Featured US History and Constitution
Bethanne Kim  

Electing a Ticket / the 12th Amendment

The epic battle that led to Thomas Jefferson being elected as our third President with Aaron Burr as his first Vice President is the reason we have the 12th Amendment, and the reason we elect a “ticket” with a President and a Vice President.

Before the 1800 election, Burr agreed to be Jefferson’s VP. At the time, Electors were chosen by state legislatures. The person with the most votes became President and the one with the second most votes became Vice President. Per the Constitution, a tie automatically sent the vote to the House of Representatives to be voted on and resolved. They voted 36 (thirty six) times before Jefferson was finally elected. Burr then became his VP because he had the second most votes. To put it mildly, Jefferson was not pleased with Burr. Nonetheless, he was stuck with him for his first term.

This process had led to less than ideal results in the previous election as well. In 1796, John Adams (Federalist party) received the most votes and became President. Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican party) received the second most votes (three less than Adams) and became his Vice President. They represented different parties and held different beliefs regarding how the government should operate and how much power the federal government should have. As you can imagine, they did not work well together.

It was clear that our young nation needed to modify our election method. This led to passage of the 12th Amendment. I’m not going into details on the entire 12th Amendment, but the biggest change it made was that we elect a “ticket” of two people with separate voting for the President and the Vice President.  Without this, most elections would probably result in one party winning the Presidency and another party winning the Vice Presidency. This could have a positive effect if the two parties worked together to reach a middle ground that both parties could agree on. There are exactly two examples of a President and Vice President from different parties – Adams / Jefferson and Republican Abraham Lincoln / Democrat Andrew Johnson. (Technically, they were both in the same “National Union” party, but that party was created to help Lincoln get support from pro-war Democrats.) In both cases, there really wasn’t much “working together”.

The next time someone brings up political tickets, what will you bring to the conversation?

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