The Deadlock Election of 1800: Jefferson, Burr, and the Union in the Balance.

Author:Larson, Edward J.
Position:Book review

The Deadlock Election of 1800: Jefferson, Burr, and the Union in the Balance. By James Roger Sharp. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2010. 238 pp.

Perhaps due to the current heightened ideological division between the major political parties and the disputed resolution of the 2000 presidential election, both of which echo events of 1800, there has been a marked rise in scholarly interest in the 1800 campaign for president. That contest pitted Federalist incumbent John Adams against Republican Vice President Thomas Jefferson in a horserace that ended in an electoral vote tie between Jefferson and his Republican running mate, Aaron Burr. In a failed effort to stop the elevation of Jefferson to the presidency, Federalist members of Congress then rallied behind Burr in the subsequent voting by the House of Representatives to resolve the election. It makes for a gripping story of partisan intrigue, with the political future of the young republic at stake. With his new book, The Deadlocked Election of 1800, historian of the early national period James Roger Sharp contributes the fifth major scholarly monograph on the election to appear between 2005 and 2010.

Prior to the recent outpouring of books, scholarship on the 1800 presidential race focused on the emergence of national political parties during the 1790s, with the election presented as the capstone event in the process. Among the new books, Susan Dunn's Jefferson's Second Revolution: The Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) concentrates on the triumph of the Republican Party; Bruce Ackerman's The Failure of the Founding Fathers: Jefferson, Marshall, and the Rise of Presidential Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2005) shows how the election and its consequences transformed America's constitutional structure; and my A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign (Free Press, 2007) supplies a detailed state-by-state analysis of the campaign itself. Although Sharp's book also reviews the rise of partisan politics during the 1790s, it devotes more attention than these other books to the balloting in Congress. Despite this focus on the contest in the House of Representatives between the two Republican candidates, which is reflected in the book's subtitle, Sharp advances a thesis that the election was uniquely bitter and divisive because each of the two major parries--the Federalists and the...

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