ON ANY SHORT LIST of pivotal moments in American history, the election of 1800 will always have a central place. The winner, Thomas Jefferson, called it the Revolution of 1800. Not all historians have shared his judgment, but the more we learn about this event, the more revolutionary it appears.
Jefferson believed that it was mainly a “revolution in the principles of our government, ” and truly it was so. The campaign of 1800 was a collision of three republican ideas: the oligarchic republic of Alexander Hamilton and the High Federalists, the balanced republic of John Adams (a balance between the few and the many), and the representative republic of Jefferson and Madison (in our terms, a democratic republic). Ironically, the tribunes of the democratic republic in 1800 were rich and well-born men of greater wealth than Adams and Hamilton. That would be so in many American generations.
The election of 1800 was also part of a structural revolution in American politics. The victorious party led a process of democratization in the abolition of property qualifications, the formation of closer ties between representatives and constituents, the development of party organization, and the growth of popular campaigning.
In all of these ways, the election of 1800 was not merely a revolution in political principles but also a deep change from one historical process to the next. During the decade of the 1790s, the American system had