Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in American History)
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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.
from public life, seldom attending the meetings of the Virginia assembly, preferring to remain at home, in the bosom of felicity, where he would build, farm, read, reflect, and write. Neither work nor public life appeared to be in his future.14 Yet when the imperial crisis heated up the following year in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, Jefferson was wrenched back toward public life. As war loomed, Jefferson, like Adams, quietly decided that only independence could secure the interest of
observed that the president had denounced those “whose avowed object is the nourishment of the republican principles of our Constitution,” when he himself had headed the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization whose membership was restricted to Continental Army officers and their descendants, and which Jefferson described as “a self-created . . . [society] carving out for itself hereditary distinctions,” meeting and corresponding in secret, and yearning to “confine . . . freedom to the few.”
another diplomatic mission, but initially he planned to take no steps until he received Paris’ official assurance that America’s diplomats would be received. In the end, however, Adams acted without waiting for further word from Talleyrand. He was stirred to act by the receipt of troubling new information about Hamilton. For weeks rumors had swirled about the capital that Hamilton was plotting to use his army against the Spanish in Florida and the southwestern country, and even to unleash it on
that heaped vitriol upon the president for having opted to pursue negotiations with France. If he was serious about Cobbett, Adams shrank from acting. Nevertheless, his administration strenuously enforced the Sedition Act. At least seventeen indictments were handed down, two of which Adams vigorously defended in private.36 Meanwhile, Adams closely followed the news from Europe, and by midsummer 1799 he concluded that the time had come to order Ellsworth and Davie to sail. He had learned that a
however, was his first go at changing Adams’ mind. The tack that Hamilton chose was a wide-ranging lecture, in this instance on European affairs. It was the sort of prolix performance that so often had worked so well. In this instance, his objective was to demonstrate that conditions in Europe were not propitious for the dispatch of the envoys. As his presentation spun on, Adams recollected, Hamilton flailed with agitation and his voice became steadily louder. Portraying him as an “[over]wrought