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Adams vs. Jefferson

The Tumultuous Election of 1800

John Ferling

Publication Date - 20 October 2005

ISBN: 9780195189063

288 pages
5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches

In Stock

A fast-paced narrative of the dramatic election of 1800, in which two Founding Fathers waged a bitter battle to shape the destiny of the young nation


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.


  • Covering 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
  • Provides a 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

About the Author(s)

John Ferling is Professor of History at the State University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he has appeared in many documentaries and has written numerous books, including John Adams: A Life, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution, and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic.


"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

"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....Ferling's ultimate triumph is showing that, historically, when faced with dire circumstances at home and abroad, American democracy has pulled through."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This is a stunning book, by far the finest ever on one of the most critical elections in the nation's history. If you thought 2000 was wild, wait until you read John Ferling's vivid and authoritative account of 1800. A brilliant historian and graceful stylist, Ferling topples old and new myths, and restores Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton to their proper places, while sustaining a lucid and gripping narrative. There is no better concise work on high political drama in the early republic--and on the tortuous and contested emergence of American democracy."--Sean Wilentz, Princeton University

"The tale of Adams and Jefferson is a painful and moving one. They were friends, then enemies, then friends again over a period of more than 50 years. Ferling does a good job of summing up the similarities that made their friendship possible as well as the differences destined to drive them apart."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Ferling is especially adept at revealing the bare-knuckled partisanship that lay behind this vote, and the maneuvering between Burr and Federalists in the House of Representatives that might have made Burr president rather than Jefferson."--Washington Post

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

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

"A lively and reliable account of Thomas Jefferson's election as President in 1800, a fiery period in American history. Readers who assume that national politics in the 1990s was the dirtiest ever or that the election of 2000 was the most controversial will be struck to learn that political rivalries in the 1790s were even dirtier....General readers will find it exciting, clear, and instructive."--Library Journal

"Ferling's straightforward narrative makes complicated history accessible to the average reader. He writes with authority, and his storyteller's touch makes many of these figures come alive."--Wilmington News-Journal

"Guiding his reader through the critical time he calls the 'high voltage' 1790s, John Ferling makes sense of the crisis mentality that enveloped early America. From the 'narrow Squeak' that awarded John Adams the presidency in 1796 to 'something new under the sun' that spirited Thomas Jefferson into office four years later, Ferling lays out a tempting tale of political life, once again proving himself a careful, clear-headed interpreter of issues and personalities."--Andrew Burstein, University of Tulsa, author of The Inner Jefferson and The Passions of Andrew Jackson

"In Adams vs. Jefferson, the distinguished historian John Ferling offers a fascinating narrative of the election of 1800 and demonstrates how that dramatic contest could have doomed the American experiment in republicanism. Instead, the election, a far more contentious event than the election of 2000, marked the true consolidation of the American Revolution and the triumph of the ideal of government resting on the consent of the governed."--John K. Alexander, University of Cincinnati, author of Samuel Adams: America's Revolutionary Politician

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