THE FIRST CAMPAIGN
Thomas Jefferson v. John Adams, President, 1800
Thomas Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a
half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father…
raised wholly on hoe-cake made of coarse-ground Southern corn,
bacon and hominy, with an occasional change of fricasseed bullfrog.
—A Federalist handbill circulated in 1800
Thomas Jefferson's defeat of incumbent president John Adams in 1800 was the result of the first real political campaign in American history. This campaign is often called the Revolution of 1800 or the second American revolution because it was the first election in which power was transferred from one political party to another, and it symbolized what for many Americans was a titanic political struggle between two very different views on how to run the country.
John Adams was a Federalist. The Federalist Party galvanized around George Washington, Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, and emphasized national government power. Jefferson represented the Democratic-Republicans, who, along with James Madison, advocated more limited national power and an emphasis on state and local authority. This election tested the limits of national authority and the public's tolerance for the heavy-handed use of government power.
It was also one of the nastiest political campaigns in our nation's history. It reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential pol