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Publisher's Summary

Award-winning author John Ferling is a leading authority on the American Revolution. His entertaining and enlightening histories have greatly improved our understanding of early America and the Founding Fathers. Now Ferling opens a window to the past and explores the contentious presidential election of 1800.

Once close friends, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became bitter rivals as they fought for control of the young government. In a no-holds-barred brawl, both camps used any and all methods to sway voters. There was mudslinging, name-calling, and backstabbing. After a stalemate in the Electoral College, balloting went on for days and nights. Friendships were crushed, promises were broken, civil war was threatened. In the end, a shady deal gave Jefferson the presidency, and America would never be the same.

Considering the turmoil of the modern era, Adams vs. Jefferson is a timely book through which we can better understand the antagonistic atmosphere of contemporary politics.

The “Pivotal Moments in American History” series seeks to unite the old and the new history, combining the insights and techniques of recent historiography with the power of traditional narrative. Each title has a strong narrative arc with drama, irony, suspense, and – most importantly – great characters who embody the human dimension of historical events. The general editors of “Pivotal Moments” are not just historians; they are popular writers themselves, and, in two cases, Pulitzer Prize winners: David Hackett Fischer, James M. McPherson, and David Greenberg. We hope you like your American History served up with verve, wit, and an eye for the telling detail!

Listen to John Ferling talk about this book on the October 3, 2004, edition of Booknotes.
©2004 John Ferling; (P)2004 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

"Ferling richly presents the twists and turns of the election, as well as a vivid portrait of a struggling new nation and the bruising political battles of our now revered founding fathers." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall

Outstanding work of interpretive history

This work, purportedly about the election of 1800, actually spends less than 1/4 of its length on the election & the various machinations associated with same. That is a good thing. Rather, it reviews, superficially yet very powerfully, the forces that in the years after 1776 brought forth the Federalists, anti-Federalists & Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the sideward glance at the first glimmerings of a "political machine" in the hands of Aaron Burr. It is this interpretation of the 2 decades running up to the election that makes the election crystal-clear. This book also has outstanding narration. Someone who speaks with emphasis & doesn't have to be suffered through. The only weakness of the book, frankly, is the short section that follows the events of the elections, which treads on very well worn ground (Burr's post 1800 shenanigans, Hamilton, Jefferson/Adams correspondence) & does not add anything substantial to the record here. A very small complaint. It still deserves 5 stars in by book.

37 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A little too Jeffersonian

Interesting and informative, but passed over Jefferson's faults too easily. Ferling concludes that the election of 1800 was about liberty (Jefferson and the Republicans) vs. oligarchy (Adams, Hamilton and the Federalists). This is a little simplistic in my view--there was certainly a more moderate strain of Federalism, represented by Adams, which was not the usurper of 1776 liberty represented by Jefferson. I think Ferling comes to a lazy black and white conclusion. But I enjoyed the book.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Jefferson's Point of View

I was disappointed by this book's uneven treatment of the Federalist and the Republicans. After recently reading biographies of Washington, Adams and Hamilton, it was difficult to beleve that this book was referring to the same men or the same historical episodes. It was good to listen to Jefferson's and the other Republican's point of view, but I did get tired of hearing the same critisim of the Federalists over and over and over again. If you do listen to this book you should also listen to the recent biographies of Adams and Hamilton to obtain the alternative points of view.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • James
  • Villa Rica, GA, USA
  • 06-13-07

pretty good

This book is rather Pro-Jefferson but not real bad. At some points it is a little shaky on historical ground. If you are only going to read one book on this period this should not be that book but if you are going to read several make this one about the 5th or 6th.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

The Federalists vs. Republicans

This is the best treatment I have read of the differences that developed our country's first political parties and what the real issues were behind all of the rhetoric and name calling. It was difficult for me to understand Jefferson's position prior to this book. Now I know why he won the election and was elected for a second term so easily. It is an excellent book. Both presidents are treated fairly. I only wish the author had explored and written more about the correspondence of these two giants after their presidencies. Our nation is indebted to these two men and their unique contributions to our republic.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

A worthwhile listen

This is a very worthwhile book as it covers not just the election of 1800 but all that led up to it. The development of the two parties: Federalists and Republicans is covered at length as well as their disagreements throughout the 1790s (an era even more partisan than today!). I feel it was very even handed in its treatment of most of the characters involved with the possible exception of one of the most polarizing individuals: Alexander Hamilton. To remedy this I merely recommend reading/listening to Ron Chernow's biography Alexander Hamilton to get a more complete view of Hamilton and his thoughts and beliefs. I don't see this as, in any way, an intentional act by Mr. Ferling. Instead it was likely the result of the fact that a more nuanced explanation of Hamilton's motives and ideas fell outside the scope of this book.

The basic premise of the book was that the election of 1800 was a remarkable achievement in that it was the first time that the people of the United States was presented with a choice between 2 starkly different candidates with diametrically opposed visions of where the US should go in the next 4-8 years and chose to change from a Federalist system to a Republican system. While there was plenty of high emotion surrounding the election as well as ample political drama it accomplished the remarkable feat of a bloodless transfer of power from one distinct group to another.

This book really stood out in its description of how Jefferson was finally chosen not just over Adams but over Aaron Burr. Its description of the political maneuvering that took place in the House of Representatives was powerful and engaging. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Early Republic period and is worthy to sit on a "shelf" with Joseph Ellis, Ron Chernow, David Mccullough and others.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mark
  • Frisco, TX, USA
  • 04-11-06

Outstanding Title

This was a fascinating presentation not only for showing that the Founding Fathers weren't a monolithic group, but also in how little our politics have changed. Issues such as Religion, civil liberties, war, and the role of the federal vs. the state government. Many of the same things we argue over today were being argued over at the time. Rather than 24-hour news channels, though, they had pamphlets and letters to do their work. Sometimes, they attacked more personally and with greater ferocity than we do today.

The book is a bit one-sided - leaning more towards Jefferson's side and against the "ultra-Federalists" (which sometimes sounds an awful lot like today's media saying "extreme right wing"). However, you will find yourself chuckling as you hear many of the same arguments that still come from politicians today. It really does make some of our modern arguments seem petty when you realize it's nothing especially new.

A fine book overall.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

History Just Seems To Come Alive!

I love it, when in reading (ah, I mean, listening to) a book, where the author can make the story seem to just jump off the pages and come to life. That's especially true, when there is already so much in the way of documented writings, books and movies about the topic such as in the Presidential election of 1800 which pitted John Adams against Thomas Jefferson.

Today's politics are pretty tame compared to what used to go on back in the day. What with all of the name calling, cartoon depictions, and sometimes near fisticuffs or a dual in the streets. Yes, today's politics and politicians are downright boring compared to what the author, John Ferling, describes in this book.

I'm not a big history buff, or political junky, but Ferling's book kept my attention and helped me to learn a lot of things that I didn't know about in the early days of our great nation!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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great story

well written, interesting, gives quite a view into the first years of our union.

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  • Story

Fascinating, detailed account of the amazing election of 1800

If you think that today's national political life is unusual for the USA, you never had a really good course in US history. John Ferling gives you that and so much more in this thorough and captivating book. The narrator takes no liberties, gives a straightforward reading, and makes listening a pleasure. This is a must-have.