Ep. 23: The Election of 1800

In this episode, Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, and Roy Rogers ask: “How important was the election of 1800?”

NB: We are happy to debut our new question-based format this month. This format will consist of shorter episodes (approx. 25-30 mins) with discussion focused on a specific framing question. These questions may have to do with events, people, or topics from the period. We will also have episodes devoted to current historiographical questions to give listeners a sense of the debates that are shaping current scholarship by historians of early America. Finally, we will continue to do occasional episodes devoted to discussing a “classic work” of early American history. Thank you for listening to The JuntoCast and we hope you enjoy the new format.

TOPIC

The election of 1800 has often been referred to as the “revolution of 1800,” firstly and most notably by the election’s victor, Thomas Jefferson. “The revolution of 1800,” Jefferson wrote in 1819, “was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form.” Historians, since the days of Henry Adams, have been skeptical of the claim. Nevertheless, many contemporary historians now understand that the election of 1800 was a significant moment in both the political and electoral history of the early republic. It is well understood that the election of 1800 represented the first peaceful transition of power between different parties. If that were its only legacy, it would be important enough. However, in this episode, we try to dig deeper by discussing the context, stakes, and legacy of the nation’s first truly contested election.

QUESTIONS

  • How did the events of the 1790s contribute to tense build-up to the election of 1800?
  • What did Americans perceive was at stake in the election?
  • What role did campaigning play in the election, particularly in New York?
  • Why did the election have to be decided by the House of Representatives?
  • What was Aaron Burr’s role in resolving the election?
  • Was the election of 1800 really a “revolution” as Jefferson claimed?

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FURTHER READING

Bradburn, Douglas. The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774-1804. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.

Elkins, Stanley M., and Eric L. McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Ferling, John E. Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Larson, Edward J. A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign (New York: Free Press, 2008).

Pasley, Jeffrey L. The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2013.

––––––. “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Sharp, James Roger. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

––––––. The Deadlocked Election of 1800: Jefferson, Burr, and the Union in the Balance. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010.

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