Whatever the outcome of the election next week, I think it is a safe wager that it will not be as chaotic as the outcome of the election of 1800. Initially the outcome of the election was clear-cut enough. Jefferson defeat Adams, garnering 73 electoral votes to 67 for Adams. Then the circus began. When the electoral college met, the Republicans planned that their electors would cast 73 votes for Jefferson and 72 for Aaron Burr. The reason for this was that under the Constitution as originally drafted, the candidate who received the highest number of electoral votes would be president, and the candidate who came in second would be vice-president. Each elector could vote for two candidates. The Republicans bungled the vote, and Burr and Jefferson each received 73 votes! With a tie the election would be decided in the House of Representatives.
Burr, without a doubt the most unscrupulous major political figure in American history, seized the opportunity to attempt to become president instead of Jefferson. From February 11-17, 1801 the House cast 35 ballots and seemed deadlocked. Almost all Federalists supported Burr. Jefferson received the support of 8 states, by majority vote of each state delegation, one state short of the necessary majority. The stalemate seemed destined to stretch on indefinitely until Alexander Hamilton stepped in. Hamilton had no love for Jefferson, but he truly despised Burr, his arch rival in New York politics, who he regarded as a dangerous demagogue. Hamilton convinced enough Federalists to switch their support for Jefferson, with Jefferson becoming president with the votes of ten state delegations, one more than necessary. (more…)