Presidential Election of 1800 IV
Bill Long 10/27/07
The Flow of the Voting
It might be good to summarize what we know about how the Presidential election of 1800 actually "worked." We know that the party caucuses selected Jefferson/Burr (Republicans) and Adams/Pinckney (Federalists) in May. We know also that when the Electors cast their votes in their respective state capitols on Wed. Dec. 3, that each Elector would vote for two men without specifying whether he was preferred for President or Vice-President (this would be changed by the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed in time for the 1804 election). The outright winners needed at least 70 Electoral votes out of a possible 138 cast. Thus, 138 Electors cast a total of 276 votes during the voting cycle. If no candidate received 70 Electoral votes, the House of Representatives would choose the President from the top 5 vote-getters. In fact, five men ended up receiving electoral votes: the four listed above and John Jay, who received one vote from a RI Elector.
The important event during the Fall of 1800 was the selection of Electors by each state. Ten states, as we saw earlier, selected Electors throught the Legislature; the other six used popular vote, either by a "general ticket" or a "district" system. Thus, in several states the important thing was when the Legislature met to do this or, in certain cases, when that Legislature would be elected. That is, once you knew the complexion of the Legislature, you knew how the state would vote for President. Thus, the crucial date for New York was really the selection of the Legislature (April 29-May 1) and not the Legislature's selection of Electors in November. Once it was determined that the Republican party would be in control, it was a foregone conclusion that the NY legislature would give all 12 of its electoral votes to Jefferson and Burr when it convened in the Fall.
Only five of the States could possibly split their electoral vote: the four that selected Electors by district (TN, KY, MD, NC) and Pennsylvania, which possibly might even sit out the election. More on that interesting possibility is below. As it turned out, only MD, NC and PA split their electoral vote.
The Voting--By the Numbers
One web site I read said that Electors had to be elected by the states within 34 days before December 3. By Nov. 15, 13/16 of the states had chosen their Electors. It was becoming clear that the election would very close. After the 13 states had been "counted," and it is unclear when people knew precise their numbers were (indeed, one Elector decided to vote for John Jay on Dec. 3, and I am sure that no one counted on that beforehand), it appeared that the vote was probably 57-54 with the Republicans on top. Three states (PA, RI and SC) were as yet undecided. And, those three states were also "too hard to call." Let's review the numbers by about Nov. 15.
Federalist Electoral Votes
New Hampshire-- 6
New Jersey-- 7
Maryland (Split)-- 5
North Carolina (Split) 4
Total on 11/15/1800-- 54
Republican Electoral Votes
New York-- 12
Maryland (Split)-- 5
North Carolina (Split) -- 8
Total on 11/15/1800-- 57
This totalled 111 electoral votes. The 27 remaining electoral votes would come from RI (4), PA (15) and SC (8). It was unclear whether PA would even participate in the election, and if it did not, its 15 electoral votes would not be counted. This would mean that there would only be 123 electoral votes, and the winner would need 62 electoral votes. But because of the 12 votes remaining in SC and RI, the winner would have to take both states to get to the "magic number" of 62. Pennsylvania's legislature would convene in special session on November 8 to see if it could solve its problem, RI voters would go to the polls on Wed. Nov. 19 to vote for Electors, and the SC Legislature would put off its meeting until Dec. 1. It finally selected its 8 Electors on Dec. 2 (why rush, really?), the day before the Electors had to show up in the state capitols to vote officially for their candidates.
The Pennsylvania "Problem"
Pennsyvania had a problem going into 1800 because its two houses of state government were controlled by different parties (the Senate was 13-11 for the Federalists, while the Republicans controlled the House by a much larger margin), they had no law "in place" on how to choose Electors, and they couldn't agree on how to select Electors. Thus, the Legislature tried to solve that problem of selection when it met for regular session early in 1800.
When the Legislature met in regular session, each of the parties, predictably, suggested a different method for selecting Electors. The Republicans favored choosing all fifteen on a statewide general ticket (popular election), which would probably give all 15 electoral votes to Jefferson and Burr. The Federalists, who had favored general elections earlier in the decade, now reversed themselves and advocated selection by district. It was easy to predict what a party would do--whatever it felt favored its "bottom line" interest.
The parties were unable to agree during the regular Legislative session on a method of choosing Electors, and so Republican Gov. Thomas McKean called a special session of the Legislature to begin its work on Nov. 8, to see if it could break the logjam. But now it was too late to have the people select Electors; it had to be done by the Legislature or the electoral votes from PA wouldn't be cast. The Republicans favored a joint vote of the two houses, while Federalists (who would be overwhelmed by a joint vote) proposed concurrent selection of Electors, which would probably give them about 7 of the 15 Electors. The parties deadlocked, and the date of the meeting of Electors was fast approaching. Finally, on Dec. 1, the Republicans blinked first and gave in to the Federalist demand, thus resulting in eight Republican Electors and seven Federalist Electors from PA in 1800.
The Final Tally
The RI popular election of November 19 saw about 7,000 people vote and yielded a victory for the Federalists. Thus, all four RI Electors were Federalists. Thus, when we "add up" the two states of PA and RI, we have the following: Federalist = 65; Republican = 65. You couldn't have a much closer election. Little South Carolina, which would finally select its Electors on Dec. 2, would hold the balance of the election.
Let's turn to the next essay to learn how things "worked out."
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long