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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debts with anything but gold or silver legal tender.30 The national government would not have total authority over the states. Rather, a federal system along the lines that Hamilton had presciently envisioned in The Continentalist in 1781 was to be erected. The states were to be left with whatever authority was not given explicitly to the national government. To achieve all of this, concessions had to be made among the Nationalists. The South, for instance, agreed to the principal demands of the

never conceived a child during any of Jefferson’s frequent absences. Sally told her children that Jefferson was their father, which in itself is not proof, although other factors suggest that what she said was true. Numerous visitors were struck by the resemblance that her children bore to Jefferson, and some among his acquaintances subsequently acknowl- o n t h e eve o f t h e bat t l e i n 1 7 9 6 75 edged that he had a slave mistress. Furthermore, Jefferson, who liberated virtually no

past worn farms with shaggy fields. On the third day, departing Springfield, they finally turned south, and in late morning they took leave of Massachusetts, plodding slowly into Connecticut, which required three wearisome days to cross. Travel was arduous and filled with heavy tedium. The carriage, which was unheated and without shock absorbers, bumped and swayed across slender rutted roads that were just a sudden storm away from turning to a fetid ooze. Charles Dickens, who rode America’s roads

the bulk of the essay focused on the “serious errors” of his presidency. Hamilton acknowledged that Adams was bright and well educated, but those attributes were vitiated by his vanity, “distempered jealousy,” “extreme egotism,” and such an “ungovernable temper” that he frequently behaved outrageously toward those who served him. Legions in the capital “have been humiliated by the effects of these gusts of passion,” he charged. In addition, Adams was prone to spurn the “prudent” advice of his

his contemporaries were colored by his controversial behavior during and after this election. What seems clear is that Burr was a striking figure, at first blush quite likely e l e c t i o n eve , 1 8 0 0 9 the most dazzling and captivating of the four candidates. He was only average height—he stood five foot six, about an inch below the median height of native-born Americans—and his body was small, even wispy.14 Many thought him handsome, and indeed in the Gilbert Stuart portrait, for which

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