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Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election…

Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in… (edition 2004)

by John Ferling

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Title:Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in American History)
Authors:John Ferling
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2004), Hardcover, 282 pages
Collections:Your library

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Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling



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Very detailed book on the all-important, first truly contested election in our history. A vast majority of the book takes us through the years and months leading up to 1800, most of which was quite interesting. The chapter that focused exclusively on the election itself, however, was pretty heavy with the names of various electors, their votes, the backdoor dealings, etc. While important, it was weighty reading. This is compounded by author John Ferling's academic writing as he often uses vocabulary that seems intended to impress folks of his skills with a thesaurus.

While I enjoyed the book well enough, I'm sure there's a title out there covering the same subject that's written in a less dry, academic tone. ( )
  Jarratt | Oct 13, 2016 |
Read this with [b:America Afire Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800|373591|America Afire Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800|Bernard A. Weisberger|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1174258985s/373591.jpg|363503]. Both books document the campaign of 1800 that resulted in the election being thrown into the House of Representatives. The campaign was ugly. War service of the candidates was an issue then as now, with opponents reminding the electorate (white property owners only then) that Thomas Jefferson had sat out the revolution at home in Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson had hired James Callender, a British immigrant to write anti-Adams essays. "Calumny dripped from Callender's pen." Jefferson bankrolled many anti-Adams journalists. He unsparingly "flayed Washington," who, he claimed, had wanted to be a dictator, called Hamilton the "Judas Iscariot of our country," and called Adams a war monger and "poor old man who is in his dotage." The Federalists under Adams were no better. Callender was arrested and charged under the Alien and Sedition Acts -- and we thought the USA Patriot Act was bad -- passed during the Adams' administration. Callender later turned on Jefferson when he was not awarded a plum political post in addition to his monetary rewards. He then went on the dig up the story of Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemmings, a charge that seems now not to have been true, the DNA evidence being somewhat inconclusive given the number of other Jefferson males in the area, although I suppose the jury is still out in some minds. But I digress, the only point being that campaigns in the early 18th century were often more bitter than those today.

Hamilton doesn't come off as well as he did in Ferling's earlier books; Jefferson and Adams better. Hamilton is portrayed as power hungry and responsible for the ostensible sins of the Adams administration such as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Personally, I admire Adams for his peacefully relinquishing power -- I believe the first instance in history a leader stepped down from power without some kind of violence -- but Hamilton is getting a bad rap. His emphasis on honoring the debts and fiscal stability was very important. You have to feel sorry for Adams, sandwiched between Hamilton and Jefferson.

Revised 6/13/09 ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
This is a great account of an historic election and critical moment in the American experiment. Why? Well, as Ferling points out, this was the first time in history, anywhere, that power transferred bloodlessly and calmly from one party to another which had opposing views. It was without precedence and worked. And these were not just two happy political parties, glad to be rid of George III, and led by co-authors of the Declaration of Independence that saw eye to eye. No. They were bitter political rivals.

Over a good part of the 215 page text, Ferling builds up to the election with a summary of the history between 1786 to 1800, and he does this very effectively, keeping it concise and painting portraits of the people involved, beyond Jefferson and Adams to the others of the time. The mudslinging, backroom politics, and vicious behavior make you realize that politics has always been ugly, it’s not a function of today’s Washington, and it will make you pause when handling a $10 bill, with Alexander’s Hamilton’s mug on it.

On the other hand, despite all of that negativity, there was passion in the views because both sides ‘had a point’, and the stakes in forming a new country were high.

Ironically in those days the Federalists were the conservative party and the Republicans were the liberals. The Federalists were in general pro-monarchy, elitist, supporters of established church, and used the Sedition Act to destroy the concept of a free press … all leaning back to the biggest of big government, monarchy. They were the party of the rich, and favored maintaining the status quo. They were pro-English. This was the party of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton.

