I. Jefferson's Presidency
A. Turbulent Times: Election and Rebellion
In the election of 1800, results remained uncertain from November to February 1801 as
voters in the electoral college, using the single balloting system to choose both president
and vice president, gave equal numbers of votes to Jefferson and to his running mate,
Senator Aaron Burr.
Because Aaron Burr refused to concede the presidency to Jefferson, the election moved
to the Federalist-dominated House of Representatives for a decision.
Some Federalists preferred Burr, but Alexander Hamilton thought he would be more
dangerous than Jefferson in the presidency.
Of the nine votes needed to win, Jefferson had the votes of eight states on the first ballot;
it took thirty-six more ballots and six days to get the ninth vote in his column.
The election of 1800 demonstrated that the leadership of the nation could shift from one
group to a distinctly different one in a peaceful transfer of power affected by ballots, not
As the country struggled over its white leadership crisis, a twenty-four-year-old slave,
named Gabriel, who worked as a blacksmith, plotted a rebellion in Virginia.
Betrayed to authorities by a few nervous slaves, Gabriel's revolt never materialized, but it
scared white Virginians, and in September and October they hanged twenty-seven black
men for contemplating rebellion until Jefferson advised Governor Monroe that the
hangings had gone far enough.
B. The Jeffersonian Vision of Republican Simplicity
Jefferson sidestepped the problem of slavery and turned his attention to establishing a
mode of governing that was in clear contrast to that of the Federalists.
Once in office, Jefferson emphasized unfussy frugality and a casual style.
Jefferson's paramount goal was to scale back the exercise of federal power and promote
policies that would foster the independence of ordinary American citizens.
In Jefferson's vision, the source of true liberty in America was the independent farmer,
someone who owned and worked his land both for himself and for the market.
Jefferson set out to dismantle Federalist innovation, reducing the sizes of the army and
navy, abolishing all federal internal taxes, and reducing the national debt through customs
duties and the sale of western lands.
A properly limited federal government, according to Jefferson, was responsible merely
for running a postal system, maintaining federal courts, staffing lighthouses, collecting
customs duties, and conducting a census once every ten years.
C. The Judiciary and the Midnight Judges
John Adams seized the short time between his election defeat and Jefferson 's
inauguration to appoint 217 Federalist men to various judicial, diplomatic, and military