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Joanne Freeman on
Hamilton's vote in the election of 1800

Joanne Freeman Q: Why does Hamilton choose to support Jefferson instead of Burr in the election of 1800?

A: The election of 1800 was really, for Hamilton, the ultimate nightmare. Because it ends up in this tie vote, and the choice is Jefferson or Burr. There can't be a worse situation for Hamilton. And, to him, ultimately, there really can be no choice, and he actually says in a wonderful letter, with the longest clause in history written. Okay, Jefferson may be a hypocrite, a fanatic, he doesn't really care about the truth. He has a list of horrible things about Jefferson's character and then goes on to talk about how Jefferson is far superior to Burr. And the reason is because Jefferson cares about what others think about him. He's thinking about his reputation. And so he's not going to act injudiciously. He's not going to dismantle anything. He's going to think before he acts, and he's going to be careful. Burr is not really thinking about fame. He's not thinking, according to Hamilton, about anything other than the moment. And how much power can I get, and how much money can I get. That's how Hamilton sees it. And given that, Burr will do anything he can to get into office, to get those two rewards, including installing himself as an emperor, subverting the constitution. There's no telling what Burr will do once he's in office. So there's no choice between the two men.

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