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A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign

by

A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign Cover

ISBN13: 9780743293167
ISBN10: 0743293169
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"They could write like angels and scheme like demons." So begins Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Larson's masterful account of the wild ride that was the 1800 presidential election — an election so convulsive and so momentous to the future of American democracy that Thomas Jefferson would later dub it "America's second revolution."

This was America's first true presidential campaign, giving birth to our two-party system and indelibly etching the lines of partisanship that have so profoundly shaped American politics ever since. The contest featured two of our most beloved Founding Fathers, once warm friends, facing off as the heads of their two still-forming parties — the hot-tempered but sharp-minded John Adams, and the eloquent yet enigmatic Thomas Jefferson — flanked by the brilliant tacticians Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who later settled their own differences in a duel.

The country was descending into turmoil, reeling from the terrors of the French Revolution, and on the brink of war with France. Blistering accusations flew as our young nation was torn apart along party lines: Adams and his elitist Federalists would squelch liberty and impose a British-style monarchy; Jefferson and his radically democratizing Republicans would throw the country into chaos and debase the role of religion in American life. The stakes could not have been higher.

As the competition heated up, other founders joined the fray — James Madison, John Jay, James Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, George Clinton, John Marshall, Horatio Gates, and even George Washington — some of them emerging from retirement to respond to the political crisis gripping the nation and threatening its future.

Drawing on unprecedented, meticulous research of the day-to-day unfolding drama, from diaries and letters of the principal players as well as accounts in the fast-evolving partisan press, Larson vividly re-creates the mounting tension as one state after another voted and the press had the lead passing back and forth. The outcome remained shrouded in doubt long after the voting ended, and as Inauguration Day approached, Congress met in closed session to resolve the crisis. In its first great electoral challenge, our fragile experiment in constitutional democracy hung in the balance.

A Magnificent Catastrophe is history writing at its evocative best: the riveting story of the last great contest of the founding period.

Review:

"'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)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Pulitzer Prize-winner Larson vividly recounts America's first overtly partisan election.The colorful cast of Founders included Madison, Jay, Pinckney, Monroe and Samuel Adams; the behind-the-scenes machinations of High Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton and Republican organizer Aaron Burr were especially dramatic. Larson does justice to them all and demonstrates his storytelling mastery....[A] smartly conceived, beautifully wrought campaign history, bound to entertain and inform." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Much of the intrigue in those days was conducted by writing letters, and Larson has relied on them heavily to tell his story." Seattle Times

Review:

"Larson takes a subject both complex and resonant and produces a fine read." Library Journal

Review:

"[A] well-written and thoroughly enjoyable examination." Booklist

About the Author

Edward J. Larson is the author of seven books and the recipient of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History for his book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. His other books include Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory; Evolution's Workshop; God and Science on the Galapagos Islands; and Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution. Larson has also written over one hundred articles, most of which address topics of law, science, or politics from an historical perspective, which have appeared in such varied journals as The Atlantic, Nature, Scientific American, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, and Virginia Law Review. He is a professor of history and law at Pepperdine University and lives in Georgia and California.

Table of Contents

Preface

What Our Readers Are Saying

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OneMansView, December 14, 2008 (view all comments by OneMansView)
The first election of rancor and hyperbole

Totally consistent with the author’s claim that the Presidential election of 1800 was the first national election involving clearly defined partisan elements, this book focuses on the intrigues and electioneering that occurred in several of the states in the selection of legislators and electors in 1800, the results of which were played out in the Electoral College on Dec 3. A complicating factor in the elections was the several ways in which electors could be selected – by legislators or by popular vote, either by district or statewide slates – not to mention, that each elector had two votes for president and none for vice-president. A primary purpose of the author is to capture the flavor and intensity of the various campaigns, which he does by quoting liberally from the writings – pamphlets, letters, newspaper articles, etc – of a wide range of sources, not just the principals.

In a brief introduction, the author demonstrates that the political process was on a collision course throughout the 1790s. One element of colonial society, led by Washington, Hamilton, and to some extent Adams, held that the best men of society should govern with little input from the general population. They did not regard themselves as a political party or faction, but merely as the rightful holders of government positions – an essentially aristocratic position. They desired a strong central government that favored commercial interests. Others, best represented by Jefferson and Madison, favored states’ rights, small national government, and liberty, including religious freedom, for all. It was a view more in keeping with the spirit and policies of 1776. These two distinct factions became known as the Federal(ist) Party and the Republican Party.

