The Election of 1800: Politics as Usual

My class on the History of the Early Republic continues to work through Edward Larson’s The Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign. It has been fun teaching this book during an election season and my students seem to be enjoying it. (In fact, today we started class with a discussion about the differences between popular history and mongraphs).

Most of my students seem to already be cynical about American politics, so this book only enhanced their cynicism. On Monday we talked about Aaron Burr’s political ambition as it related to his successful attempt to bring New York’s electors into the Jeffersonian camp. Today we discussed Alexander Hamilton’s attempt to undermine the Republican victory in the New York state assembly elections by trying to empower the lame-duck, pro-Federalist New York legislature to give Federalist governor John Jay the power to choose the state’s electors to the Electoral College This, of course, would have made the Jeffersonian Republican victory orchestrated by Burr null and void and would have kept New York in the Federalist camp. In the end, however, Jay rejected Hamilton’s scheme. He placed principle over party. Though they did not put it in these terms, I think my students were relieved to see the way a Christian stateman like Jay refused to participate in Hamilton’s underhanded attempt for political power.

We started talking about the role of religion in the election today. It promises to make for a good discussion when we come back from fall break.