This Day In History, February 17th, 2021 – “Jefferson and Burr”


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(Jefferson and Burr. Image courtesy of Wikicommons, Public Domain.)

It was just 220 years ago today, February 17, 1801, when the U.S. House of Representatives broke an electoral tie and pronounced Thomas Jefferson as our third President and his competitor, Aaron Burr, as the Vice-President. Now, truthfully, Aaron Burr was not Jefferson’s competitor, for both were members of the Democratic-Republican Party, and were racing against incumbent (already in office) President John Adams of the Federalist Party. Our elections were different back then. Each elector cast two votes, the person who would get the most was President, and the candidate that came in second was the Vice-President.

During the 1800 election, both Jefferson and Burr received 73 electoral votes, with Adams earning only 65. The big question, who decides the Presidency? At the time, the House of Representatives did, which was heavily controlled by Federalists, who chose Jefferson as the next President, thinking him the lesser of two evils, for Burr was thought a radical, though scandal and gossip spread that Jefferson had made a deal with Burr, become my Vice-President, and I’ll give you more powers. If this is confusing to you when comparing our modern-day politics, that’s because the 12th Amendment changed the process of electing the President and Vice-President, allowing only one vote by the electors for both President and Vice-President, thus insuring, for the most part, that President and Vice-President would at least think alike, for before this election, Adams was President, and Jefferson the Vice-President, which neither side saw eye-to-eye often. 220 years ago today, the 1800 Presidential Election was decided by the House of Representatives, and Thomas Jefferson became our third President.

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