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

John Ferling

Retail Price: $19.99
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Format: Paperback, 288pp.
ISBN: 9780195189063
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pub. Date: October 20, 2005

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Description and Reviews
From The Publisher:

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.


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.
—Publishers Weekly, Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

"The 2004 campaign may seem tame after historian Ferling's riveting account of the 1800 presidential race."
—USA Today

"A contentious presidential race that makes the 2000 debacle look like a schoolyard hissy fit."
—Entertainment Weekly

"A well-written look at the enigmatic politics and personalities of the early Republic."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Management Book of the Century, circa 2006." Not as extreme as it sounds, as the Century 21 is not yet 6 years of age. But my pick so far: Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, by John Ferling.
—Tom Peters Blog

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About the Author

John Ferling is the George Washington Distinguished Professor of History at the State University of West Georgia. He has written several acclaimed books on the Revolutionary War period, including The First of Men: A Life of George Washington.

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