Study Guide

Thomas Jefferson President Jefferson

President Jefferson

It's a great irony of history that Jefferson ended up owing his presidency to his greatest political rival. Jefferson's vice-presidential running mate in 1800 was the sordid Aaron Burr, an opportunist from New York. Because of poor planning by Republican electors and a quirk in the way the Electoral College worked at the time, Burr and Jefferson finished the presidential race in an exact tie. As a result, per the Constitution's instructions, it fell to the House of Representatives to decide the winner. Since the new Republican Congress had yet to take office the House was still controlled by the Federalists—who now had a great opportunity to make mischief. Although Jefferson was clearly intended to be the presidential candidate and Burr his vice-president, Federalist leaders thought of giving the presidency to Burr in exchange for special political favors. Hamilton was incensed. He may have opposed Jefferson, and hated Adams, but he loathed Burr. Hamilton judged Burr dishonest and untrustworthy. When he heard what his Federalist peers were planning, he campaigned vigorously for his old rival Thomas Jefferson, ensuring his selection. The whole episode left Jefferson deeply suspicious of Burr, who would play almost no role in Jefferson's administration—until, of course, he killed Alexander Hamilton in their infamous 1804 duel by pistols.

Although Jefferson arrived in office in 1801 preaching reconciliation, his political program was frankly partisan. Jefferson wanted nothing less than to dismantle the Federalists' government. He appointed his Republican protégés to cabinet posts, repealed the Federalists' 1801 Judiciary Act, freed those imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts, and dedicated the vast bulk of the government's revenues to paying down Hamilton's national debt.
His fight against the Federalists made Jefferson very popular. Many ordinary citizens saw the president as a man of the people, fighting against the aristocratic Federalists. They even sent him gifts to show their support. Famously, Massachusetts farmers sent Jefferson a massive 1235-pound wheel of Cheddar Cheese, which the president was fond of showing to foreign dignitaries.blank">Monticello. This time, he swore, he was going home for good. For once, he was right.

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