Thomas Jefferson Wins Presidency—after 36 Ballots!
Thomas Jefferson is consistently ranked one of the greatest presidents in the history of our country. He almost did not get the chance to fulfill that destiny, however, as Aaron Burr nearly beat him in the 1800 presidential election—a tangled, complicated political mess that ended up with an electoral ballot tie that had to be broken by a vote in the House of Representatives. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each ended up with 73 electoral votes (the incumbent president, John Adams, finished with 65).
The deciding vote in the House was a bitter, partisan affair between the Democratic-Republican Party (representing both Jefferson and Burr) and the Federalists (the losing party who loathed both candidates). Since there were 16 states at the time, a winning candidate needed to carry 9 states. Between February 11 and February 17 the House voted 35 times, without determining a winner! Finally, on the 36th ballot, on Feb. 17, 1801, Thomas Jefferson won 10 states and was declared the duly-elected president-elect.
This article was published by the Kline’s Carlisle Weekly Gazette (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) on Feb. 18, 1801:
Ordered that the Committee appointed on the seventeenth instant, to wait on the President of the United States, and notify him that Thomas Jefferson is elected President of the United States, for the term of 4 years commencing on the 4th day of March next, be authorized to notify the President-elect thereof.
The Committee instructed on the 18th inst. to wait on the President-elect, and notify him of his election, report:
That they have, according to order performed that service, and addressed the President-elect in the following words, to wit:
“The Committee beg leave to express their wishes for the prosperity of your administration; and their sincere desire that it may promote your own happiness and the welfare of your country.”
To which the President-elect, was pleased to make the following reply:
“I receive, gentlemen, with profound thankfulness, this testimony of confidence from the great representative council of our nation. It fills up the measure of that grateful satisfaction, which had already been derived from the suffrages of my fellow-citizens themselves, designating me as one of those to whom they were willing to commit this charge, the most important of all others to them. In deciding between the candidates, whom their equal vote presented to your choice, I am sensible that age has been respected, rather than more active and useful qualifications. I know the difficulties of the station to which I am called, and feel and acknowledge my incompetence to them. But, whatsoever of understanding, whatsoever of diligence, whatsoever of justice, of affectionate concern for the happiness of man, it hath pleased Providence to place within the compass of my faculties, shall be called forth for the discharge of the duties confided to me, and for procuring to my fellow-citizens all the benefits which our Constitution has placed under the guardianship of the general government. Guided by the wisdom and patriotism of those to whom it belongs to express the legislative will of the nation, I will give to that will a faithful execution. I pray you to convey to the honorable body from which you are deputed the homage of my humble acknowledgments, and the sentiments of zeal and fidelity, by which I shall endeavour to merit these proofs of confidence from the nation and its representatives.
Accept yourselves, gentlemen, my particular thanks for the obliging terms in which you have been pleased to communicate their will.