Thursday, January 14, 2010

How One Vote Saved The Most Important Election In World History.

Arguably the single most important election in human history took place in 1800 where Thomas Jefferson ran against incumbent President John Adams. This was the very first election in history where the reigns of power transferred from one political party to another through peaceful means with no bloodshed. We in America are so cavalier to the miracle of our Constitutional Republic, we seem to think it is always a foregone conclusion that "everything will be just fine as always." That may well explain how little people pay attention to our political process, and why so few who are eligible to vote actually do. We feel too safe in our Republic and don't recognize how close we have often come to losing it.

In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson the leader of the Democratic Republican Party ran against Federalist John Adams, who was suffering in popularity for his stance of avoiding a war with France that most of the Federalists throughout the country wanted. He was vindicated when a truce came from France right before the elections, but not in time to save his presidency.

The way the election process worked at that time, the person who received the most votes won the presidency, and the second most the vice-presidency. This is how the leader of the opposition party, Jefferson, was Adam's own vice-president. In this election a flaw in the process was shown, electorates in the electoral college could only vote for president but they had two votes each. The idea was that everyone for Jefferson would vote for both Jefferson and Aaron Burr, but one person who would withhold his second vote to give Jefferson the presidency and Burr the vice-presidency. However, that one forgot and oops Jefferson and Burr tied for president. Burr being Burr saw an opportunity and didn't demure to his running mate and held out to win the presidency. At the first look Burr actually had won because the electorate from New York cast both of his votes to New Yorker Aaron Burr giving Burr a one vote lead. However that vote was taken from Burr and given to Jefferson due to a Constitutional rule that only one vote can come from one electorate to a candidate from their home state.

The Federalist so hated Jefferson they threw their weight behind Burr. The rules required the House to vote by state. On the first ballot Jefferson had eight states, one short of what he needed. Six states went for Burr and two were tied. Over the next seven days there were 35 more votes, each with the same results.

The tempers were rising, Jefferson supporters threatened to take up arms if he wasn't elected. As President Adams later wrote, "a civil war was expected." Then a sole congressman from Delaware, John Bayard controlled that state's vote. The Federalists had been supporting Burr, but after all of these votes he announced he was going to abstain, which would throw the election to Jefferson. Other Federalists stood up and shouted, "Traitor, traitor," at him, but Bayard said he acted to save the country. The deadlock was broken and Thomas Jefferson became president.

The first bloodless transfer of power from one political party to another in human history was complete, but how close it came to blood on the streets. Our complacency today forgets the miracle of our Republic, this was a luxury our founders never knew.

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