On February 17 1801, the House broke an Electoral College stalemate to elect Thomas Jefferson of Virginia as the nation’s third president. Jefferson’s hard-won victory served as the climax to one of the most rancorous presidential campaigns in U.S. history and resolved a constitutional crisis.
The 1800 election pitted Jefferson, running as a Democratic-Republican, against the incumbent president, John Adams of Massachusetts, who was seeking a second term. Jefferson carried ei…ght states, to Adams’s seven. The challenger won 61.4 percent of the popular vote against 38.6 percent for Adams.
When the presidential electors cast their ballots, however, they failed to distinguish between the office of president and vice president. Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, each received 73 votes. The tie threw the election into the House, as then required by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.
Each of the 15 states voted as a single unit in the Federalist-dominated Congress. For six days, Jefferson and Burr essentially ran against one another. Over 30 ballots, neither candidate could muster the needed nine-state majority. Finally, Delaware’s lone representative, James Bayard, fearing for the future of the Union, let it be known that he was ready to break the impasse. On the 36th ballot, Bayard and other Federalists from South Carolina, Maryland and Vermont cast blank ballots, ending the deadlock and giving Jefferson the support of 10 states — enough to win.
To make sure this didn’t happen again, after 1804 electors were required to make discrete choices between president and vice president — as provided for by the 12th Amendment to the Constitution.
Jefferson was inaugurated on March 4, 1801.