By the Office of Historic Alexandria
Alexandria, VA – The first peaceful transfer of presidential power from one political party to another finds a link to Alexandria’s Gadsby’s Tavern. Let me explain. The election of 1800 was monumental. Unlike the transfer of power from George Washington to John Adams, which occurred because Washington refused to run for a third term, the transfer from Adams to Thomas Jefferson was a bitter affair that also affected the Hamilton-Burr duel. But that’s a story for someone else to tell.
This is a story about the peaceful transfer of power and Gadsby’s Tavern. Adams was part of the Federalist Party, formed partially in reaction to the French Revolution, which it opposed. Jefferson represented the Democratic-Republican Party, which, among other things, supported that Revolution. Jefferson had been Adams’ vice president. Back then, the election’s runner-up became the vice president. Imagine how awkward that would be today!
Jefferson visited Gadsby’s Tavern twice during the election/inauguration period. The first time was on his way to visit Martha Washington at Mount Vernon. It was a bit of political theater meant to attract Federalist support in his now two-person runoff with Aaron Burr, who had received the same number of electoral votes.
Alexander Hamilton’s convincing the New York legislature to support Jefferson over Burr was the immediate cause of the Hamilton-Burr duel. Jefferson needed to play nice with the Widow Washington because his criticism of our first president meant that she held a grudge against him and wouldn’t allow him to stay at Mount Vernon.
Jefferson stayed at what was known as Mr. Gadsby’s City Hotel on the night of January 2, 1801. He paid $5.50 when the usual rate was $1.50, and he tipped the enslaved staff 75 cents. This tip was considered generous by men such as Jefferson in those days.
Jefferson returned to the City Hotel after his inauguration as president. An account of his inauguration banquet published by the now-defunct Alexandria Advertiser on March 14 included:
…political distinctions, on this occasion, totally disappeared; Republicans and Federalists alike pressed forward to honor the man who was the choice of the nation, and to testify their belief in the political aphorism, that an absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority is the vital principle of republics”(italics part of newspaper article).
The Alexandria Times reported:
…the company who partook of the entertainment was the largest ever known at a public dinner prepared at any tavern in this town, and the style and elegance with which it was furnished in so short notice reflect the highest credit on the taste and industry of Mr. Gadsby.
As a bonus, the new Vice President Aaron Burr toasted the recently deceased President Washington during the banquet in his hometown. Jefferson toasted the health and prosperity of Alexandria. Later events separated the two men, but the night of March 14, 1801, was one for celebration for the Democratic-Republican Party, even in a town that identified heavily with the Federalist Party.