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A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 18, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In this absorbing, brisk account, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Larson (Summer of the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion) recreates the dramatic presidential race of 1800, which, Larson says, stamped American democracy with its distinctive partisan character as Republicans and Federalists battled for the presidency. Larson explains how a race between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson actually ended in a tie between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr. (The tie was resolved by Congress.) The bitter infighting and the sophisticated political jockeying of 1800 spelled the end of any idea that America would be governed by enlightened consensus, resulting instead in the two-party system we know today. Readers will find many similarities between the intense electioneering of Adams and Jefferson, and the heated political races of today. For instance, Larson delineates debates about security and the Alien and Sedition Acts, the complex calculus of the Electoral College and the ad hominem remarks of commentators. Larson's volume will join Susan Dunn's Jefferson's Second Revolution as an invaluable study of a crucial chapter in the lives of the founding fathers—and of the nation. First serial to American History magazine.(Sept. 18)
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With the benefit of two centuries of hindsight, it now appears that what united John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was far greater than what divided them. However, when these onetime friends opposed each other in the presidential election of 1800, their differences were viewed as immense. As a result, the election was notable for serpentine maneuverings and intense vitriol on both sides. This was still the age when "gentlemen" candidates did not openly campaign, but the respective Federalist and Democratic-Republican camps went after each other viciously. Larson's account of the campaign is filled with juicy tidbits about the personalities of the key players. Adams was pugnacious, even obnoxious, and often felt trapped by some of the more extreme positions of his Federalist supporters. Jefferson, who shunned personal confrontation, made no effort to restrain the unfair attacks upon Adams by his followers, and he could be intemperate and irresponsible in some of his speculative remarks, particularly in his early support for French revolutionaries. This is a well-written and thoroughly enjoyable examination. Freeman, Jay
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This book is anti-climactic as early voting in New York City decided the presidential election and Larson has difficulty building interest in the rest of the campaign.