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Amidst threats of violence and fears of national dissolution, Congress met in February 1801 to resolve the fiercely contested election of 1800. Federalists and Republicans argued over how best to implement the new federal Constitution, but both parties accepted the Constitution as the framework in which to settle the dispute. With Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson tied, the decision rested with the House of Representatives. The political parties, which had just brought the nation to the verge of disaster, now served as the instruments to mediate a political solution that ultimately elected Jefferson as president. In his inaugural address Jefferson sought to alleviate national fears by making his now-famous unifying declaration: “We are all republicans. We are all federalists.”

“But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans. We are all federalists.”

Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

Liberty Triumphs over Oppressive Forces

In this 1796 allegory, liberty triumphs over tyranny, despotism, and monarchy. American patriot leaders join Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom, and Lady Liberty to defeat the evil forces, while the Genius of Liberty points out the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. A group of kings turn away with horror and dismay.

John F. Renault. Triumph of Liberty. Dedicated to Its Defenders in America. New York: September 1795. Engraved by Peter C. Verger, 1796. Prints and Photographs Division (91) [Digital ID# ppmsca-13643]

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Latrobe’s Design for the Capitol

The public buildings at the nation's new capital in Washington, District of Columbia, were unfinished when the government moved from Philadelphia in 1800.  Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764–1820), who was named Surveyor of Public Buildings of the United States by President Thomas Jefferson, prepared this revised design for the new Capitol, adding a large staircase and re-conceiving the Rotunda as a Hall of the People.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe. [Revised design for the Capitol], perspective from the east and north front, 1806. Graphite, ink and watercolor on paper. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (91.02.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-09501]

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United States Capitol

After the British partially burned the Capitol in 1814, many years were spent trying to repair the damage and complete the building. The dome for the United States Capitol was planned by William Thornton (1759–1828) but was constructed under the direction of Charles Bulfinch (1763–1844), after his appointment in 1817 as Architect of the Capitol.

William Thorton. [United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. West elevation [proposed] “High Dome”]. Ink, watercolor, and graphite drawing, [between 1793 and 1800]. London: Charles A. Busby, 1823. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (91.04.00) [Digital ID# cph.3b51696]

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Virginia Slave Rebellion Increases Election-Year Turmoil

As the presidential campaign of 1800 shifted into high gear, the public was rattled by a slave insurrection in Virginia led by Gabriel (1775–1800), an educated slave. Inspired by the ideals of freedom asserted during the American Revolution, Gabriel planned to attack Richmond on August 30, 1800, and massacre opponents of black liberty. He also intended to make himself king of a new black nation. Slaves who revealed the plans and bad weather hampered the rebellion, which was ended by the state militia called out by Virginia Governor James Monroe. In this letter, Monroe seeks the advice of his mentor, presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, regarding punishment of the rebel leaders.

Letter from James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, September 22, 1800. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (101.01.00) [Digital ID# us0101_01]

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Fears of a Federalist Usurpation of the Presidency

Republicans, such as Virginia governor James Monroe, prematurely feared that the Federalists would try to exploit the stalemated presidential election after Thomas Jefferson and his vice presidential running mate, Aaron Burr (1756–1836), received an identical number of electoral votes. In the end a political compromise led to a peaceful constitutional transfer of power rather than Monroe’s feared plan of usurpation at the federal town.

Letter from James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, January 27, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (102) [Digital ID# us0102]

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Vote Forced Federalists into a “Desperate State”

With a tied electoral vote between Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, leaders of their own party including Virginia governor James Monroe, feared that faced with a “desperate state of its affrs,” the Federalists would resort to all steps short of disunion to retain control of the presidency.

Letter from James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, January 6, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (102.01.00) [Digital ID#s us0102_01p1, us0102_01p2]

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Jefferson Warns of Force to Secure Electoral Solution

In the midst of the thirty-six ballots taken to resolve a tied electoral vote between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, Jefferson leaked the information that if the Federalists tried to appoint an interim executive the middle states would arm and a convention would be called to reorganize the government. Jefferson correctly anticipated that these twin threats would lead the Federalists to yield the election.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, February 15, 1801. Manuscript. James Monroe Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (103) [Digital ID# us0103]

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Moderates Reassure Jefferson

In this letter, Hugh Brackenridge (1748–1816), lawyer and judge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sought to assure Thomas Jefferson that moderates in both the Federalist and Republican parties did not plan to step into the opening abyss of a probable suspension of the federal government. Moderates carried the day, and Jefferson was chosen as president on the thirty-sixth ballot on the question in the House of Representatives.

Letter from Hugh Brackenridge to Thomas Jefferson, January 19, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (103.02.01) [Digital ID#s us0103_02p3, us0103_02p2]

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Creative Statesmanship Resolves Election Crisis

When Congress seemed as stalemated in electing a president as was the electoral college, furious maneuvering ensued between Federalists and Republicans. In an act of creative statesmanship James Bayard (1767–1815), a Delaware Federalist congressman and a relative of Samuel Harrison Smith (1772–1845), a key Jefferson Republican ally, struck a deal with Jeffersonians to protect Federalist programs and officeholders. The solution secured Jeffersons election on the thirty-sixth ballot in the House of Representatives.

