JEFFERSON, Thomas. Letter signed ("Th: Jefferson"), as President, to an unnamed Governor, Washington, 13 December 1803. 1 page, 4to, tipped to another sheet.
JEFFERSON CIRCULATES THE TWELFTH AMENDMENT FOR RATIFICATION, TO AVOID ANOTHER CRISIS LIKE THAT OF THE 1801 ELECTION
Jefferson transmits, by an elegantly penned circular letter, the twelfth amendment of the Constitution, what might be called the anti-Burr Amendment: "At the request of the Senate and H. of Rep. of the U. S. I transmit to you a copy of an...amendment proposed by Congress to be added to the Constitution of the U. S., respecting the election of President and Vice President, to be laid before the legislature of the State...and I tender you assurances of my high respect and consideration."
Under the original provisions of Article 2, Section 1, members of the Electoral College were to name two candidates for President on their ballots, and when Congress counted the votes the winner became President while the runner-up became Vice-president. It was a system just begging to be exploited by ambitious schemers. There seems evidence that Burr tried to subvert the 1796 election as well, urging Electors to turn away from the two front-runners, Jefferson and John Adams, and sprinkling votes among the 11 other candidates in hopes of throwing the election into the House. Burr failed in 1796 but succeeded spectacularly four years later, when Jefferson and Burr each received 73 votes, even though it had been clear during the campaign the Jefferson was to be President and Burr the Vice-President. The decision was thrown into the House of Representatives. Die-hard Federalists, who considered Burr the less dangerous of the two attempted to push Burr's election as President. Adding to the impasse, Burr refused to concede. "There was grave uncertainty and at least a threat of chaos. There was even talk of Civil War" (Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President, First Term, p.6). No fewer than 33 ballots were taken between 11 and 17 February 1801, all deadlocked. Finally Alexander Hamilton solicited the necessary support for Jefferson to break the tie.
The new amendment spelled out in the most precise terms the electoral procedure for choosing the President and Vice-President, stipulating that, "The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President...; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President..." (MacDonald, ed., Select Documents Illustrative of the History of the United States, 1968, pp. 43-44). Opposition was non-existent: the states ratified it on 27 July 1804.