Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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Page 7

Thomas Jefferson


On the thirty-first of December, 1793, Mr. Jefferson tendered his resignation as secretary of state, and again retired to private life. The interval which elapsed between his resignation of the above office, and his being summoned again to the councils of the nation, he employed in a manner most delightful to himself, viz. in the education of his family, the management of his estate, and the pursuit of philosophical studies, to the latter of which, though long neglected, in his devotion to higher duties, he returned with renewed ardor.

The attachment of a large proportion of his fellow-citizens, which Mr. Jefferson carried with him into his seclusion, did not allow him long to enjoy the pleasures of a private life, to which he appears to have been sincerely devoted. General Washington had for some time determined upon a relinquishment of the presidential chair, and in his farewell address, in the month of September, 1796, announced that intention. This distinguished man, having thus withdrawn himself, the two political parties brought forward their respective candidates, Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson. On counting the votes in February, 1797, in the presence of both houses of congress, it was found that Mr. Adams was elected president, he having the highest number of votes, and Mr. Jefferson vice president, upon which respective offices they entered on the following fourth of March.

In the life of Mr. Adams, we had occasion to allude to the unsettled state of the country, and the general dissatisfaction with his administration, which prevailed. During this period, however, Mr. Jefferson resided chiefly at Monticello, pursuing the peaceful and noiseless occupations of private life. The time, at length, approached for a new election of president Mr. Jefferson was again proposed by the republican party as a candidate for that office. The candidate of the federal party was Mr. Burr.

On the eleventh of February, 1801, the votes were counted in the presence of both houses of congress, and the result declared by the vice president to be, for Thomas Jefferson seventy-three; for Aaron Burr seventy-three; John Adams sixty-five; C. C. Pinckney sixty-four; and John Jay one.

The vice president then, in pursuance of the duty enjoined upon him, declared that Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, having an equal number of votes, it remained for the house of representatives to determine the choice. Upon this, the two houses separated, "and the house of representatives returned to their chamber, where seats had been previously prepared for the members of the senate. A call of the members of the house, arranged according to states, was then made; upon which it appeared that every member was present, except General Sumpter, who was unwell, and unable to attend. Mr. Nicholson, of Maryland, was also unwell, but attended, and had a bed prepared for him in one of the committee rooms, to which place the ballot box was carried to him, by the tellers, appointed on the part of the state.

"The first ballot was eight states for Mr. Jefferson, six for Mr. Burr, and two divided; which result continued to be the same after balloting thirty-five times."

Thus stood affairs, after a long and even distressing contest, when a member of the house, (General Smith,) communicated to the house the following extract of a letter from Mr. Burr:

"It is highly improbable that I shall have an equal number of votes with Mr. Jefferson: but if such should be the result, every man who knows me, ought to know, that I would utterly disclaim all competition. Be assured that the federal party can entertain no wish for such an exchange.

"As to my friends, they would dishonour, my views, and insult my feelings, by a suspicion that I would submit to be instrumental in counteracting the wishes and expectations of the United States; and I now constitute you my proxy to declare these sentiments, if the occasion shall require."

This avowal of the wishes of Mr. Burr, induced two federal members to withdraw; in consequence of which, on the thirty-sixth balloting, Mr. Jefferson was elected president. Colonel Burr, by the provision of the constitution, became, of course, vice president.

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Last modified January 2, 2004