Letter from James Bayard to Alexander Hamilton, March 8, 1801. Manuscript. Alexander Hamilton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104) [Digital ID#s us0104, us0104_1]

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Jefferson Congratulates Samuel Adams

Thomas Jefferson congratulates Samuel Adams, an old-line Revolutionary radical, on the Republican victory, with a naval allegory for the ship of state: The storm is over, and we are in port. Jefferson viewed his victory as a return to the true meaning of the Revolution and hoped for an entire oblivion of past feuds.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Adams, March 29, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104.01.00) [Digital ID# us0104_01]

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Lesson to America and the World

After Thomas Jefferson had been chosen president by the House of Representatives, James Madison viewed the avoidance of violence as a lesson to America and the world. The adherence to the Constitution by both Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans continues to be an example of political crises management to this day.

Letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, February 28, 1801. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104.02.00) [Digital ID# us0104_02p2]

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Jefferson Seeks Unity in Inaugural Address

After a vicious campaign and a polarizing election that was not resolved until February 17, 1801, after thirty-six ballots in the House of Representatives, President Thomas Jefferson delivered a soothing and unifying message in his first inaugural address. Jefferson uttered these now-classic lines: “But every difference of opinion, is not a difference of principle. We have called, by different names, brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans, we are all federalists.”

Thomas Jefferson. First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (106.00.02) [Digital ID#s us0106p2, us0106, us0106_01p1, us0106_01, us0106_1, us0106_2]

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Disputed Presidential Election Leads to Constitutional Amendment

After Thomas Jefferson and his vice presidential running mate Aaron Burr (1756–1836) received the same number of electoral votes in 1800, a constitutional and political crises erupted. Action to amend the Constitution came quickly. This broadside is Representative John Dawson’s (1762–1814) proposed amendment to the states on December 9, 1803, followed Dawson’s plan to have electors vote separately for president and vice president. This plan would leave the House to select a president if no one reached a majority. New Hampshire provided the necessary thirteenth state ratification on June 15, 1804.

[John Dawson]. Mr. Dawson’s Motion, Amended, [after October 17, 1803]. Broadside. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (102.03.00) [Digital ID# us0102_03]

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House of Representatives Chooses Jefferson as President

When Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received the identical number of electoral votes in the 1800 presidential election, the Constitution required the House of Representatives vote by state to choose the president. This brief newspaper account of Jefferson’s February 17 election on the thirty-sixth ballot is accompanied by a brief statement from the president-elect.

National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser. Washington, D.C.: February 23, 1801. Serial and Government Publications Division Library of Congress (102.02.00) [Digital ID# us0102_02]

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Jefferson Asks John Marshall to Administer Oath of Office

Thomas Jefferson asked Federalist John Marshall (1755–1836), who had just taken the oath of office on February 4, 1801, as chief justice of the Supreme Court, to administer the oath of office on March 4, 1801, signifying Federalist acquiescence in Jefferson’s election. Jefferson also asked Marshall to determine whether Congress could determine another required oath of office. Marshall responded that the oath in the Constitution was the only required oath.

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Marshall, March 2, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104.04.00) [Digital ID# us0104_04]

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John Marshall Agrees to Administer Oath of Office to Jefferson

Federalist John Marshall, who had just taken the oath of office as chief justice of the Supreme Court on February 4, 1801, agreed to administer the oath of office to Thomas Jefferson on March 4, 1801—thus confirming Federalist acquiescence in Jefferson’s election. Marshall also continued to act as secretary of state until the March 5 confirmation of James Madison.

Letter from John Marshall to Thomas Jefferson, March 2, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104.03.00) [Digital ID# us0104_03]

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Not All Republicans Reconcile with Federalists

James Monroe (1758–1831), governor of Virginia, was one of the many Republicans who did not want to follow Thomas Jefferson’s lead in reconciling with the Federalists. Monroe wanted the Federalists removed from office and replaced by committed Republicans with a long history of loyalty to Jefferson and their party.

Letter from James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, March 18, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (140.00.00) [Digital ID# us0140]

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The President’s House

When Thomas Jefferson became president of the United States in 1801, the President’s House, which is now known as the White House, stood largely unfinished in the midst of a cleared area at the west end of Pennsylvania Avenue. In this 1830s image by Philadelphia artist George Lehman (d. 1870), the home of the president is shown rebuilt after it was burned by the British in 1814. The President’s House and the Capitol, standing under two miles apart, symbolize the two centers of governmental power in the nation’s capital.

George Lehman. President’s House, ca. 1830s. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (105.04.00) [Digital ID# cph-3a10214]

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The President’s House

When Thomas Jefferson became president of the United States in 1801, the President’s House, which is now known as the White House, stood largely unfinished in the midst of a cleared area at the west end of Pennsylvania Avenue. In this 1820 image by Philadelphia engraver John L. Frederick published in the Analectic Magazine, the home of the president is shown rebuilt after it was burned by the British in 1814.

John L. Frederick. “A Front View of the President’s House” from the Analectic Magazine. Philadelphia: Moses Thomas, [ca. 1820s]. Engraving. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (105.05.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca.24326]

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Unity Seen in Jefferson’s Inaugural Address

In this letter Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), Pennsylvania physician and revolutionary leader, assured President Thomas Jefferson that his inaugural address had been warmly received. Federalists and Republicans haf realized that their differences are not matters of principle but of opinion, according to Rush. It was a “solemn & affecting address” to the “inhabitants of the Globe” and future posterity, concluded Dr. Rush.

Letter from Benjamin Rush to Thomas Jefferson, March 12, 1801. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (103.03.00) [Digital ID# us0103_03]

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Return to Creating the Bill of Rights List Previous Section: Election of 1800 | Next Section: Bill of Rights Legacy