Summary: Edward Larsen paints a brilliant picture of the 1800 presidential election with his description of the crazy ride that was America’s first real presidential campaign. This election created our current two-party system and forever carved the lines of partisanship that serve to divide our country even today. Larsen draws from research, diaries, and letters of the main characters to vividly recount the contest that pitted two founding fathers and former friends against one another in an election that would serve to shape the course of the nation. The candidates were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Adams and his Federalist Party allied with England and supported Alexander Hamilton’s plans for a national system of finance and industrial development. Adams was short, fat, and forthright seemingly always carrying a burden. Jefferson, on the other hand, was a tall, thin, aristocrat who acted in a covert manner in order to keep up the appearances of a gentleman. Jefferson and his Republican Party backed the French and they stood for limited, decentralized government. Personal drama also came into play in this election creating divisions in both parties. Hamilton and Aaron Burr hated each other so much that they finally settled their dispute in a duel. Larsen depicts the anxiety that filled the nation as one by one the states voted and the candidates worked behind the scenes to find ways to undermine their opponents. The results were in question even after the voting was complete and Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated president by a vote of the House of Representatives.
Evaluation: This was a historical book filled with facts and excitement. It was well written and easy to read when I was able to find the time to actually spend reading it. I recognized the names of most all of the main players in the book and it was interesting to see them in a new light as everyday people instead of as names on the Declaration of Independence. Reading this book made me consider my views of politics and policies. I also noted that not much has really changed in the way that elections take place. A fun fact was that in the past Presidents and Vice Presidents were elected separately. Jefferson was Adam’s Vice President despite their opposing views. And in the election of 1800 Jefferson became the only Vice President to defeat the president that he served under.
Rating: I give this book four stars out of five.
Recommendations: Other historical novels such as Adams vs Jefferson: The Election of 1800, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, and The Perils of Peace: America’s Struggle for Survival After Yorktown.