The Election of 1800: Jefferson vs. Adams

Teacher Guide By Richard Cleggett

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Election of 1800 Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Election of 1800 Include:

With the first term of President John Adams coming to an end, the United States found itself divided between the incumbent Federalist president, and the challenging Democratic-Republican, Thomas Jefferson. Political factions in the new country were still strong and they campaigned hard and strategically for their candidates in the election of 1800.

The Election of 1800 Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Character Map: Candidates of the Election of 1800

Have students create a character map to identify, and examine each candidate that participated in the election of 1800. Students will be able to identify and explain who each candidate was, including their party affiliation, history, and how they fared in the election. Students will build off of these basic characterizations to explore more in-depth content later on.

Candidates of the Election of 1800

Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson was a Founding Father who believed strongly in individual and states' rights. He previously served as John Adam's Vice President during his term. Jefferson won the Election of 1800. He received 73 electoral votes, but the tie with Burr was broken by the House of Representatives.
Aaron Burr Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr had served in several armies during the Revolution, and made his political career serving New York as both Attorney General and Senator for one term. He would go on to kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Burr ran on the Democratic-Republican ticket alongside Jefferson. Since there were no separate Vice President and President elections, he tied Jefferson's 73 electoral votes, only to be defeated by a tie-breaking vote.
Alexander Hamilton Federalist An immigrant from the West Indies, Alexander Hamilton guided many negotiations during America's first few rocky years. He served as the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury, helping found the National Bank. Although Hamilton did not run as a presidential candidate, he certainly influenced the election's outcome. Fervently against Burr, Hamilton helped swing Federalist votes to Jefferson, helping him win the presidency in 1800.
John Adams Federalist A central figure of the Revolution, Adams entered the election of 1800 as the Federalist incumbent candidate. However, during his presidency, he lost much support, due to several factors. Adams lost the election, with his 64 electoral votes coming in second to Jefferson and Burr's 73. However, the transfer of power between the two parties exemplified the potential of America's newly-formed democratic government.
Charles Pinckney Federalist Charles Pinckney ran on Adams' Federalist ticket. Previously, he had served as Minister to France, and was a well-known politician, hailing from South Carolina. Running with Adams, Pinckney earned 64 electoral votes. This was not enough, and Pinckney would go on to run again in the election of 1804.
John Jay Federalist John Jay had a substantial career in government. Jay was the first Chief Justice of the United States and Secretary of State under Washington. At the time of the election, he was Governor of New York. Ironically enough, John Jay did not even consider himself a candidate in the election of 1800, however, he did receive one electoral vote. Jay had an active political career, but his presence was little felt in the presidential election.

Extended Activity

Have students create a character map of another presidential election. Students should include the same topics, including party affiliation, ideas, etc. This will allow students and teachers alike to compare with the election of 1800, and demonstrate its particular significance.

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5 Ws of the Election of 1800

Using a spider map, students will outline the election of 1800 by examining the 5 Ws of the election. By researching these basic subjects, students will gain a general understanding of the candidates and their political beliefs, allies, and party affiliation. Students will be able to explain and analyze these basic subjects, apply them to their understanding of the electoral process, and describe how this process unfolded in the 1800 elections.

Example Election of 1800 5 Ws

WHO was involved in the Election in 1800?

There were five candidates receiving electoral votes in the election. Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia; John Adams, of Massachusetts; Aaron Burr, of New York; Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina; and John Jay, also of Virginia. Jefferson initially tied Aaron Burr, at 73 electoral votes each, before winning in a House of Representatives vote.

WHAT was the political significance of the Election in 1800?

The election of 1800 was significant for several reasons. For one, it was a major, peaceful transfer of power between two different political factions. In addition, the election exposed serious flaws in the electoral system, and because of it, issues were addressed by the ratification of the 12th amendment.

WHERE did the Election of 1800 occur?

Voting took place across the then very young United States. Kentucky and Tennessee had been admitted to the Union, and people out west were now participating in politics. The eventual count, and tie breaking vote, happened in Washington, D.C. where Jefferson also accepted his nomination.

