Alexander Hamilton Papers
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From Alexander Hamilton to Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 16 December 1800

To Oliver Wolcott, Junior1

New York Decr. 16. 1800

It is now, my Dear Sir, ascertained that Jefferson or Burr will be President and it seems probable that they will come with equal votes to the House of Representatives. It is also circulated here that in this event the Fœderalists in Congress or some of them talk of preferring Burr. I trust New England at least will not so far lose its head as to fall into this snare. There is no doubt but that upon every virtuous and prudent calculation Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man and he has pretensions to character.

As to Burr there is nothing in his favour. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption2 except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandisement per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure to himself permanent power and with it wealth. He is truly the Cataline of America—& if I may credit Major Wilcocks,3 he has held very vindictive language respecting his opponents.

But early measures must be taken to fix on this point the opinions of the Fœderalists. Among them, from different motives—Burr will find partisans. If the thing be neglected he may possibly go far.

Yet it may be well enough to throw out a lure for him, in order to tempt him to start for the plate & thus lay the foundation of dissention between the two chiefs.

You may communicate this letter to Marshall4 & Sedgwick.

Let me hear speedily from you in reply.

Yrs. Affectly

A Hamilton

Ol Wolcott Esq

ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1For information concerning the presidential campaign of 1800, see the introductory note to H to Theodore Sedgwick, May 4, 1800.

By mid-December, 1800, it was generally believed that Jefferson and Burr had each received seventy-three electoral votes (James Gunn to H, December 13, 1800). These results became official on February 11, 1801, when the electoral ballots were counted at a joint session of Congress held in the Senate chamber (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , X, 1022–24). On the same day “… the House of Representatives … proceeded in the manner prescribed under the Constitution, to the choice of a President of the United States” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , X, 1024). The Constitution provides: “… in chusing the President, the Votes [in the House] shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote;… and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice.” In 1800 there were sixteen states, and nine votes constituted a majority.

From February 11 to February 17 the House devoted itself exclusively to the business of electing a President. On thirty-five consecutive ballots Jefferson received eight votes (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee), Burr six votes (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, South Carolina), with two states (Vermont and Maryland) voting for neither Jefferson nor Burr because in each case their representatives were evenly divided between the two candidates (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , X, 1024–33).

On February 17, on the thirty-sixth ballot, Jefferson was elected President by a vote of ten (Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee) to four for Burr (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut), with two states (Delaware and South Carolina) casting blank ballots. Jefferson’s victory was made possible by the refusal of some Federalists to continue to vote for Burr while at the same time refraining from voting for Jefferson. The shift in Federalists votes thus accounts for the blank ballots cast by Delaware and South Carolina. In addition, the fact that the Federalist representatives from Vermont and Maryland cast blank votes on the thirty-sixth ballot broke the tie in both states and shifted them to the list of states voting for Jefferson (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , X, 1028–33).

In addition to the letter printed above, H wrote to several other Federalists urging them to support Jefferson rather than Burr for the presidency. See H to Sedgwick, December 22, 1800, January 21, 1801; H to Harrison Gray Otis, December 23, 1800; H to Gouverneur Morris, December 24, 26, 1800, January 9, 13, 1801; H to James A. Bayard, December 27, 1800, January 16, 1801; H to James Ross, December 29, 1800; H to Wolcott, December, 1800; H to John Rutledge, Jr., January 4, 1801.

For Federalist support of Burr for the presidency, see the series of articles signed by “Epaminondas” ([Georgetown] Washington Federalist, January 15, 16, 21, 23, 1801).

3William Willcocks.

4John Marshall.

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