The significance of the 1800 election lay in the fact that it entailed the first peaceful transfer of power between parties under the U.S. Constitution: Republican Thomas Jefferson succeeded Federalist John Adams. This peaceful transfer occurred despite defects in the Constitution that caused a breakdown of the electoral system.
During the campaign, Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist, tainted by his sympathy for the increasingly bloody French Revolution. Republicans (1) criticized the Adams administration’s foreign, defense, and internal security policies; (2) opposed the Federalist naval buildup and the creation of a standing army under Alexander Hamilton; (3) sounded a call for freedom of speech, Republican editors having been targeted for prosecution under the Alien and Sedition Acts; and (4) denounced deficit spending by the federal government as a backhanded method of taxation without representation.
Unfortunately, the system still provided no separate votes for president and vice president, and Republican managers failed to deflect votes from their vice-presidential candidate, Aaron Burr. Therefore, Jefferson and Burr tied with 73 votes each; Adams received 65 votes, his vice-presidential candidate, Charles C. Pinckney, 64, and John Jay, 1. This result threw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state had one vote, to be decided by the majority of its delegation. Left to choose between Jefferson and Burr, most Federalists supported Burr. Burr for his part disclaimed any intention to run for the presidency, but he never withdrew, which would have ended the contest.
Although the Republicans in the same election had won a decisive majority of 65 to 39 in the House, election of the president fell to the outgoing House, which had a Federalist majority. But despite this majority, two state delegations split evenly, leading to another deadlock between Burr and Jefferson.
After the House cast 19 identical tie ballots on February 11, 1801, Governor James Monroe of Virginia assured Jefferson that if a usurpation was attempted, he would call the Virginia Assembly into session, implying that they would discard any such result. After six days of uncertainty, Federalists in the tied delegations of Vermont and Maryland abstained, electing Jefferson, but without giving him open Federalist support.