Adams vs. Jefferson

by John Ferling

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347

Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (Pivotal Moments in American History) is a 2005 non-fictional political history book written by American historian and writer John Ferling. Even though it has a quite specific title, the book actually has a much broader focus on North American politics in general. Mainly, however, it focuses on the controversial and intense 1800 presidential election and campaign. The book is also considered a biography, as Ferling presents detailed portraits of the four major presidential candidates: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and Charles Coatesworth Pinckney, giving some insight into their private lives and their political careers.

Although, the book revolves around the interesting, and frankly improbable, friendship between the two revolutionary icons, Adams and Jefferson, and their political battle for the presidency, it also shines some light on the conflict between the Republican Party, led by Jefferson, and the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton.

This conflict was based on the different views and opinions on the Constitution of the Unites States, held by the two opposing parties: The Federalists wanted a strong central government and a society led by the elites, while the Republicans favored states’ rights and the concept of democracy. Essentially, this clash between the parties shows us the origins and the creation of the two-party political system in the US and the modern American electoral process. The argument grew in such proportions that the Republicans “threatened civil war if the Federalists denied Jefferson the presidency,” which is the climax of the story. In the end, as we all know, Adams and the Federalists lose to Jefferson and the Republicans.

The book has received mixed-to-positive reviews, especially for its informative, historically accurate, and understandable narrative; however, Ferling did receive some criticism for his mildly subjective views; his obvious bias towards Burr, Adams, and Hamilton; and his occasional use of anachronistic language. Essentially, Ferling didn’t want his book to be considered a complete historical or political study on these characters and events, but rather wanted to present a simpler version of the 1800 election and freely show his interest on the subject.

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