Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Election of 1800: Teaching about a Critical Moment in the History of American Constitutional Democracy

The Election of 1800: Teaching about a Critical Moment in the History of American Constitutional Democracy. This is an essay which looks at the U.S. Presidential election of 1800. It argues that the peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another helped established the lasting constitutional democracy in America.

From the site:

As America approaches its 54th presidential election in 2000, we take it for granted that the candidate who wins that election -- no matter how partisan or contested it might be -- will become the 43rd President of the United States following a peaceful transfer of power in a familiar ceremony. Indeed, this sense of inevitability is clear evidence of the strength of constitutional democracy in the United States. Aside from the election of 1860, which led to the Civil War, for two centuries America has met the test that a country is an established democracy when it consistently makes peaceful changes of government via free elections (Huntington 1991, 7-9).

But this democratic tradition had to be earned. In 1800 American democracy faced one of its most serious challenges when Republican Thomas Jefferson defeated Federalist President John Adams. World history reveals that in all too many cases, political leaders defeated at the ballot have not honored the voice of the people. But America followed a different course. The Federalists handed over the reins of power to their hated rivals, setting a precedent that has guided American politics ever since.

Do students recognize the peaceable outcome of the election of 1800 as one of the most critical moments in the establishment of constitutional democracy in America? The approaching bicentennial of Thomas Jefferson's election is an appropriate time to reflect upon the central place this momentous event should have in the school curriculum. This Digest connects the election of 1800 to the social studies curriculum, summarizes core content on this key event in American history, proposes the use of historic documents by teachers and students, and recommends World Wide Web sites as sources of documents and related information.

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