When John Adams took the presidency by a three-vote margin in the Electoral College, he entered office as a successor. He inherited George Washington’s cabinet and agenda in a position literally made to fit the general. Adams ultimately failed by not providing the nation with another four years of Washingtonian leadership: he was not beloved, he was not first, and thus he was not successful. Instead, he was uncomfortable in his own executive skin: wary of his colleagues and their treachery, unhappy at the press’s constant criticism. He chose to act at inopportune moments and remained paralyzed in key times. Though he held to his ideas with surprising strength, he was plagued by self-doubt and paranoia when trying to communicate and employ them. Intellectually brighter than Washington, and certainly more politically experienced, Adams could not shine in the shadow of the former president’s image. Adams’ personality simply did not suit the role of second president.
Thomas Jefferson came to power by a less impressive margin—a tie vote in the Electoral College landed the election in the U.S. House of Representatives—but when he did, he came with the force of a revolution. (Indeed, he called his election the Revolution of 1800.) By sheer strength of will, Jefferson remade the presidency in his own unique and eccentric image. He was no Washingtonian citizen among citizens, humble and serving, wigged, powdered, and pressed as the shining symbol of the new republic. In homespun suits and bedroom slippers, disheveled and comfortable, Jefferson was the man in power. He wined and dined