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Jefferson re-elected (1804)

Jefferson scored an impressive electoral triumph in 1804. His popularity helped kill the Federalist Party.

Voters began souring on the Federalist Party at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Thomas Jefferson won the 1800 presidential election while his party swept congress. The Federalist demise continued with the 1804 presidential and congressional elections. Jefferson’s successful first term and Federalist unpopularity led to a rout. Jefferson won a smashing victory over his opponent and his party added to their already impressive margins in congress.

Napoleon Bonaparte guaranteed Jefferson’s re-election. The Grand Armee’s dramatic battlefield victories temporarily silenced European battlefields. This freed up the oceans for trade and America’s economy boomed. Meanwhile, Napoleon needed money for his war machine. As a result, he sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States at a bargain rate. Americans enjoyed the economic prosperity and highly approved of the Louisiana Purchase. They also embraced the spirit of exploration when Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to reconnoiter the new region.

The incumbent president easily secured the Democratic-Republican party’s nomination. They chose New York Governor George Clinton as his running mate. 1804 marked the first election following the ratification of the twelfth amendment. Jefferson and Clinton ran in tandem as opposed to separately. In 1800, Jefferson tied his running mate in the Electoral College leading to a constitutional crisis when Aaron Burr refused to step aside. The Federalists chose Revolutionary War hero and U.S. Minister to France Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as their standard bearer. They hoped the war hero and South Carolina native would contrast well to Jefferson. During the war, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, but served an unremarkable term as Virginia governor. Senator Rufus King was Pinckney’s running mate.

The Federalists attacked Jefferson as an atheist and dangerous radical, but their efforts failed. The president had established a superb record in office. His popularity crested with the election. On top of this, the opposition party did not organize as well as the Democrats. People viewed the Federalists as monarchists, elitists, and out of touch. Jeffersonian campaign propaganda reinforced this view. Plus, the party was basically leaderless. Washington died, Adams retired, and Hamilton was killed in a duel earlier in the year. In the end, Jefferson won re-election handily with 15 states and 162 Electoral Votes. Pinkney won only two states and 14 Electoral Votes.

Jefferson’s popularity helped the Democrats add 11 seats to their margin in the House of Representatives. They controlled 114 of 142 seats, or 80%, following the election. Although they lost a seat in Delaware and Pennsylvania, these were offset with gains elsewhere. The Jeffersonians gained three seats in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia each. They added two in Pinckney’s South Carolina, and one in three other states. By 1805, the Federalists were essentially a regional party based in New England.

The Federalists also lost in the senate. The Democrats added two seats to increase their margin to 27-7. They controlled 79% of the seats in the upper chamber. The ruling party picked off seats in New Hampshire and New Jersey to increase their margins. On a side note, Henry Clay joined the institution in December 1806. He would have a long congressional career that lasted until 1850.

Thomas Jefferson’s successes put the Federalist Party on life support. The Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark, and the economy all benefited his party. Meanwhile, Democratic campaign spin portrayed the Federalists as elitists and undemocratic. This spin became reality in voters’ minds. On top of this, major Federalist figures had left the political scene by the fall of 1804. As a result, the Democratic-Republicans worldview came to dominate the country for a half century.

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