"When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty."
~ Thomas Jefferson

Challenge of Political Conflict
Explain how political parties emerged out of the competing ideas, experiences, and fears of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton (and their followers), despite the worries the Founders had concerning the dangers of political division, by analyzing disagreements over
  • relative power of the national government (e.g., Whiskey Rebellion, Alien and Sedition Acts) and of the executive branch (e.g., during the Jacksonian era)
  • foreign relations (e.g., French Revolution, relations with Great Britain)
  • economic policy (e.g., the creation of a national bank, assumption of revolutionary debt)


Aaron Burr letter to Joseph Alston
click to enlarge
click to enlarge

The year 1804 proved to be a difficult one for Burr, who was trying to revive his political career. Hamilton had led Federalists in opposing Burr’s nomination in the New York gubernatorial race. Powerful Democratic-Republicans like George Clinton, the New York governor, and his nephew DeWitt Clinton also worked against Burr. DeWitt, then the mayor of New York, used the American Citizen, edited by James Cheetham, as a mouthpiece for resurrecting scandalous allegations against Burr from the election of 1800. Working together, Federalist and Republican forces helped deliver Burr a crushing defeat in the election, a humiliation that eventually led to the fateful Burr-Hamilton duel on July 11.

By Friday, July 20, a grand jury in New Jersey and the coroner’s jury in New York City were considering charges against Burr. The coroner’s jury was expected to deliver the verdict of its inquest the following Monday, and, as Burr phrased it, “the result will determine my Movements.” Burr believed that the same forces that had conspired against him politically were now aligning to charge him with murder.

At the same time, Burr was plotting with General James Wilkinson to form a separate country from the western part of the United States including the Louisiana Territory. In August 1804, Burr contacted Anthony Merry, Britain’s minister to the United States. Merry immediately sent a dispatch to Britain detailing Burr’s offer to “effect a separation of the western part of the United States” from the rest of the country. In return, Burr wanted money and ships to carry out his conquest.

The second part of the letter and an enclosed missive to Charles Biddle (a cousin by marriage to James Wilkinson) are written in cipher. In the early republic, cipher was often used in mails in the interest of privacy. Whether he was discussing fleeing the murder charge or his plot to form a separate country, Burr was understandably fearful of having his plans exposed. (text from Gilder Lehrman)

Learning Activity

Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists v. Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans
As a class, we shall introduce the challenges faced by Washington's first administration and how the issues therein fostered the formation of the first two political parties. Using an interactive lesson, students will engage in conversations regarding the views held by Jefferson and Hamilton that would become the platform of their respective political parties: the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists.

The following handout used pages 149-155 of the History Alive! text.
Federalists vs. Democratic Republicans

The Election of 1800
Slideshow highlighting the essential understandings of the transition of power that occurred behind the presidential election of 1800. The incoming Republicans and the outgoing Federalists demonstrate the peaceful nature of a republican democracy. Also included are the new policies that are promoted by Jefferson as president. Use the linked handout for student engagement.

The Election of 1800 also resulted in a follow-up story of even more significance. This story continues to address the political atmosphere by revealing the political tension between Federalists and Republicans. The Supreme Court was asked to rule on the case of Marubury v. Madison in 1803. The case is best explained in the video (YouTube link) below the handout link. Watch it and complete the bottom section of the handout.

Use the Election of 1800 Handout to follow the slides.

Burr-Hamilton Duel
The events that followed the crazy election of 1800 led to a verbal war that culminated in July of 1804 between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. C-SPAN covered a 200th Anniversary of those events held back in 2004. Their historical accounts are exquisite.