Adams faced a difficult reelection campaign in 1800. The Federalist Party was deeply split over his foreign policy. Many had opposed his decision to send envoys to Paris in 1799, some because they feared it would result in national humiliation for the United States and others because they hoped to maintain the Quasi-War crisis for partisan ends. Furthermore, early in 1800, Adams fired two members of his cabinet, Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, and James McHenry, the secretary of war, for their failure to support his foreign policy. Their discharge alienated numerous Federalists. In addition to the fissures within his party, the differences between the Federalists and the Republicans had become white-hot. Jeffersonians were furious over the creation of a standing army, the new taxes, and the Alien and Sedition Acts.
As in 1796, the Federalist members of Congress caucused in the spring of 1800 and nominated Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, an officer in the Continental army, a member of the Constitutional Convention, and a part of the diplomatic commission that Adams sent to France in 1797. The Federalists did not designate a choice for the presidency but asked their presidential electors to cast their two votes for Adams and Pinckney. The Democratic-Republicans meanwhile nominated Jefferson and Burr, their candidates in the previous presidential election, but designated Jefferson as their choice for President.
In the campaign that followed, the Federalists depicted Jefferson as a godless nonbeliever and a radical revolutionary; he was often called a Jacobin, after the most radical faction in France during the French Revolution. His election, it was charged, would bring about a reign of terror in the nation. The Republicans cast Adams as a monarchist and the Federalist Party as an enemy of republicanism, including the greater egalitarianism promised by the American Revolution. The level of personal attack by both parties knew no bounds. At one point, Adams was accused of plotting to have his son marry one of the daughters of King George III and thus establish a dynasty to unite Britain and the United States. The plot had been stopped, according to the story, only by the intervention of George Washington, who had dressed in his old Revolutionary War uniform to confront Adams with sword in hand. Jefferson, meanwhile, was accused of vivisection and of conducting bizarre ritualistic rites at Monticello, his home in Virginia.
Public opinion in 1800 is difficult to gauge. Only five states—down from seven in 1796, permitted the qualified voters to elect the members of the electoral college. State legislatures made the choice in the remaining eleven states. Moreover, several states abandoned the election of electors in districts and instituted a winner-take-all system. Virginia adopted the at-large format, enabling Jefferson to win all twenty-one votes from his home state; had the election been by district, Adams likely would have won up to nine votes. In addition, Adams was the first presidential candidate to be victimized by the infamous three-fifths compromise agreed to in the Constitutional Convention.
Jefferson’s victory in 1800 also stemmed from the disunion of the Federalist Party and, more importantly, the superior party organization of the Democratic-Republicans, which enabled the party to capture both the presidency and Congress.
Until tomorrow: A picture is a poem without words.
Dorothy Prats / [email protected]