Transpartisan Note #134
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner
Thomas Jefferson used these words (as shared in Transpartisan Note #29) to bind the nation’s divisions in his first inaugural on March 4th, 1801. In the September 29th, 2020 edition of the NY Times, op-ed writer Jamelle Bouie uses his words to “look at the first and most consequential electoral crisis in American history: the election of 1800” and, in doing so, sets out the contours of the Transpartisan Matrix for the most consequential Presidential election in our early and perhaps our total American Constitutional history until 2020.
Bouie writes in There’s a Reason the Election of 1800 Still Sings Out to Us:
On Dec. 3 of that year , the 138 members of the Electoral College gathered in their respective states to choose between Thomas Jefferson and the incumbent John Adams for president of the United States.
The last two years had been among the most tumultuous in the life of the young nation.
The 1800 US Presidential election squared off “order” Federalists against “freedom” Democratic-Republicans. The Electoral College deadlocked. The House took 35 inconclusive ballots between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. On the 36th ballot, after seven days, the house settled on Jefferson for President and Aaron Burr for Vice President.
The House cast 36 ballots over seven days before it came to a decision. The representatives from Vermont and Maryland were still divided on their choice for president, but rather than drag the fight out further, Federalist holdouts in both delegations abstained. Their Democratic-Republican colleagues then cast their states’ votes for Jefferson. With 10 votes to four for Burr (two states chose not to vote), Jefferson had finally won the presidency. No Federalist congressman voted in his favor.
Read Bouie’s column and see if you can find how Democratic-Republicans and Federalists maneuvered the nation through the Transpartisan Matrix into a position to keep the twelve-year-old U.S. Constitutional experiment alive. Look for the Matrix.
Of all the elements self-government needs to survive, it’s this awareness — the knowledge that power wanes, for you and your opponents — that matters most. When a democracy loses this awareness, when there is a party or a faction or even a demographic that refuses to admit or accept defeat, it finds itself on life-support, risking terminal decline.
Compare and contrast the 1800 and 2020 Presidential elections. In either case, if you see or do not see the Matrix in the 1800 election, let us know what, how, and why you see what you see by sharing your thoughts in the comments below.
(Images from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain.)