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May 9th, 2019

In 1804, incumbent Thomas Jefferson was running for re-election. Like George Washington had done before him, Jefferson wanted to serve two terms. He had run in two previous elections, losing to John Adams in 1796 and then defeating Adams in a rematch in 1800, though almost losing that election to his running mate. Things were different for Jefferson in 1804. He was widely popular, in part because of the Louisiana Purchase, and also because the nation had a strong economy.

In early 1803, Jefferson offered the French Emperor Napoleon nearly $10 million for 40,000 square miles of frontier territory. Napoleon understood that French military control over such a vast remote territory was difficult and impractical, and he was in dire need of funds for his wars on the home front. In early April 1803, unexpectedly, he made a counter-offer to sell 827,987 square miles of French territory for $15 million. If accepted, this would double the size of the United States. U.S. negotiators James Monroe and Robert Livingston jumped at the opportunity and accepted the offer. They signed the treaty on April 30, 1803. Word of the unexpected purchase didn't reach Jefferson until July 3, 1803. He unknowingly had presided over an amazing acquisition. This was the most fertile tract of land of its size on Earth, and as a result, the United States would become self-sufficient in food and other resources.

Some in Jefferson's own party wondered if the Constitution allowed the federal government to buy this land, but most thought that this was an exceptional deal. Jefferson himself initially believed that he needed a Constitutional amendment to purchase and govern the new territory, but he later changed his mind, fearing that this would give his political opponents a reason to oppose the purchase. He pressed for a speedy debate and ratification. On October 20, 1803, the Senate ratified the purchase treaty by a vote of 24–7.

In his first term Jefferson had lowered the national debt through a series of moves that reduced the size of the federal government. He also pardoned several of those imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts, another popular move. Jefferson's successful first term gave support for his re-nomination for president by the Republican party. Vice-President Aaron Burr, who had attempted to steal the Presidency from Jefferson in 1800, was replaced with George Clinton as Jefferson's running mate.

The Federalist party ran Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, John Adams's vice presidential candidate in the 1800 election. Pinckney was a former ambassador and Revolutionary War hero. The presidential election of 1804 was held from Friday, November 2, to Wednesday, December 5, 1804. It was the first presidential election conducted following the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reformed procedures for electing presidents and vice presidents. No longer could a Vice-President win the Presidency if he received more electoral votes than his running mate.

In February of 1804, the Democratic-Republican congressional nominating caucus was held. Unlike the previous election, the nominating caucus did not meet in secret. Jefferson's re-nomination was never in any real doubt. The real issue was who the party would nominate to replace Vice President Aaron Burr, whose relationship with Jefferson had soured. Governor George Clinton of New York was chosen as Jefferson's running mate, continuing the party's tradition of nominating a ticket consisting of a Virginian and a New Yorker.

The Federalists did not hold a nominating caucus. Federalist Congressional leaders informally agreed to nominate a ticket of consisting of Pinckney of South Carolina and former Senator Rufus King of New York. Pinckney's service during and after the American Revolutionary War had won him national recognition. Federalists hoped that Pinckney would win some Southern votes away from Jefferson, who had dominated the Southern vote in the previous election.

Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton had died in July 1804 following the famous Burr–Hamilton duel. This left the Federalists leaderless and disorganized, The party failed to attract much support outside of New England. The Federalists attacked the Louisiana Purchase as unconstitutional. They also criticized Jefferson's gunboat navy. The campaign also got nasty when Federalists also alleged that Jefferson had fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemings. Decades later, this was proven true, but the tactic backfired at the time, and the Federalist party failed to gather sufficient opposition to Jefferson. Jefferson's policies of expansionism and reduced government spending were widely popular. Jefferson was helped by an effective Democratic-Republican party organization, which had built up since 1800, especially in the Federalist stronghold of New England. The Jefferson campaign also used the contemporary tactic of pro-Jefferson newspapers, which proved to be a very effective tactic. While the Federalists also used this tactic, the Republicans did it better.

Jefferson's won an overwhelming victory, winning fifteen of the seventeen states, including four of the five New England states. Pinckney won only two states, Connecticut and Delaware. This was the first election where the Democratic-Republicans won in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. This was the last time that Massachusetts voted for the Democratic-Republicans until 1820, and the last time that New Hampshire and Rhode Island voted for the Democratic-Republicans until 1816.

In states where actual votes were cast, Jefferson received 104,110 votes (72.8%) and Pinckney received 38,919 (27.2%). 11 of the 17 states chose electors by popular vote, while those states that did choose electors by popular vote had widely varying restrictions on who could vote depending on property ownership. In the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New York, South Carolina and Vermont, electors were chosen by the state legislator.

Jefferson's second term would be more trying than his first, with Jefferson experiencing frustration over the outcome of the Aaron Burr trial and the ineffective Embargo Act that sought to prohibit trade with European nations. But his Presidency began and continued a period of political dominance for his Republican Party and also began a period of decline for the Federalists.


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