Republicans by contrast wanted a much smaller government, as today’s republicans do, but were quite liberal for their day in wanting all citizens to be treated equally, separation of church and state, and freedom of the press. They wanted to create the world anew. Blurring class distinctions was viewed as favorable. They were pro-French, and notably pro-French Revolution, which the Federalists were aghast over. This was the party of Jefferson, Madison, and Paine. Jefferson and Paine are personal heroes of mine.

Aside from this clash, the mechanics of the election were fascinating. In these early elections each party put forth two presidential candidates, then each electoral college member voted for two of them, with the rule that one of those votes couldn’t be for a candidate from the state they represented. The one with the most votes was president, and the runner-up was vice-president; this was how following the election of 1796, Adams was president and Jefferson was vice-president, despite having very different political views.

The election of 1800 was extraordinarily close – Jefferson tied with Aaron Burr with 73 votes, Adams had 65, and Pinckney had 64, all within easy reach if things had swung slightly differently (e.g. if slaves had not counted as 3/5 of a person, Adams would have won). The election was then decided in the House of Representatives after protracted and vitriolic debate. Adams left town, simply, at dawn, without shaking Jefferson’s hand. Jefferson, eschewing pomp, walked to the Inauguration. Ferling includes an epilogue that captures their reconciliation which started with Adams reaching out to Jefferson, some of their personal difficulties such as Jefferson’s debt, and then their simultaneous demise on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.

A fascinating tale, and well told. History books can sometimes suffer from being dry or verbose, and this was neither.

“Jefferson and Adams harbored different dreams for the American Revolution. Whereas Adams envisioned the people, through government, fostering a greater good, Jefferson wished to ensure that individuals would be liberated from governments. He sought the least possible government – ‘energetic government is … always oppressive,’ he remarked – and was ever more distrustful of government the further removed it was from local control.”

Adams’ view, and no matter what your politics are, you can see eerie overtones of this in today’s America, to its detriment:
“Finally, as was true of most Federalists, Adams was alarmed by signs that the United States was democratizing. Before political parties existed in the 1790s, Adams had published warnings of how partisan electioneering – what he called the ‘Cankerworm’ that had brought down every previous republic – would corrupt the American political system. When caught between powerful rival interests, democratic politicians inevitably would be driven to deceit, he had predicted. Virtue and integrity would vanish. Revenge and malice would prevail. Voters would be duped and the press misled, pushing the system toward an unsavory end: a democratic tyranny in which the majority plundered the minority. For Adams, the notion that government could realize the will of the people was disingenuous. Society was divided into so many competing interests that a single popular will seldom existed. … Instead, Adams favored system in which the brightest and most virtuous men could be drawn into public life but then be insulated from the necessity to pander to the popular thirst. If somehow the independence of good men could be preserved so that they could govern prudently and judiciously, the result would be good government for the greatest number.”

Jefferson’s view:
“Jefferson was appalled by the powerlessness of most inhabitants in Europe. … in Jefferson’s mind monarchical rule symbolized all that was wrong with the venality, exploitation, and despair that he encountered throughout Europe. But he understood too that widespread misery also sprang from a privileged aristocracy that crushed the peasant’s opportunity for self-betterment, and from the church, the vehicle used by kings and noblemen to bind the citizenry in the shackles of ignorance, superstition, and subservience.”

“He told a European observer who sought to understand politics in the United States that two American political parties existed: ‘One which fears the people the most, the other the government.’”

“The earth belongs to the living and no generation should be bound by the decisions of its predecessors, Jefferson told Adams. Stability is crucial and is reinforced by obedience to old laws and charters so that uniformity ‘becomes a national Habit,’ Adams responded.”