WHEN did the Election of 1800 occur?

The election of 1800 of course occurred throughout the year of 1800. Elections were conducted in 1800, and after the initial count on February 11th, Jefferson won the tie break on February 17th, 1801. The election also served as a rematch of the presidential election in 1796, pitting Adams against Jefferson.

WHY was the Election of 1800 important?

The Election of 1800 is important for many reasons. The election itself was heated, and even ended in a tie. Because of this, for the first time, deciding the president fell to the House of Representatives. Because of political allegiances and strife, Jefferson was voted president. The election served as a stride towards true republican democracy.

Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map on the 5 Ws of another election. Make sure to include the candidates, their political affiliation, and the results of the election. Compare and contrast both elections to generate discussion and debate.

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Comparative Grid: Federalists vs. Democratic-Republicans

To analyze and compare the two political factions involved in the election of 1800, have students use a grid storyboard to outline each party’s viewpoints. Students will be able to compare, analyze, and synthesize what ideas and ideologies defined each political party, and further understand why the election of 1800 is a “revolutionary” transfer of power. Examining the differences between each will deepen discussion on why a transfer of power with no violence or bloodshed was considered revolutionary.

Federalists Democratic-Republicans
Political Ideology Federalists held a strong political viewpoint on how government should be operated. They remained loyal to ideas of peaceful elections, protection of wealth, healthy foreign relations, implied powers, and institutions like a national bank. Federalists appealed greatly to businessmen and bankers, who believed and practiced their economic visions. Democratic-Republicans believed strongly in individual rights, states rights, and a weaker central government. Their ideas centered around expansive ideas of liberty, equality, and democracy. In addition, they favored strong ideas of republicanism, fearing the U.S. would fall to elitist, monarchical powers held in the opposing Federalist Party.
Power of Government Federalists were very pro-administrative government. In essence, they favored a strong, national government that could aid and guide the country. They believed in the implied powers of the Constitution, and that the federal government should do whatever necessary to operate the nation. These ideas were very much defined throughout Adam's presidency. Democratic-Republicans were extremely anti-administration when it came to the federal government. They supported ideas of republicanism, and were strongly opposed to anything like tyrannical or monarchical rule. They supported states' rights over the federal government's, and believed that states had the right to oppose federal law when deemed oppressive.
Who’s Who The Federalist Party was led by John Adams, who would serve as the party's only president, and Alexander Hamilton, who would serve the country as Secretary of the Treasury. Other notable figures include Charles Pinckney, John Jay, and DeWitt Clinton. Many Federalists, however, would change loyalties after their demise in 1800. The major leader of the Democratic-Republicans was Thomas Jefferson. The party's beginnings are often referred to as the "Jeffersonian Democrats". Other prominent members include James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and eventually, President Andrew Jackson.
Results in Election of 1800 The Federalists fared poorly in the election of 1800. Adams came away with 65 electoral votes, his running mate Pinckney, 64, and John Jay with just 1. The election would prove to be the nail in the coffin for the party, as they began to be opposed by farmers and westerners because the party was seen as catering to the elite. The Democratic-Republicans, or simply the Republicans, won the election of 1800. Candidates Jefferson and Burr, who finished with 73 electoral votes and were both Republicans, had to have a tie breaking vote decide the presidency from the House of Representatives. Jefferson walked away with the victory, and Burr became Vice President.

Extended Activity

Have students identify and compare political parties today. Outline and define the ideas and viewpoints of Democrats and Republicans to identify their differences and analyze what makes them different in a grid. This will also aid connections between modern politics and the election of 1800, as well as offering an opportunity to compare and contrast the parties of today with those of 1800.

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Key Terms of Government: Understanding the Electoral Process

To better understand terminology used in describing and explaining government and the electoral process, have students create a spider map of the overall process. By identifying and defining key terms often used in describing this process, students will be able to better explain and connect the terms to the historical context of the election of 1800. Furthermore, students will be able to apply such terminology to future lessons that have political components.

