All too often, I read or hear someone arguing about how politics in the U.S. is more divided and bitter than ever. That has always seemed overblown, and now I have a book that illustrates the point very well. John Ferling's Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 is a great read, detailing the lead-up and the intrigue into the 1800 election, which of course Thomas Jefferson won in the House after an Electoral College tie.
What comes out crystal clear is how many of the protagonists hated each other's guts, and the press was far, far more inflammatory than it is now. Some highlights:
--John Adams was referred to as "His Rotundity" (p. 90).
--Alexander Hamilton's economic plan was, according to one journalist, the "most memorable piece of imbecility and impudence that was ever imposed on a nation" (p. 147).
--Readers were told that Thomas Jefferson sacrificed dogs on an altar at Monticello (p.154).
--and, for good measure, the French were "factious, cutthroat, frog-eating, treaty-breaking, grace fallen God-defying devils" (p. 110). If they had a senate cafeteria back then, they surely would've changed the name of french fries to freedom fries.
It even got to the point that a Federalist and Republican duked it out on the floor of the House:
Lyon retaliated by spitting in Griswold's face, and Griswold in turn thrashed the Vermonter with a cane. Lyon fought back with fire tongs. The brawl ended only when colleagues separated the gladiators, who by then were punching and kicking each other as they rolled about the chamber floor (p. 106).
Aside from all the insults, Ferling also describes all the intrigue, bargaining, and threats that went on to determine who would win the presidency. Karl Rove looks like an amateur compared to some of those guys.