The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790-1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response

By Harry Marlin Tinkcom | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIII
VICTORY AFFIRMED AND REAFFIRMED

THE DEFEAT of 1799 so disheartened the Federalists that they never recovered. Confused and dismayed, unable and seemingly unwilling to match the Republicans in appealing to the electorate and deprived of the French scare as an issue, they met serious reverses in the two following years. Their most stubborn resistance to the Republican tide came during the presidential election of 1800. The fight was not made at the polls, where their repudiation was unmistakable and emphatic, but in the upper house of the legislature. There a small majority of Senators prevented the selection of electors by an election at large, the method used on all previous occasions, and made it necessary for the legislature itself to choose them. In so doing, the lawmakers found themselves involved in a bitter contest that dragged on so long that the State just narrowly averted the loss of a voice in the presidential election. The battle well illustrated the intransigence of partisan groups in Pennsylvania and climaxed a struggle which had been steadily mounting in intensity since 1796.


PARTIES AND THE PRESIDENCY

Pennsylvania's role in the presidential contest of 1800 was begun in December, 1799, when the legislature divided on the old issue of election methodology. As a result of their recent successes, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives was convinced that an employment of the general-election method would enable them to choose either all or most of the fifteen electors to which the State was entitled. The Federalists, with a small but consistent majority in the Senate, apparently shared that conviction, for they held out stubbornly for a district election.

First to place itself on record, the Senate, by a vote of fourteen to nine on December 19, 1799, defeated a Republican motion to adopt an election law similar in basic essentials to the one used in 1796.1 Since that law had provided for a general election, the issue was clear. The fourteen-to-nine vote, incidentally, was a true indication of the relative strength of the two parties in the upper house, for it was repeated over and over again throughout the session.

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