Presidential Election of 1800 III
Bill Long 10/26/07
Electing the Electors in 1800
Now we are ready to understand the election of 1800. And now I propose to show that, unlike today, the election for President and Vice-President didn't just happen on one day in November. In New York, for example, the important event was the election of the New York Legislature, which took place in three days at the end of April 1800 (April 29-May 1, 1800). The Legislature, now controlled by the Republicans, would meet in the first week of November to cast their votes for the dozen Electors from NY State. Then, on December 3, these NY Electors would meet with Electors from the other 15 states to cast their votes for President and Vice-President. But, for all practical purposes, you could put NY in the "R" column in early May.
But in a column for whom? In 2007 we are used to having nominating conventions of party delegates select their candidate for President and Vice-President, but in 1800 things were different. The Congressmen from both of the infant parties (party structure had not become anything like it is today) met early in May to name their respective "tickets" for President and Vice-President. The Republicans, who met second, chose Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who had just orchestrated the magnificent New York victory, while the Federalists chose incumbent President John Adams and South Carolinian Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Pinckney's claim to national fame at the time was because he had strongly rebuffed the effort of the French, in the XYZ affair, to extract bribes from the American delegates with the line "No, No not a sixpence," which became attributed to him later as: "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." He also was a member of a strong Southern Federalist state and clan (except for his "conniving" cousin Charles Pinckney), and it was thought that he should be able to bring Southern support to the Federalist party.
The Notion of a President/VP "Ticket"
Before moving on further to the election of Electors, a word should be said about the Presidential and Vice-Presidential "ticket." Using this word to describe the election of 1800 is a bit of an anachronism today, not only because the parties were fledgling creatures then, but because even our Constitution at the time didn't envision such a parties. The way Electors were to vote for President and Vice-President was as follows:
"The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed.." Art II, Sec. 1.
The important provision to notice is that Electors got to vote for two people in their ballots, one of whom had to be from out of state. The assumption behind this provision is that a "national candidate" would emerge sometime in the process and he would become President because people from several states would vote for him. But it was also assumed that people would select a "native son" for their other person. But when you have a situation in 1800 which assumes a "slate" approach to reality rather than a "national" person and a native son, you run into the distinct possibility that the Electors for a particular party would simply vote for the "ticket" of that party, thus causing a tie in the number of electoral votes. Because the Consitution didn't specify that Electors would vote for President and Vice-President separately, you might have the situation where you weren't sure who was to be President and who Vice-President--even if the Congressional "caucuses" had decided in May who their choice for President and Vice-President would be.
Well, the Constitution also provided for this eventuallity:
"and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote," Id.
There is a lot worthy of comment in these two bolded provisions, and I will get to most of it eventually, but suffice it to say here that if there was a tie in the number of votes for the two highest vote-getters, the House would "immediately" choose the next President. In both "caucuses" in early May, the Congressmen laid down the principle that all Electors selected under their party would be required to vote for the Presidential/Vice-Presidential slate of the party. Thus, we were almost assured of having a problem in 1800--and we surely did.
I haven't spoken enough about the election yet, but I will rush ahead to one fact before retreating to the election. When all the votes were counted, Jefferson and Burr both had 73 electoral votes, Adams had 64, Pinckney had 63 and John Jay had 1. That is, almost perfect "party discipline" was maintained through the course of the election cycle. This astonishing circumstance has led one cynic to quip, "The time we got into the deepest constitutional problem in electing our President was when all the politicians kept their promises."
Now we are ready to see the way that the Election of 1800 unfolded. I will not go state-by-state, since I don't have all that data, but I will show in the next essay how people counted "the numbers" and how it gradually dawned on people that the Presidential Election in 1800 was going to lead to a constitutional crisis.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long