Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

10
“The Boisterous Sea of Liberty”
The Campaign of 1800

CAMPAIGNING IN 1796 had not begun until Washington announced his intention to retire, about a hundred days before election day. Things were different in the election of 1800. “Electioneering is already begun” in the capital, Abigail Adams noted in November 1799, thirteen months before election day. 1 Indeed, around this time Pennsylvania's senator James Ross introduced legislation to create a “Grand Committee”it— was to consist of the chief justice of the United States and five members of Congress—to adjudicate any disputes in the election of the president. As the chief justice was a staunch Federalist, and as that party controlled both houses of Congress, Ross' bill seemed to many to be an attempt by the Federalists to steal the election. The bill went nowhere, but its introduction and the Republican response to it—one who was close to Jefferson labeled it a “deadly blow aimed at us”was a signal that the presidential contest was under way. 2

So too was the publication a few weeks later of James Callender's The Prospect Before Us. A Scotsman with a poison pen, Callender had been forced to flee to Ireland, then in 1793 to Philadelphia, to avoid arrest for his writings. The pamphlet that got him in trouble in the old country—had been read with an assault on the British constitution— delight by Jefferson while he was secretary of state. Jefferson also savored Callender's subsequent work, especially when he not only lashed

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