Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in American History)

Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in American History)

John Ferling

Language: English

Pages: 283


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

It was a contest of titans: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two heroes of the Revolutionary era, once intimate friends, now icy antagonists locked in a fierce battle for the future of the United States. The election of 1800 was a thunderous clash of a campaign that climaxed in a deadlock in the Electoral College and led to a crisis in which the young republic teetered on the edge of collapse.

Adams vs. Jefferson is the gripping account of a turning point in American history, a dramatic struggle between two parties with profoundly different visions of how the nation should be governed. The Federalists, led by Adams, were conservatives who favored a strong central government. The Republicans, led by Jefferson, were more egalitarian and believed that the Federalists had betrayed the Revolution of 1776 and were backsliding toward monarchy. The campaign itself was a barroom brawl every bit as ruthless as any modern contest, with mud-slinging, scare tactics, and backstabbing. The low point came when Alexander Hamilton printed a devastating attack on Adams, the head of his own party, in "fifty-four pages of unremitting vilification." The stalemate in the Electoral College dragged on through dozens of ballots. Tensions ran so high that the Republicans threatened civil war if the Federalists denied Jefferson the presidency. Finally a secret deal that changed a single vote gave Jefferson the White House. A devastated Adams left Washington before dawn on Inauguration Day, too embittered even to shake his rival's hand.

With magisterial command, Ferling brings to life both the outsize personalities and the hotly contested political questions at stake. He shows not just why this moment was a milestone in U.S. history, but how strongly the issues--and the passions--of 1800 resonate with our own time.

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sweeping republican reforms were in the offing, exulted that the French “have been awakened by our revolution.” When the French Revolution came, Jefferson celebrated the downfall of the ancien regime. He predicted that France soon would have a constitutional system much like that which flowered in the United States in 1776.56 What Jefferson 34 a da m s v s . j e f f e r s o n did not tell anyone in America was that, despite his status as the United States minister to France, he was meeting

they got into the hands of influential officeholders who would put them to good use. His itinerary upon leaving Philadelphia in the spring of 1800 also suggests campaign motives. He had paused in Richmond, which he usually avoided altogether, perhaps to shore up the Republican base in the face of recent Federalist successes. In addition, alone among the candidates, Jefferson wrote numerous letters in which he spelled out his convictions, producing a party platform of sorts. “I am for preserving

the “Anglo-federal party”— were bent on rolling back many of the political and social achievements won in the American Revolution. They might as well have set about to “burn the Parchment” of that treasured document, one screed insisted.44 The Federalists were portrayed as caring only for merchants and financiers. It was a party whose members were obsessed with financial gain, a faction “roaring and bellowing . . . to obtain pelf.” Their “system of speculation has been deeply interwoven with

would win control of both legislative houses and elect all the state’s electors under the general ticket arrangement. Their miscalculation would cost them dearly, as the spring election tipped control of the legislature to the Republicans.83 Meanwhile, Connecticut’s Federalist legislature sought to ensure a favorable outcome through another ploy. It passed a “standup” election law mandating that all votes be cast publicly and orally, an intimidating procedure that ordinarily favored those in

Adams was not the only candidate who was injured by votemanipulating plans. Like Virginia, Massachusetts switched from the district to the general ticket format, and from choosing electors by popular vote to permitting the legislature to make the decision. That may have cost Jefferson one or two votes. He was undoubtedly hurt far more badly by what transpired in Pennsylvania. As the Republicans received nearly two-thirds of the votes cast in the state and congressional races, Jefferson might have

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