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Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in American History Series) Hardcover – September 3, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0195167719 ISBN-10: 0195167716 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

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


"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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (September 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195167716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195167719
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Ferling is a leading authority on late 18th and early 19th century American history. He is the author of many books, including Independence, The Ascent of George Washington, Almost a Miracle, Setting the World Ablaze, and A Leap in the Dark. To learn more, please visit his website:

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on November 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The election of 1800 is notable for many reasons. It was an electoral tie, it led to the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it was an election in which both sides feared that the election of the other party could lead to the end of the United States. Of even more importance however was that this election signaled a basic realignment of the American electorate and a growing sense of tension between Northern Merchant interests and Southern agrarian interests. The election of 1800 also marked the first time that a member of the opposition party had ousted the sitting head of state without bloodshed and for all intents and purposes this election ended the political career of Alexander Hamilton. For these reasons this election is one of the most important events in American history and a book like this is long overdue.

When I first picked up this book I was afraid I was not going to like it at all. After having read some of the reviews of this book I decided that Mr. Ferling had written this work in a dry, pompous academic style and for some reason the dust jacket reinforced that idea. I am pleased to say however that I really enjoyed this book and found it to be well written and very well researched. The author has gone through numerous collections of personal correspondence, Congressional records, and apparently even court transcripts so that he might properly tell this story. Unfortunately some of the facts about this election will never be known due to closed door caucuses and purposely destroyed correspondence. Where the evidence survives however, Ferling has sniffed out the story and given us a lively account of this fascinating election.

I was glad to find that the author was very even handed in his approach to this topic.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Tony C on March 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Think the last two presidential elections have been nail biters? Then you should take a look at the presidential election of 1800. That election ended in an electoral college tie and took 36 votes by the House of Representatives to pick a President. Today's elections have nothing on what it took to decide the winner back then.

John Ferling gives readers a fresh and contemporaneous look at the election of 1800 and the events that led up to it in, Adams vs Jefferson, The Tumultuous Election of 1800. He shows how this election was really the final battle of the war for American Independence. The book covers the moves made by all the major players of the day including men like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

It was a titanic battle between the most powerful politicians of the era. It was a time when political parties were just beginning to form and there was more than just two candidates for the office. In fact, most politicians felt that the office of President should seek out the man instead of the man actively running for the office. I know - that's a radical thought today.

Adams was the sitting President and like so many modern Presidents he started his term in a flurry of success only to stumble down the stretch. Jefferson was `retired' from political life on his Virginia plantation, Monticello when his supporters began to push him to run. Because of a flaw in the Constitution the electoral college locked in a tie between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, with Adams eliminated from the race entirely.

Adams and Jefferson were both heroes of the American Revolution, but both men also had issues with their reputations. The parties exploited the flaws of the opposition in ways that make more modern elections seem tame and civilized.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A not so often appreciated turning point in American history is the election of 1800. It signaled the end of the Federalist party, the rise of party politics, and the beginning of a new path for the nascent union. This short book gives voluminous details of this important campaign in a very readable and exciting narrative. And the campaign was not without its excitement. It unfolds as though it had been written for a novel or a movie script. Almost all of the people involved met surprising or engaging ends. Not only is this book good history, it's also a great story.

The book gives overviews of the political careers of all of the major players in the election of 1800. Not only Adams and Jefferson, but C.C. Pinckney, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton. By way of these summaries, the administrations of George Washington and John Adams also receive good summaries. This gives the reader a pretty good idea where the nation stood as 1800 approached. The crises of Adams' presidency, such as the war scare with France in the late 1790s, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Alexander Hamilton's control issues all loomed. John Ferling spoke about the book in Minnesota this past October. He said that while researching this book his assessment concerning Jefferson and Adams increased tremendously (he even alluded that he previously held a somewhat negative view of Jefferson), while his view of Alexander Hamilton decreased greatly. The book does depict Hamilton as a power-hungry, potentially menacing schemer that actually held the strings behind Adams' cabinet. Thus Hamilton is to blame for the provisional army and the Alien and Sedition Acts, not Adams. Ferling also says that part of the American legacy is indebted to Hamilton, but overall Hamilton fares badly in this text.
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