting in a tied electoral vote. Incumbent President, John Adams, and the Vice Present, both tried to wreak revenge on Hamilton by tipping the balance in Pinckney's favor. The members of the House balloted as states to dermine whether Hamilton or Pinckney would become president. There were sixteen states, and an absolute majority, in this case nine states, was required for victory. It was the outgoing House, controlled by the Federalists, that was charged with electing the new President. However, Pinckney's ambition to create an enemy out of Hamitlon was slim - he urged the centrists to vote for Hamilton, a directive that was reluctantly obeyed. 

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