Thomas Jefferson Papers

Bill for Settling Disputed Presidential Elections, [1800]

Bill for Settling Disputed Presidential Elections


Whereas on an election of President or V. President of the US. questions may arise

whether an elector has been appointed in such manner as the
 legislature of his state may have

whether the time at which he was chosen, & the day on which he
 gave his vote, were those
 determined by Congress?

whether he were not at the time, a Senator or Representative of the
 US. or held an office of trust
 or profit under the US.?

whether one at least of the persons he has voted for is an inhabitant
 of a state other than his own?

whether the electors voted by ballot, & have signed certified & transmitted
 to the President of the
 Senate a list of all of the persons voted for, & of the number of votes
 for each?

whether the persons voted for are natural born citizens, or were citizens of the US. at the time of
 the adoption of the constitution, were 35 years old, & had been 14.
 years resident within the

And the constitution of the US. having directed that ‘the President of the Senate shall in the presence of the Senate & H. of Representatives, open all the certificates & that the votes shall then be counted.’ from which is most reasonably inferred that they are to be counted by the members composing the said houses & brought there for that office, no other being assigned them; & inferred the more reasonably, as thereby the constitutional weight of each state in the election of those high officers is exactly preserved in the tribunal which is to judge of it’s validity, the number of Senators & Representatives from each state composing the said tribunal being exactly that of the electors of the same state:

Be it therefore enacted &c [here insert the former clause.]

Provided that the certificate of the Executive of any state shall be conclusive evidence that the requisite number of votes has been given for each elector named by him as such. [here add all other limitations on the preceding questions which may be thought proper; stating what the two houses shall not decide.]

And be it further enacted that whensoever the vote of one or more of the electors of any state shall for any cause whatever be adjudged invalid, it shall be lawful for the Senators & Representatives of the said state, either in the presence of the two houses, or separately & withdrawn from them to decide by their own votes to which of the persons voted for by any of the electors of their state [or to what person] the invalid vote or votes shall be given; for which purpose they shall be allowed the term of [one hour] and no longer, during which no other certificate shall be opened or proceeded on.

MS (facsimile in New York World, 15 Aug. 1877); undated; entirely in TJ’s hand, including brackets, with closing bracket of first set supplied by the Editors. PrC (MHi).

In 1877 Sarah Nicholas Randolph, TJ’s great-granddaughter, found this manuscript in the papers of another of her great-grandfathers, Wilson Cary Nicholas, and had it photographed and published in the New York World. In a cover letter to the newspaper, she described Nicholas as TJ’s “intimate friend and his mouthpiece in Congress.” As a senator from Virginia in 1800, Nicholas used the first part of TJ’s document—that preceding be it therefore enacted— in his effort to modify James Ross’s election bill, the legislation which sought to give a committee consisting of six members from each house of Congress and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court the right to decide on disputed electors. On 24 Mch. Nicholas laid his amendment before the Senate (MS in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.; in Nicholas’s hand; endorsed by clerk: “Amendments to bill Supplemental to the act, entitled ‘An Act prescribing the mode of deciding disputed elections of President & V. Prest. March 24th. 1800’”). It gave all the senators and representatives present during the counting of the votes the power to decide on the qualification of electors instead of giving only the senators & representatives of the said state the decision-making power, as called for in TJ’s plan. Nicholas’s amendment was considered by the Senate on 25 Mch., printed, and ultimately defeated. While TJ informed Madison of Nicholas’s amendment to the Ross bill, he did not indicate his active interest in the measure (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:57–8; Vol. 31: 381–2, 455–6, 605).

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