Election of 1804: The Rise of the Democratic Republicans and the Fall of the Federalists

Democratic-Republican: Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) and George Clinton (New York)
Federalist: Charles C. Pinckney (South Carolina) and Rufus King (New York)

Election Results:
Jefferson and Clinton: 162 electoral votes.
Pinckney and King: 14 electoral votes.

Thomas Jefferson, as a statesman, scholar, and president, was a man of contradictions. The most overexposed of these is that while he argued for the freedom of all men in the Constitution, he had slaves and had an affair with one slave, Sally Hemings. However, this was not unusual for men of this age and it should be taken into historical context as a matter of course for men with power. The more compelling paradoxes include his love of small government (the “yeoman farmer” ideal) but his use of the federal government to more than double the nation’s size in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. This also pitted his budget frugal ways with his sense that expanding the federal budget would expand the nation’s rural ideal for generations to come. At the end of four years, the Jefferson administration had still cut down on the federal budget, lowered taxes, and kept the nation strong despite partisan bickering. The Democratic-Republicans, in the first congressional nominating caucus, chose to support Thomas Jefferson and George Clinton at the top of their ticket.

The Federalists were the opposition party only because no other party developed to challenge the Democratic-Republicans. The base of Federalist support was almost entirely in the New England states, with pockets in the mid-Atlantic states, and this support began to dwindle over the next decade. Many outside of the region were turned off by the actions of Aaron Burr, who ran for governor of New York in 1804 against Vice President George Clinton. Burr’s campaign was derailed both by the involvement of Alexander Hamilton on behalf of Clinton and his association with the group Essex Junto, which favored secession of the New England states from the United States. The Federalists were far too disorganized to put together a formal caucus and gave tacit approval to the campaign of Charles Pinckney and Rufus King.

The Federalist campaign consisted of attacking the very points that the Jeffersonians were championing: lowered taxes, the squandered funds on the Louisiana Purchase, the decreased federal budget, and Jefferson’s attempts to court the Southern states with political favors. The Federalists also appealed to the American public that Jefferson himself had to reckon with the constitutional issues of the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson responded that the Federalists were miserly and were “prigocrats,” a reference to their inability to listen to populist forces outside New England. The Democratic-Republicans were also eager to point out that all of the arguments made against them by the Federalists are what made them popular among their constituents. This was made apparent by the near electoral sweep made by Jefferson and Clinton. The only Federalist victories were in Connecticut and Delaware while the Democratic-Republicans were able to lock up the remaining votes. Thomas Jefferson received the outstanding support of the American public that he felt his administration deserved.

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