In the Election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson of Virginia tied with his running mate, New Yorker Aaron Burr. The Constitution, still in its infancy, detailed that the President would be the candidate who secured the most electoral votes, while the second place winner would become Vice President.
Though these directions looked clear on paper, they failed in operation. In only America’s third presidential election the results, ironically counted by Vice President Thomas Jefferson himself (as president of the Senate), gridlocked at 73 electoral votes each. A draw.
There was no provision written for a tied vote in the “new users manual” except to move the final selection to the House of Representatives where each state cast one vote.
35 exhausting ballots later, Alexander Hamilton finally intervened and engineered a victory for Jefferson. Though Hamilton disliked “The Sage of Monticello,” he did so from their shared history of political battles; differences that were not personal. But, this former Secretary of the Treasury also chose Jefferson because he thoroughly detested Aaron Burr, his fellow New Yorker, and rival.
This animosity simmered deadly and personal until resolved with their famous 1804 duel.
After his hard fought victory Jefferson kept his Vice President at an understandable distance, Burr becoming a marginalized pariah in the new administration. The new president had only picked Burr in the first place because he was from New York and could boost the ticket–not render the race more frustrating and complicated. In fact in 1804 George Clinton, also a New Yorker, became Jefferson’s more compliant second Vice President.
In 1803 the Twelfth Amendment changed how presidential elections were counted; each vote specifically cast for President, and separately for Vice President-thus avoiding any future, similar disputes.
On a personal note, remember each of our votes breathe life into this unique experiment called America. Commit yourself to flex that essential muscle of liberty on November 3, 2020.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.