Today, the Jefferson Five-Cent Coins remember the events of February 1801 when a tie in the electoral votes sent the matter to the House of Representatives.
After several days of voting in the House with the same results, a break in the ranks occurred, and Jefferson became president.
From The United States of America, A Pictorial History of the American Nation by Harris, Hale and Miles:
People were now thinking of the presidential election that was close at hand. Party lines were closely drawn and the strife was to be a bitter one.
The federalists fixed upon John Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as their candidates, the former for president and the latter for vice-president.
The republicans were divided between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.
Adams’ course during the troubles with France had strengthened him, but the alien and sedition laws caused his defeat in New York state, thus giving twelve electoral votes to the republican side.
He gained in other directions, but not enough to overcome the defection of the ” Empire State,” as New York came to be known from her decisive course in the election of 1800.
Adams received fifty-six electoral votes, and Jefferson and Aaron Burr each seventy- three.
The two latter being a tie, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives.
The house assembled on the 11th of February, 1801, to choose between them.
On the first ballot, Jefferson had eight states and Burr six, while two states, Maryland and Vermont, were equally divided. This prevented the election of either.
All the federalists voted for Burr, with the single exception of Huger of South Carolina.
This was not because they liked Burr, but because they hated him less than Jefferson.
One of the severest snow-storms ever known in Washington occurred on this day.
Mr. Nicholson, a republican, of Maryland, was too ill to leave his bed. Without his vote, Maryland would have been given to Burr, but with it, the result for that state was a tie.
The sick member, therefore, was brought on his bed through the driving storm to the house, and placed in one of the committee rooms, where his wife stayed by his side night and day, giving him the needed stimulants.
The ballot box was brought to his bed-side, and he voted on every ballot.
The house remained in continuous session day after day, until thirty-five ballots had been taken without result.
By that time, it had become clear that Burr could not be elected, for it was impossible to make any break in the Jefferson ranks.
On the thirty- sixth ballot, therefore, the federalists of Maryland, Delaware and South Carolina, threw blank ballots, and the federalist from Vermont absented himself, leaving the republican members to cast the votes of those states for Jefferson.
Thus Jefferson secured the majority which made him president, while Burr became vice-president.
The Journal of the House of Representatives for February 17, 1801 included:
The time agreed upon by the last mentioned vote being expired, the States proceeded in manner aforesaid to the thirty-fifth ballot; and, upon examination thereof, the result was declared to be the same.
Ordered, That the ballot be repeated at one o’clock.
The time agreed upon by the last mentioned vote being expired, the States proceeded in manner aforesaid to the thirty-sixth ballot; and, upon examination thereof, the result being reported by the tellers to the Speaker, the Speaker declared to the House that the votes of ten States had been given for Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia; the votes of four States for Aaron Burr, of New York; and that the votes of two States had been given in blank; and that, consequently, Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, had been, agreeably to the Constitution, elected President of the United States, for the term four years, commencing on the fourth day of March next.
Ordered, That Mr. Pinckney, Mr. Tazewell, and Mr. Bayard, be appointed a committee to wait on the President of the United States, and notify him that Thomas Jefferson is elected President of the United States, for the term commencing on the fourth day of March next.
Ordered, That a message be sent to the Senate to inform them that Thomas Jefferson has been duly elected President of the United States, for the term of four years, commencing on the fourth day of March next; and that the Clerk of this House do go with the said message.
Legislative Documents from the State of Kentucky, published in 1889, included a description of the election including how their state voted:
Fourth Presidential Election, 1801.—Of the 128 votes cast, no candidate received the highest vote.
The entire votes of New York, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, with 8 votes from Pennsylvania, 5 from Maryland, and 8 from North Carolina—73 in all—were cast for Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each, making a tie, and thus devolving the choice upon the House of Representatives.
John Adams had 65 votes, Chas. Cotesworth Pinckney 64, and John Jay 1.
The Kentucky Electors were: John Coburn and Charles Scott for the State at Large; John Pope for the First District, and Isaac Shelby for the Second.
On Wednesday, February 11, 1801, the House of Representatives began balloting, in secret session, having resolved to attend to no other business, and not to adjourn until a choice should be effected.
Upon the first ballot, eight States—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee—cast their one vote each for Thomas Jefferson; six States—New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware and South Carolina—gave their 6 votes for Aaron Burr, and the votes of Vermont and Maryland—because their Representatives were divided—were given in blank.
Neither had a majority. For seven days the House continued in session, nominally without adjournment, and balloted 35 times with the same result.
During this balloting, 104 members were present, some of whom, in consequence of infirmity or sickness, were provided with beds, and one member was so seriously ill as to require his wife’s care and attention.
On the afternoon of February 17 Mr. Jefferson was elected President, receiving the votes Of Vermont and Maryland, in addition to the 8 above named; while those of Delaware and South Carolina were given blank. Mr. Burr became the Vice-President.
The Jefferson Five-Cent Coins show beside an artist’s image of the president, circa 1801.