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The Election of 1800

50 min

What is gained and what is lost by giving political parties a role in electing our President?

Students will:

  • Understand the process originally established in the Constitution for electing a President.
  • Recognize ways in which the original electoral process failed when political parties took a role in selecting candidates.
  • Evaluate the role of political parties in sorting presidential candidates.

  • Handout A: The Election of 1800
  • Handout B: Sorting the Candidates

To create a context for this lesson, have students complete Constitutional Connection: Presidents and the Transfer of Power.

Have students read Handout A: The Election of 1800 and answer the questions.

Have them interview a parent or other adult. Students should ask about the purpose of political parties, how successful they are at selecting better candidates, and what specific successes or weaknesses they have.

You may also want to have students do an activity on the Electoral College.

Have students imagine they are electors in a presidential election. On a blank sheet of paper they should write the names of two Americans alive today whom they would like to see as President or Vice President (not including the sitting President). Important: Students may NOT talk or work together.

Collect the ballots and assign two students to count them. While the vote-counters are working, ask students to share the names of the individuals they listed on their ballots.

When your vote-counters are done, have them write the top five vote-getters, along with the number of votes each received, on the board. Explain to students that the number of votes necessary to win is half the number of students in the classroom, plus one.

Ask students to think about the outcome of an election that has no prior sorting process where potential candidates are evaluated.

  • Was the process democratic?
  • Was the outcome desirable?
  • Why is it a good idea to have a sorting process?

Have students work in small groups. Distribute Handout B: Sorting the Candidates.

First, have students read the list of desired outcomes on Handout B. Students should add any desired outcomes they think should have been included, and cross out any listed outcomes they think are unimportant.

Students should then rank the desired outcomes from most important to least important.

Finally, ask students to recall their interviews and their own knowledge of political parties in order to evaluate our current two major-party system. How well does it accomplish all of those desired outcomes? Have a representative of each group share their thinking.

Asking students to recall their homework interviews (if they conducted one) or their own knowledge, have them share their understandings of the US political party system. As a large group, discuss the following questions:

  • Is the two-party system the best way to identify/sort candidates?
  • What are advantages of a two-party system? Disadvantages?
  • Is it a strength or a weakness of our constitutional system that such an important task is performed by political parties—institutions that are not mentioned in the Constitution?

Ask students to follow up with the person they interviewed for homework. They should share knowledge gained in the lesson and ask their interviewee some of the class discussion questions.

Have students research the election of 1824—the first election after the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment to be settled by the House of Representatives. Ask them to write a brief explanation of the reasons that election had to be settled by the House.

Student Handouts

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