From 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.
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"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