How Revolutionary Was the Revolution of 1800?

The Revolution of 1800 was a peaceful transition that marked the first time power changed from one party to another in an American presidential and congressional election. The most common definition of revolution involves the element of violence. An alternative definition, however, simply implies a radical change of government. Whether or not the so-called Revolution of 1800 was revolutionary is a matter of which definition of revolution is considered.

Prior to 1800, there was no distinction between president and vice president on the ballot. The winner typically became president and the runner-up vice president. This meant that in the event of a tie, which is what happened in the election of 1800, the Congress had to vote in a tie-breaking decision. The duty of breaking the tie, however, added insult to injury because the incumbent Federalist majority Congress had just been upset by a Democratic-Republican sweep of Congressional elections. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr also ran on the Democratic-Republican ticket, but the newly elected representatives had not yet taken office. This meant that the majority of the members of Congress were charged with breaking a tie between members of the opposing party. Congress was deadlocked in its decision after several votes. Finally, Alexander Hamilton, who infamously detested Aaron Burr for both political and personal reasons, cast his vote in favor of Jefferson. The election marked the first time there was a complete turnover of the party in power. Jefferson dubbing it a "revolution" was more a reference to change in American ideology.