Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800

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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...

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Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800

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Overview


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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Ferling at his best. It would be hard to find a better guide to the complexities of this very complex election, and Ferling is particularly good at showing just how many contingencies there were.... Useful and lucid."--Herbert Sloan, American Historical Review

Susan Dunn
The drafters of the Constitution ran out of energy and imagination when they got to the method for choosing presidents, and their lapse has haunted America ever since. The historians John Ferling and Susan Dunn -- partially motivated, one presumes, by the latest breakdown of the presidential election system, in 2000 -- each decided to examine the first such failure, in 1800. The results of their independent labors provide a fascinating and sobering perspective on presidential politics then and now.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Veteran historian Ferling's account of one of America's most extraordinary political dramas lays bare the historically pugilist nature of American presidential politics. In 1800 the nation was struggling to its feet amidst an array of threats from foreign governments and a host of constitutional struggles. Against this backdrop, President John Adams, an elite, strong-willed Federalist, set to square off against his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, a populist Republican. The campaign was brutal. Republicans assailed the Federalists as scare-mongers. Federalists attacked Republicans as godless. But it was a constitutional quirk that nearly collapsed the nascent United States. Adams was eliminated, but Jefferson and his vice-presidential running mate, Aaron Burr, tied in the Electoral College with 73 votes, throwing the decision into the House of Representatives. That left the Federalist-dominated House to decide between two despised Republicans for president. After 36 votes, a political deal finally gave Jefferson the presidency, ending a standoff that had the nation on the brink of collapse. Although his account is dense at times, Ferling richly presents the twists and turns of the election, as well as a vivid portrait of a struggling new nation and the bruising political battles of our now revered founding fathers, including the major roles played by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. In what has already proven to be a vicious 2004 campaign, readers will take some comfort in knowing that the vagaries of the political process, although no doubt exacerbated today by mass media, have changed little in over 200 years. Of even greater comfort, and Ferling's ultimate triumph, is showing that, historically, when faced with dire circumstances at home and abroad, American democracy has pulled through. B&w illus., maps. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Ferling (history, Univ. of West Georgia; John Adams: A Life) presents a lively and reliable account of Thomas Jefferson's election as President in 1800, a fiery period in American history. Readers who assume that national politics in the 1990s was the dirtiest ever or that the election of 2000 was the most controversial will be struck to learn that political rivalries in the 1790s were even dirtier. In marked contrast to Susan Dunn (Jefferson's Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism), who sees Jefferson's election as a victory for the political process and the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, Ferling concludes that Jefferson's election resulted from a secret deal with Federalists. This book does not cover any new ground, but general readers will find it exciting, clear, and instructive. Recommended for all public libraries.-T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
For those still pondering the presidential election of 2000, and looking that of 2004 in the eye, comes this knotty tale from the days of the Founders. "Politicians then, as now, were driven by personal ambition," writes Revolutionary-era historian Ferling (Setting the World Ablaze, 2000, etc.). "They used the same tactics as today, sometimes taking the high road, but often traveling the low road, which led them to ridicule and even smear their foes, to search for scandal in the behavior of their adversaries, and to play on raw emotions." In 1800, for instance, Federalists branded Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson "a howling atheist," while Republicans questioned Federalist candidate John Adams's war record; so hot did the battle grow that propagandists even turned on their own candidates, as did Alexander Hamilton when, for reasons that are still murky, he published a vicious attack on Adams, "upon whom he heaped all the blame for the erosion of his political fortunes." Hamilton may have had reason to be ticked off, for the trusted aide of George Washington and Revolutionary War hero found no place on the Federalist ticket, pushed aside in favor of the democracy-loathing Charles Pinckney, of whom "no one ever claimed that his was a charismatic persona." Jefferson and fellow Republican Aaron Burr (who, Virginia Republicans divined, "was not passionately committed to any political principle") handily won the electoral race against Jefferson's one-time friend Adams (they broke, Ferling writes, over a misinterpreted inscription in a copy of The Rights of Man). But Jefferson had also to win in Congress, where the race was much closer. Ferling argues that he did so by brokering a deal withthe Federalists, an arrangement that would explain why, "despite having fought against the Hamiltonian system for nearly a decade, Jefferson acquiesced to it once in office" and made other concessions to his political enemies. Whereas in Jefferson's Second Revolution (see above), Susan Dunn takes a benign view of whatever the arrangement amounted to, Ferling is clearly uncomfortable with the back-room dealing. Otherwise, the two authors complement each other nicely. A well-written look at the enigmatic politics and personalities of the early Republic.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

John Ferling is Professor of History at the State University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he has appeared in many documentaries and has written numerous books, including John Adams: A Life, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution, and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic.

