|Jefferson Takes Office
ONE AMERICAN’S STORY
Supporters of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—competitors in the presidential election of 1800—fought for their candidates with nasty personal attacks. Scottish immigrant James Callender, a Jefferson supporter, wrote some of the harshest criticisms. During the campaign, he warned voters not to reelect President John Adams.
A VOICE FROM THE PAST
“ In the fall of 1796 . . . the country fell into a more dangerous juncture than almost any the old confederation ever endured. The tardiness and timidity of Mr. Washington were succeeded by the rancour [bitterness] and insolence [arrogance] of Mr. Adams. . . . Think what you have been, what you are, and what, under [Adams], you are likely to become.”
James Callender, quoted in American Aurora
Adams’s defenders were just as vicious. One went so far as to claim that if Jefferson won, “the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.” In spite of the campaign’s nastiness, the election ended with a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. The 1800 election was more than a personal battle, though. It was a contest between two parties with different ideas about the role of government.
The Election of 1800
The two parties contesting the election of 1800 were the Federalists, led by President John Adams, and the Democratic-Republicans, represented by Thomas Jefferson. Each party believed that the other was endangering the Constitution and the American republic.
The Democratic-Republicans thought they were saving the nation from monarchy and oppression. They argued, again and again, that the Alien and Sedition Acts supported by the Federalists violated the Bill of Rights. The Federalists thought that the nation was about to be ruined by radicals—people who take extreme political positions. They remembered the violence of the French Revolution, in which radicals executed thousands in the name of liberty.
When election day came, the Democratic-Republicans won the presidency. Jefferson received 73 votes in the electoral college, and Adams earned 65. But there was a problem. Aaron Burr, whom the Democratic- Republicans wanted as vice president, also received 73 votes.
Breaking the Tie
According to the Constitution, the House of Representatives had to choose between Burr and Jefferson. The Democratic-Republicans clearly intended for Jefferson to be president. However, the new House of Representatives, dominated by Jefferson’s party, would not take office for some months. Federalists still held a majority in the House, and their votes would decide the winner.
The Federalists were divided. Some feared Jefferson so much that they decided to back Burr. Others, such as Alexander Hamilton, considered Burr an unreliable man and urged the election of Jefferson. Hamilton did not like Jefferson, but he believed that Jefferson would do more for the good of the nation than Burr.
“If there be a man in the world I ought to hate,” he said, “it is Jefferson. . . . But the public good must be [more important than] every private consideration.”
Over a period of seven days, the House voted 35 times without determining a winner. Finally, two weeks before the inauguration, Alexander Hamilton’s friend James A. Bayard persuaded several Federalists not to vote for Burr. On the thirty-sixth ballot, Jefferson was elected president. Aaron Burr, who became vice president, would never forget Hamilton’s insults. People were overjoyed by Jefferson’s election. A Philadelphia newspaper reported that bells rang, guns fired, dogs barked, cats meowed, and children cried over the news of Jefferson’s victory.
The Talented Jefferson
In over 200 years, the United States has had more than 40 presidents. Many of them were great leaders. But no president has ever matched Thomas Jefferson in the variety of his achievements.
Jefferson’s talents went beyond politics. He was still a young lawyer when he became interested in the architecture of classical Greece and Rome. The look of our nation’s capital today reflects that interest. When Washington, D.C., was being built during the 1790s, Jefferson advised its architects and designers.
Jefferson’s passion for classical styles can also be seen in his plan of Monticello, his Virginia home. For this elegant mansion, Jefferson designed storm windows, a seven-day clock, and a dumbwaiter—a small elevator that brought bottles of wine from the cellar.
Jefferson was a skilled violinist, horseman, amateur scientist, and a devoted reader, too. His book collection later became the core of the Library of Congress. After his election, Jefferson applied his many talents and ideas to the government of the United States.
The new president had strong opinions about what kind of country the United States ought to be. But his first order of business was to calm the nation’s political quarrels.
A VOICE FROM THE PAST
“ Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. . . . Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. . . . We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address
One way Jefferson tried to unite Americans was by promoting a common way of life. He wanted the United States to remain a nation of small independent farmers. Such a nation, he believed, would uphold the strong morals and democratic values that he associated with country living. He hoped that the enormous amount of available land would prevent Americans from crowding into cities, as people had in Europe.
As president, Jefferson behaved more like a gentleman farmer than a privileged politician. Instead of riding in a fancy carriage to his inauguration, Jefferson walked the two blocks from his boarding house to the Capitol. Though his chef served elegant meals, the president’s guests ate at round tables so that no one could sit at the head of the table.
To the end, Jefferson refused to elevate himself because of his office. For his tombstone, he chose this simple epitaph: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.” Jefferson chose not to list his presidency. His belief in a modest role for the central government is reflected in the changes he made during his presidency.
Undoing Federalist Programs
Jefferson believed that the federal government should have less power than it had had under the Federalists. During his term of office, he sought to end many Federalist programs.
At the president’s urging, Congress—now controlled by Democratic- Republicans—allowed the Alien and Sedition Acts to end. Jefferson then released prisoners convicted under the acts—among them, James Callender. Congress also ended many taxes, including the unpopular whiskey tax. Because the loss of tax revenue lowered the government’s income, Jefferson reduced the number of federal employees to cut costs. He also reduced the size of the military.
Jefferson next made changes to the Federalists’ financial policies. Alexander Hamilton had created a system that depended on a certain amount of public debt. He believed that people who were owed money by their government would make sure the government was run properly. But Jefferson opposed public debt. He used revenues from tariffs and land sales to reduce the amount of money owed by the government.
Marshall and the Judiciary
Though Jefferson ended many Federalist programs, he had little power over the courts. John Adams had seen to that with the Judiciary Act of 1801. Under this act, Adams had appointed as many Federalist judges as he could between the election of 1800 and Jefferson’s inauguration in 1801. These last-minute appointments meant that the new Democratic-Republican president would face a firmly Federalist judiciary.
Jefferson often felt frustrated by Federalist control of the courts. Yet because judges received their appointments for life, the president could do little.
Before he left office in 1801, President Adams also appointed a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He chose a 45-year-old Federalist, John Marshall. He guessed that Marshall would be around for a long time to check the power of the Democratic-Republicans. He was right. Marshall served as Chief Justice for over three decades. Under Marshall, the Supreme Court upheld federal authority and strengthened federal courts. One of the most important decisions of the Marshall Court was Marbury v. Madison (1803).
Marbury v. Madison
William Marbury was one of Adams’s last-minute appointments. Adams had named him as a justice of the peace for the District of Columbia.
Marbury was supposed to be installed in his position by Secretary of State James Madison. When Madison refused to give him the job, Marbury sued. The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the law under which Marbury sued was unconstitutional— that is, it contradicted the law of the Constitution.
Although the Court denied Marbury’s claim, it did establish the principle of judicial review. This principle states that the Supreme Court has the final say in interpreting the Constitution. In his decision, Marshall declared, “It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is.” If the Supreme Court decides that a law violates the Constitution, then that law cannot be put into effect.
Jefferson and Madison were angry when Marshall seized this new power for the Supreme Court, but they could hardly fight his decision. After all, he had decided Marbury v. Madison in their favor.
By establishing judicial review, Marshall helped to create a lasting balance among the three branches of government. The strength of this balance would be tested as the United States grew