Lastly this one, which the Federalists pounced on and used as ‘evidence’ that Jefferson was an atheist:
“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Feb 22, 2013 |
I greatly enjoyed "Adams vs. Jefferson" for the author's accessible, engaging, and erudite style, its nuanced portrayals of the main actors and the motives and personal experiences that made them tick, and the book's overall careful attention to explicating a key period in the development of America's nascent federal government. I hadn't known much at all about John Adams or his background; and, as for Jefferson, the fiery author of the Declaration, I was fascinated by the accounts of his apparent ambiguity about remaining in the public spotlight, his avoidance of public speaking, and his discomfort with being disagreeable with others. As contemporary Americans, we are lucky to reap the contributions to our nation of the Revolutionary Generation's noble instincts and passions, however imperfect they were; and it is very worthwhile to spend time learning something about this period through Ferling's articulate and careful scholarship. ( )
  EpicTale | May 22, 2012 |
The author exhibited great writing skill and historical knowledge in the writing of this book. It is a thorough and detailed account of the election of 1800 in just just over 200 pages. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson stand center stage. The author has written a separate biography of John Adams and his portrayal of Adams seems the most compelling of the two. I respect Thomas Jefferson but I do not really like some of the things he did. Jefferson paid James Callender, a journalist who wrote personal attacks against Hamilton and Jefferson's other political opponents for cash, and then lied about it.
The first half of the book is a concise narration of the political history of the U.S. from 1786 to 1800. The author shows excellent knowledge of the subject matter and the people involved. He used a good range of primary and secondary sources. He has his own point of view and he has the facts that support it. He recognized a strong significance in the split between North and South during the writing of the Constitution.
The author focused on a disagreement between Adams and his cabinet that may have influenced the 1800 election. The cabinet delayed the sending of an envoy to France and the good news produced by that diplomatic mission did not get back in time to influence the election. He also points out that were it not for the 3/5th's rule Adams would have won the election of 1800 outright.
One result of the election was an amendment to the Constitution. The authors of the Constitution did not foresee a party system with a tie for the Presidency being possible. I enjoyed the rough and tumble of political debate in that era. The author has a copy of a contemporary drawing that depicts a fight between two congressmen. One had a cane and the other was using fireplace tongs for a weapon. They were just as vicious in print. Hamilton was a prodigious writer who had a group of followers. His ambition made him increasingly unpopular. Even George Washington began referring to him as Caesar. He split with Adams and hurt Adams vote in New York. Like Jefferson, Hamilton thought he was saving the country.
Adams would only play the politician so far. His biggest mistake was signing the Sedition Act into law. That action contributed to his defeat. Adams had a tempestuous relationship with his son Charles. Charles became an alcoholic and Adams cut him off. He wouldn't visit him when Abigail told him Charles was dying.
The election of Jefferson was a brought about a definite change to the political direction of the country. Jefferson was self righteous about saving the country from being ruled by an aristocracy. The Federalists disappeared and the leadership of the country was assumed by menb who worked for a living. There is a discussion of the Sally Hemmings question with reference to the recent DNA tests and other circumstantial evidence that indicates that Jefferson had a number of children by her. Jefferson had been married once and his wife died. He said he could never fall in love again. Sally Hemmings was the half-sister to Jefferson's wife. She is said to bear a striking resemblance to her.
The author is a skilled story teller and this book is very accessible. I would think that the length, or lack of it, would make the book attractive to a non-historian. There are many events in this short book and the story moves well. IMO if it were fiction it would be a good book. There are twenty-five illustrations many of them portraits of the most significant participants. All round it is a good read that I can recommend to everyone. ( )
1 vote wildbill | Jun 16, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195167716, Hardcover)

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 a gripping account of a true turning point in American history, a dramatic struggle between two parties with profoundly different visions of how the nation should be governed. Adams led the Federalists, conservatives who favored a strong central government, and Jefferson led the Republicans, egalitarians who felt 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--Federalists called Jefferson "a howling atheist"--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 election ended in a stalemate in the Electoral College that dragged on for days and nights and 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.
Jefferson's election, John Ferling concludes, consummated the American Revolution, assuring the democratization of the United States and its true separation from Britain. 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:32 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A history of the presidential campaign follows the clash between the two candidates, Adams and Jefferson, and their different visions of the future of America, the machinations that led to Jefferson's victory, and the repercussions of the campaign.

(summary from another edition)

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