Strange Bedfellows

The election of 1800 definitively shows that politics… do indeed make strange bedfellows.  Because of vagaries in the original constitutional language, Aaron Burr tied Thomas Jefferson with 73 electoral votes.  Burr had reneged on his word to stand as Jefferson’s running mate as many states divided their electoral votes between the two candidates.  The matter was passed on to the lame-duck House of Representatives still filled with bitter Federalists.  Jeffersonians had swept the Federalists from power in the election, but the previous Congress would decide the Presidential contest.

Electoral results of 1800

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson… were political opposites.  Their bickering in Washington’s cabinet had formed the nation’s first political parties.  Washington feared the daily conflicts “How unfortunate, and how much is it to be regretted then, that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals.”    Despite the rivalry, only Hamilton stood between Aaron Burr and the newly constructed Executive Mansion.  The Federalists in Congress seemed to favor Burr to their ideological opponent, Jefferson.

Final House vote, ballot 36

Hamilton did not savor the prospect of a Jefferson… presidency, but he would not have slept at night knowing he didn’t prevent Burr’s ascent to power.  Hamilton and Burr were bitter enemies in New York politics.  Hamilton understood Burr too well,   “a man of irregular and insatiable ambition … who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.”   35 ballots were cast in the House, each one inching closer to a Burr victory.  Hamilton confronted his fellow Federalists and convinced enough of them to elect Jefferson on the 36th ballot.  This should rank as one of Hamilton’s greatest accomplishments.  He prevented one of the most dangerous people in our history from becoming President and he assured that the Jeffersonian revolution would proceed.  Strange indeed….

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