Beyond polices of a national bank, full funding of war debts, protective tariffs, and the like that favored economic elites, the European situation involving the establishment of a French republic and British-French hostilities created the largest divide in America with the Federalists being pro-British and the Republicans being pro-French. The Jay treaty with Britain, the rejection of US envoys by the French minister, and the Quasi-War with France, as well as the Alien and Sedition acts, all generated tremendous partisan opinion throughout the decade. Of course the Sedition Act was designed to quell the speech of the alleged illegitimate and unpatriotic opposition.

It is interesting that leading revolutionary figures who pulled together in casting off the rule of Britain could within a matter of a few years come to dramatically different positions regarding the definition of what America should be and what policies to pursue. The author suggests that as early as 1791, Jefferson and Adams had become political rivals as least partly due to Jefferson’s endorsement of Paine’s The Rights of Man where he characterized Adams’ thinking as being “political heresies.”

Also interesting is the split in the Federalist faction that was orchestrated by Alexander Hamilton. As the leader of the High Federalists, Hamilton saw Adams’ attempt at rapprochement with the French as being nearly treasonous. As a consequence, all during the election cycle of 1800, Hamilton schemed with other High Federalists to limit Adams’ election chances. His desperation knew no limits, as he published a lengthy pamphlet in which he attacked Adams personality and capacity to govern.

Recurrent themes in the campaign of 1800 voiced by the Federalists were the supposed ties of Republicans to the revolutionaries of France, or the Jacobins, and the ramifications of such. Jefferson came under scurrilous attack because of his alleged atheism, despite the fact that many of the leading figures of the day were Deists or Unitarians. Already known for his authorship of Virginia’s Statue of Religious Freedom in 1786, which disestablished state support for any particular religion and made religious tests for civil rights illegal, his known support for the French made it easy for the Federalists to claim that his election would issue in the same sort of excesses committed by the Jacobins, including the killing of clergy, the confiscation of property, and the like.

Because of the flawed process of selecting electors and electing the president, the 1800 election resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr, a scoundrel and political operative from New York. After over thirty rounds of voting in the House of Representatives beginning on Feb 11, 1801, and great deal of intrigue, Jefferson was elected president with Burr becoming the vice-president on his way to a life of scheming and corruption.

The intense partisanship of 1800 and the rise of the Republican Party were almost inevitable as they reflected a serious fault line in American society. Though prevailing ideas cannot change overnight, the blatant elitism of the Federalists quickly faded from the American scene and with it much of the extreme partisanship for the next twenty-four years. Jefferson and the Republicans undoubtedly felt that the promise of the Revolution had been restored.

This book is best in capturing the rancor and the hyperbole of the times that culminated in the presidential election of 1800. The author focuses on the states that were most important to the outcome, namely, New York, PA, Virginia, Maryland, and S. Carolina. As the author points out, national issues were extremely important in those local elections. At times the local coverage becomes a bit tedious and repetitious. Other works probably capture the overall history of the times better.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780743293167
Subtitle:
The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign
Author:
Larson, Edward J.
Author:
Larson, Edward J.
Publisher:
Free Press
Subject:
History
Subject:
Presidents
Subject:
United States - Revolutionary War
Subject:
United States - Antebellum Era
Subject:
United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Subject:
Political Process - Elections
Subject:
Government - Executive Branch
Subject:
History
Subject:
History : United States - Antebellum Era
Subject:
Political Science : Government - Executive Branch
Subject:
Political Science : Political Process - Elections
Subject:
Jefferson, Thomas
Subject:
Political culture -- United States -- History.
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20070918
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
9 x 6.25 in 21.42 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » US History » 1800 to 1945
History and Social Science » US History » 1800 to Civil War

A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.50 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Free Press - English 9780743293167 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'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)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Pulitzer Prize-winner Larson vividly recounts America's first overtly partisan election.The colorful cast of Founders included Madison, Jay, Pinckney, Monroe and Samuel Adams; the behind-the-scenes machinations of High Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton and Republican organizer Aaron Burr were especially dramatic. Larson does justice to them all and demonstrates his storytelling mastery....[A] smartly conceived, beautifully wrought campaign history, bound to entertain and inform."
"Review" by , "Much of the intrigue in those days was conducted by writing letters, and Larson has relied on them heavily to tell his story."
"Review" by , "Larson takes a subject both complex and resonant and produces a fine read."
"Review" by , "[A] well-written and thoroughly enjoyable examination."
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