ADAMS, John (1735-1826). Letter signed ("John Adams") as "President of the U. States," to Rhode Island Senator Theodore Foster (1752-1828), boldly headed "To the Senators of the United States respectively," n.p. [Washington, D.C.], 30 January 1801.
1 page, folio, two words carefully corrected by the clerk (to change the date), leaving a small hole in the sheet, tipped to protective sheet.
JEFFERSON OR BURR? DEFEATED IN THE GENERAL ELECTION, ADAMS ASKS A FEDERALIST SENATOR TO REMAIN IN THE CAPITAL UNTIL THE NEW PRESIDENT IS CHOSEN AND INAUGURATED
The election of 1800 "stands almost alone in United States history as a drama with the fate of the Constitution at stake" (Bernard A. Weisberger, America Afire: Jefferson, Adams and the First Contested Election, p.299). The election exposed a serious flaw in the Constitution. Because both Burr and Jefferson had received 73 electoral votes, and Burr refused to concede that his votes had been intended to elect him Vice-President, it became, constitutionally, the task of the House of Representatives to choose between them. The unprecedented balloting began on 11 February and continued through 33 ballots before Jefferson was finally chosen on February 17. Here, rather formally, Adams writes to a Federalist Senator, requesting he remain in the Senate on the day of the inauguration of the new President--whether Burr or Jefferson. "It appearing to me proper and necessary for the public service that the Senate of the United States should be convened on Wednesday the 4th of March next, you are desired to attend in the Chamber of the Senate on that day at 10 O'Clock in the forenoon to receive and act upon any communications, which the President of the United States may then lay before you, touching their interests, and to do and consider all other things which may be proper and necessary for the Public service, for the Senate to do and consider...."
Adams's defeat in the election of 1800 marked the end of the Federalist hegemony in national politics, and, in Adams's judgment "was proof of how potent party spirit and party organization had become...." (McCullough, p.557). While he continued to function as Chief Executive, waiting for the House to name Burr or Jefferson his successor as President, "there was no assuaging the pain. He had been pierced and hurt terribly in his innermost self...His rejection inflicted a raw wound that would never entirely heal, that he would carry to his deathbed...." In those six interminable weeks as lame-duck President, Adams had to "accept with a pretense of graciousness the condolences...to go about, appear in public, answer letters and make decisions that in a sense no longer had any meaning for him...." (P. Smith, John Adams, p.1056). No other letter of Adams as lame-duck President during the 1801 electoral stalemate has been offered at auction in some 30 years.