Example Terms for the Electoral Process

Political Party A "political party" is a coalition of politicians and voters who share the same ideas, ideologies, and visions of government. A party can be very diverse, or specific to certain issues. In America there are usually two political parties opposing each other.
Electoral College The Electoral College is the group of electors selected by states to cast their vote for both the president and vice president. The number of electors for each state is based of the number of representatives the state has in Congress. Electors usually base their vote on the result of the popular vote.
Federal vs. State The term "Federal" refers to the national government, or administrative government over the entirety of the nation. "State" governments refer to each individual state's construct of laws and government, which can vary. Federal vs. State law is a constant debate.
House of Representatives The House of Representatives is the legislative body that serves in Congress, alongside the Senate. The elected leaders of the House hail from their respective states, and their numbers are based off that state's population. Members of the House had to break the tie in the election of 1800 after 36 ballots.
Incumbent An "incumbent" is a political candidate who was currently in office, and running again for the same position. In the election of 1800, John Adams, the serving president, was the incumbent. Jefferson was his main challenger.
Popular Vote The popular vote refers to the actual population's votes for candidates. The popular vote, however, does not elect the president. It is simply reflective of the population, yet does (usually) direct the electoral college's vote.

Extended Activity

Have students select five more terms related to the political process and make a separate spider map. This will expand student vocabulary, and their understanding of political terminology. Furthermore, it will strengthen their understanding of the political process in a historical context.

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Timeline: Major Events of the Election of 1800

Have students create a timeline of major events relating to the election of 1800. Students should identify key moments in the political process and events surrounding the election itself (for instance, the ratification of the 12th amendment). Students will be able to identify and explain the major events that defined the election of 1800, providing a solid foundation of historical context for the election.

Example Election of 1800 Timeline

1796 - Adam Wins Presidency

John Adams wins the presidency of 1796. A leader of the Federalist party, Adams is the first president elected after the tenure of George Washington. His ideas on a strong federal government and nationalized banking prove unpopular.

1798 - Alien and Sedition Acts

Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts. These acts made attaining citizenship more difficult, and acted as measures to prevent subversive factions. It also restricted speech against the Federalist government. They targeted Republican supporters.

1800 - Election of 1800

In the much anticipated election, pitting Adams against Jefferson once again, the potential of power being transferred to another party became reality. Coming off the coattails of unpopular actions, the Federalist party was weakened. Jefferson won with 73 electoral votes.

1800 - Vote Goes to the House

Not only does Jefferson score 73 electoral votes, but so does his running mate and fellow Democratic-Republican, Aaron Burr. The vote then was decided in the House of Representatives. Finally, Jefferson was elected on the 36th vote.

1801 - Jefferson Wins the Presidency

On February 17th, 1801, Jefferson was officially declared president after securing the House vote. Hamilton, a Federalist, was key in his victory. Despising Burr, Hamilton convinced other congressional members Jefferson was the safer choice. It worked. Jefferson was elected.

1804 - Ratification of the 12th Amendment

The election of 1800 exposed flaws in the voting system. Party members ran on the same ticket as each other, yet electors cast two votes for president. This proved problematic. With the 12th amendment, electors now had to cast separate votes, one for president, and one for vice president.

Extended Activity

Have students create a timeline of events leading to another electoral result, whether it be in national, state, or local politics. This will allow students to gain better context for how events and ideas can shape and change an election. Furthermore, it will allow for historical comparisons between their selected election and the election of 1800.

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Thomas Jefferson Presidency

Using a traditional storyboard, have students outline and explain the major policies and actions of Jefferson as president. Cover subjects like domestic policy, foreign policy, interpretation of the constitution, criticisms, and proponents’ and opponents’ viewpoints. Teachers may select any subject or thematic ideas they want their students to concentrate on. Students will be able to extend their research and knowledge beyond the election of 1800, examining what Jefferson actually did as president upon winning the position. They will also be able to analyze and explain the implications of the election of 1800, and how it further shaped history.

