Parties and Platforms


What role did political parties play in the elections of 1796 and 1800?

The development of political parties accidentally resulted in the election outcomes of 1796 and 1800. Under the framers’ method of electing a president (described in Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution), each elector cast two votes without indicating which vote was for the president and which vote was for the vice president. As a result, a number of mishaps could occur. For example, in the election of 1796, this system produced a president from one party (Federalist John Adams) and a vice president from another party (Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republicans). In the presidential election of 1800, the electors of the Democratic-Republican Party gave Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who were both of that same party, an equal number (seventy-three) of electoral votes. Because the votes were tied, the election was thrown to the House of Representatives, where each state voted as a unit to decide the outcome of the election. Since the Federalist-dominated House consistently divided its votes between the two men, the deadlock wasn’t broken until the thirty-sixth ballot, when Jefferson gained the majority of necessary votes to claim presidential victory. The final results were ten states in favor of Jefferson, and four in favor of Burr. To prevent tie votes in the electoral college that were made probable by the rise of political parties, in 1804 Congress and the states adopted the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that electors “name in their ballots the person voted for as president, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as vice president.”


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