The first decade of the nineteenth century marked the Jeffersonian Revolution. Jefferson’s vision of limited government dominated the American landscape for the next half century. At the same time, Britain and France continued their death struggle. The Napoleonic Wars impacted the young American nation leading President Jefferson to boycott Europe. Despite the political realignment, Jeffersonian America remained splintered politically. The following are the top 10 historical events of the 1800s decade.
The 1800 Presidential Election (1800-01): The 1800 election began the Federalist collapse and marked the rise of the Democratic Party. Vice President Thomas Jefferson challenged President John Adams for the White House. The election morphed into a dirty mudslinging match. The Federalists used the Alien and Sedition Acts to silence dissent. They also accused Jefferson of being a bloodthirsty god-less Jacobin. The Democratic-Republicans railed against the Alien and Sedition Acts and Adams defense buildup in the face of French attacks on American shipping. They also accused Adams of being monarchical.
Adams lost the election, but Jefferson did not win outright. A Constitutional oversight allowed Jefferson’s running mate, Aaron Burr, to tie for the presidency in the Electoral College. As a result, the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives decided the election. Burr refused to step aside resulting in a political crisis. The Democrats believed the Federalists were angling to steal the presidency in the House and began arming for civil war. In the end, Alexander Hamilton stepped in and supported Jefferson. The Federalists fell into line behind their leader and Jefferson won the election. Ironically, Jefferson and Hamilton were bitter enemies, but Hamilton felt Burr a threat to the Republic.
Marbury v Madison (1803): John Adams made a number of appointments as he was leaving office. He nominated William Marbury as Justice of the Peace for Washington D.C., but the commission did not arrive before Adams term expired. The Jefferson Administration refused to honor it resulting in a lawsuit. The case landed before the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled Marbury was entitled to the position, but Secretary of State James Madison did not have to honor the appointment. In the end, the case established the Supreme Court’s right to judicial review.
The Louisiana Purchase (1803): Napoleon needed cash for his military machine. His forces conquered Spain and confiscated the Louisiana Territory. France approached Jefferson with the offer to sell the territory at a bargain rate. Jefferson jumped at the opportunity. Louisiana could provide land for the rapidly expanding American population, help create Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian society, and the purchase would keep Napoleon out of the New World. America paid $15 million, or 3 cents an acre, for the territory.
Decatur's raid (1804): The Barbary States of North Africa engaged in piracy in order to fill the government coffers. In 1801, the U.S. decided against paying tribute to pirates and launched the First Barbary War. In 1803, the pirates captured the USS Philadelphia and imprisoned the crew. Naval officer Stephen Decatur launched a daring raid to deny the Barbary States use of the ship. His force landed, burnt the warship, and escaped without a single casualty. The assault made Decatur an international hero and reinvigorated the war effort.
Lewis and Clark depart (May 14, 1804): Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Louisiana Territory. In particular, he tasked the explorers with mapping the region, making scientific observations, cataloging new species of plant and animals, and making contact with the native peoples. They returned on September 23, 1806 after traveling from St. Louis to Washington and back. The expedition created 140 new maps, documented over 200 plants and animals, and explored thousands of miles of wilderness.
Burr-Hamilton duel (July 11, 1804): Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr became bitter enemies following the 1800 Presidential Election. Hamilton’s support for Jefferson swung the election and made Burr a pariah within the administration. Earlier, the two clashed over the New York Senate seat. From 1801-04, Hamilton attacked Burr with his pen. Finally, Burr demanded satisfaction and the pair met for a duel. Burr shot and killed Hamilton. Jefferson replaced Burr on the ticket, the former vice president was acquitted of murder, and later committed treason.
The Chesapeake- Leopold Affair (June 22, 1807): The HMS Leopold opened fire on the USS Chesapeake off the coast of Virginia. The British demanded the American vessel allow a search for deserters. The American captain refused leading to a brief exchange of fire. Captain James Barron surrendered his vessel to the aggressors and allowed the search. The British kidnapped four Americans and hanged one for desertion. The navy court martial relieved Barron of duty. Many Americans demanded war after the event, but President Jefferson demurred and decided to use economic coercion.
The Embargo Act (December 22, 1807): Jefferson wished to avoid war. However, the British and French made it increasingly difficult. Both countries attacked American shipping. In June, the HMS Leopold illegally boarded the USS Chesapeake and kidnapped four sailors. In response, Jefferson decided to use American economic power. He declared an absolute embargo on the powers. He believed Europe needed American goods, but was wrong. Instead, the act encouraged widespread smuggling, exploitation of loopholes, and caused an economic depression. Meanwhile, it had no effect on Europe. The Embargo Act was one of the biggest mistakes in American history.
Burr Conspiracy Trial (1807): Former Vice President Aaron Burr conspired to create a new nation out of the Louisiana Territory and Mexico. He planned to incite war with Spain and then use it as a pretext to seize the land. President Jefferson discovered Burr’s treachery and the administration charged the former vice president with treason. During the trial, Chief Justice Marshall subpoenaed Jefferson to testify, but the president claimed executive privilege. Jefferson’s lack of cooperation led to Burr’s escape. Marshall decided that since the country was not at war, Burr’s actions did not constitute treason. He ruled that treason was an overt act and Burr’s declared intent to break the country apart was not overt because he had not acted on the desire.
Slave Trade ends in US (1808): The U.S. Constitution required an end to the slave trade by 1808. Congress complied with the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves in 1807. It went into effect the following year. Many of the founding fathers hoped the act would lead to slavery’s death. However, the native born population proved self-sustaining and multiplied while the cotton gin created an economic incentive for the institution’s perpetuation.