Major Policies of Thomas Jefferson

States’ Rights Jefferson believed that state and individual rights should be upheld. He repeatedly reduced the size of the federal government, again exemplifying his belief in state and individual rights. Under Jefferson, property ownership as a qualification to vote was eradicated, allowing more ordinary citizens to vote.
Interpreting the Constitution As president, Jefferson held to a "strict construction" view of the Constitution. This meant he believed, and conducted his duties, based off the actual, verbatim meaning of the document. He rejected the idea of implied powers. This viewpoint would prove controversial in his purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803.
Louisiana Purchase Although controversial, Jefferson signed off on the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 between the U.S. and France. As Napoleon waged war in Europe, he no longer saw the need for the territory and needed funds. Jefferson, sending an emissary to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans, quickly jumped at the offer of the whole thing. It was bought for $15 million.
Foreign Policy Jefferson took many controversial measures in his foreign policy. For one, he embargoed trade against the French and British, severely damaging the economy. Furthermore, he made the largest land acquisition in U.S. history, buying Louisiana from France in 1803. Jefferson also aided the rebellion on Saint Domingue, helping them achieve independence.
Domestic Policy Domestically, Jefferson remained true to his party's republicanism ideals. He reduced government greatly, cutting taxes and the national debt. Jefferson helped establish a military academy to produce soldiers, in addition to arming ports with gunboats. Jefferson also helped initiate the Lewis and Clark expeditions to explore the Louisiana Purchase.
Embargo Act of 1807 In an effort to promote domestic production and trade, Jefferson signed the Embargo Act of 1807, effectively cutting off trade with Great Britain and France. Although his hopes were high for an increased self-reliance, Jefferson hurt trade and the overall economic landscape, in particular merchants and businessmen. The act was repealed a few years later.

Extended Activity

Have students create a traditional storyboard outlining the winner’s ideas and actions in whichever election they had previously researched and/or compared to the election of 1800. Have students compare and contrast each candidate's policies and ideas, and how it too had historical implications.

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Preface to the 1800 Election

The election of 1800, sometimes referred to as the “Revolution of 1800”, was the presidential election between Federalist Party candidate John Adams, Democratic-Republican Party candidate Thomas Jefferson, and his running mate Aaron Burr. This election served as the first instance of peaceful transfer of power from one party to the other, and therefore is seen as a “revolution” without bloodshed or violence to mar the transfer of power.

The election also exposed the need to separate electoral votes cast for the President and Vice President. The issue came to light when both Jefferson and Burr finished the election with 73 electoral votes. Ultimately, the power lay in the lame-duck Federalist House of Representatives, and after 35 unsuccessful ballots, Jefferson was chosen as president, in February of 1801.

The election also highlighted the many differences still extant from the revolutionary factions, and how democracy in motion would shape the future of power in the United States. Jefferson would play to the common man, and his presidency would evince this. However, controversy, factions, allegiance, and ideas of constitutional interpretation define this monumental, but rocky, presidential election.

With activities from this teacher guide, students will be able to explain and analyze who each candidate was, and their ideas on government and power. Furthermore, students will be able to analyze and discuss the significance of power being transferred between two different political parties without violence. By examining the candidates, their ideas on government, and Jefferson’s presidency (with its controversies), students will gain a broad perspective on an election that strongly shaped politics in the United States for years to come.

Essential Questions for The Election of 1800: Jefferson vs. Adams

  1. Who were the major candidates and parties in the election of 1800?
  2. What major ideas did each candidate have on government? How did they interpret the newly created Constitution?
  3. What controversies existed within the election of 1800? How were these issues dealt with in succeeding elections and laws?
  4. Why can we consider the election of 1800 a “revolution”? How does it differ from previous transfer of power across the world, and set the future political stage in America?
  5. What actions and events defined the presidency of Thomas Jefferson? How are his viewpoints on government exemplified, and how did he go against his principles?

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