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Table of Contents

1 Election eve, 1800 1
2 "An affection that can never die" : Adams and Jefferson 18
3 "Dark and menacing evils" : creating the new national system, 1786-1792 36
4 "War on our own citizens" : partisanship, 1793-1796 57
5 "Quite at my leisure" : Jefferson and Adams on the eve of the battle in 1796 69
6 "A narrow squeak" : the first contested presidential election, 1796 83
7 "To recover self-government" : the partisan inferno, 1797-1798 99
8 "Our Bonaparte" : summer 1798 to autumn 1799 113
9 "We beat you by superior management" : winter and spring, 1800 126
10 "The boisterous sea of liberty" : the campaign of 1800 135
11 "The intention of our fellow citizens" : the election of 1800 162
12 "Give them the horrors" : the House decides the election 175
13 "The creed of our political faith" : Jefferson's inauguration 197
14 Epilogue : "the revolution of 1800" 207
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2005

    An 1800 Political Polemic

    I agree with the first reviewer in this series. Ferling does disappointly unfairly represent Adams. Adams worked diligently to keep the U.S. out of war, either with England or France, especially of course France. McCullough makes that point very clearly and strongly. Ferling presents the idea the U.S. didn't go to war with France as almost accidental. Jefferson continue to favor the French Revolution even during the Reign of Terror, although his public pronouncements on this matter were more discreet. Perhaps equally important in looking at the failings in this book is the treatment Ferling gives to Hamilton. Hamilton is portrayed merely as a politically ambitious, power-hungry individual. While he may have had some personal ambitions, Chernow made it clear that Hamilton was working with a strong philosophy of creating a national government and an economically strong country, two points Jefferson cared little about. If it were left to Jefferson, of course, there would have been a series of small countries, e.g., Virginia, and not the United States. Even Lincoln had to ignore Jefferson's views during the Civil War to keep the Union. Ferling's book would have made a great polemic on Jefferson's behalf during the election, but, unfortunately, it is not well-balanced, or thorough, history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2005

    As Slanderous as Republican Newspapers during the election

    While Ferling's other works are exceptional, it's apparent he lets his favoritism of Jefferson cloud his writing an accurate portrayal of the election of 1800. John Adams is extremely misrepresented from start to finish. Ferling paints him as a party man, and the head of the Federalist Party. Truly, Adams never thought of himself as being in a political party, and certainly not the head of a party. His record as president is fiercely independent, but Ferling only mentions this and fails to highlight it. Also, Jefferson is portrayed as going to great lengths to keep up a friendship with Adams; Adams is coldly represented with wanting nothing to do with it. This is not the case. Jefferson spread numerous lies about Adams, defaming a man who had the strongest character of anyone ever in the United States. But Ferling fails to highlight this. Finally, Ferling leaves the reader with the impression Adams was thought inferior and quite worthless as a leader, and Jefferson hailed a hero who shaped U.S. Democracy. While some parts of the country did believe this, there was also another half of the country that hailed Adams equal to Washington and the most important of Presidents. There was a part of the country that hailed Adams as the one who kept the U.S. democratic in it's shakiest moments, allowing Jefferson to lead a free nation. There was a part of the country that regarded Adams as the most important person in the United States. Ferling only tells the reader a section of the country's view; the view that Jefferson was great and was the reason we have the democracy we have today. Ferling seems to want you to believe that Adams did not favor freedom for all, equality, or governance by the people. In truth though, Adams favored freedom as much as Jefferson, believed people were equal more than Jefferson, and never once believed the United States should not be ruled by the people. It was Adams, Ferling fails to mention, that added the 4th part of the Alien and Sedition Acts so if the Acts were misused, they would run out with the Presidential term. It was Adams who feared the Acts, which in principal were good for the country, keeping journalists honest, would be misused. It is not worth reading this book, unless you want to get a feel for the slander told in the Republican Press around the election of 1800. The truth of the situation is sorely lacking in this book, a major, major disappointment for Ferling.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2005

    Truly an Oustanding and Comprehensive Examination of Critical Moment in American History

    As the headline suggests, I greatly enjoyed this book. Adams vs. Jefferson offers a fantastic study on the colorful characters and heated (and sometimes comical) feuds that led up to one of the most significant events in America's history. Perhaps this book's greatest strength is it's ability to take an event that occurred over 200 years ago and still make it captivating to audiences today. By switching off between the lives of Adams and Jefferson throughout the book Ferling makes sure the reader continuously feels refreshed with each turn of the page. I strongly recommend this book to those with a knack for history, politics, or both.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2010

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