The Election of 1800 vs. The 2016 Presidential Race

By Sarah Warren on October 8, 2016

Regardless of your side of the party line, the 2016 Presidential race is high stakes at best and utterly horrifying at worst. It’s easy to think that we’ve never had an election so contentious, never any candidates so awful, and that 2016 will catalyze the fall of America. Granted, it has been a very long time since we’ve had such a bitter Presidential race – two hundred and sixteen years, in fact.

The Election of 1800, also called the Revolution of 1800, was the fourth United States Presidential Election. Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in a Presidential race that makes 2016 look tame. Don’t believe me? Here’s what they have in common:

Incumbent vs. “Underdog”
 There may be no actual incumbent or underdog in 2016, but we do have an experienced politician running against a prominent public figure who’d like for everyone to believe he’s an underdog. The Election of 1800 was no different. Adams, the actual incumbent, was running for reelection against Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s cabinet member, former ambassador to France, and Adams’ former vice president. That’s right, getting cozy with the opposing candidate is nothing new.

Two Big Names, Two Little Names
 Many people forget that there were four candidates in the Election of 1800. Jefferson and Adams, much like Trump and Clinton, had the highest profiles, but Aaron Burr and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney also ran (2016′s “little names” are Gary Johnson and Jill Stein). Rumors that libertarian ”little name” Gary Johnson might give Trump a run for his money – well, before the Aleppo incident – are oddly reminiscent of the way Burr nearly stole the election from Jefferson. After tying in the electoral college, the decision was sent to the House of Representatives, who, after tying a whopping thirty-five times, Jefferson won on the thirty-sixth ballot. Who knows? Maybe Gary Johnson can salvage his campaign and cause a similar upset.

Lots of Other People Were Urged to Run
The clamoring for Joe Biden and Mitt Romney to toss their hats into the ring is only an echo of the shouts for prominent politicians to intervene in the Election of 1800. The short list included George Washington, Adams’ predecessor, and Alexander Hamilton, the former Treasury Secretary.

Ad Hominem Attacks
Ad hominem – literally “to the man” – attacks are no stranger to politics. Even so far back as the election of 1800, dirty politics played a prominent roll in campaigning. While Trump attacks Clinton over Benghazi and her emails, and Clinton attacks Trump over his remarks about women, Jefferson and Adams got a little more creative. Since open campaigning wasn’t the fashion, candidates hired or befriended newspapers, other politicians, or notable men to campaign for them. Jefferson’s supporters called John Adams a moral hermaphrodite and the Federalist Party tried to spread rumors that Jefferson died and Adams was the only viable candidate. So, really, attacking Clinton’s health and Trump’s political flip-flopping is nothing new.

Lots of Outside Voices
If you think the 2016 election is drowning in commentary from pundits and politicians alike, the election of 1800 was worse. Because candidates bought out newspapers, political commentary and propaganda was everywhere. To top it all off, prominent men like Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington stepped into the public square to offer their two-cents on each of the candidates. In fact, Hamilton was instrumental in getting Jefferson – the candidate from the opposing party – elected by the House.

One Party Virtually Disowned Its Candidate
Not only did Hamilton argue that Democratic-Republicans were amoral, anarchist atheists – then turn around and support one in Congress – but he argued that a member of his own party, John Adams, was just as bad. Hamilton lambasted Adams in the Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States, which may be read here. Hamilton, a notorious political hothead, obliterated the only other notable member of his own party and was essential in Adams’ downfall. Not only that, but soon after the election of 1800, the Federalist Party crumbled.

Regardless of part affiliation or political leanings, it’s important to keep this incident and its consequences in mind as Reince Priebus and other notable Republicans denounce Donald Trump. It will have consequences not only for this election, but for the party in the long run.

Sarah R. Warren is a student of English Literature and Political Science at Florida State University. Her work has appeared in Ant vs Whale, Creative Communications' 2014 Spring Anthology, HowlRound, and the PULP magazine. Her poetry has received an honorable mention, Silver Key, and Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She is grateful to God for the opportunity to write at Uloop and attend such a wonderful university.

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