American Revolution, Alien and Sedition Acts and Other Factors Which Detrimented John Adam's Election
John Adam’s unpopularity was the reason for Thomas Jefferson’s election success in 1800 to a minor extent. There were various other factors that attributed to Jefferson’s election success. George Washington resigning in 1797 and his death in 1799 was paramount to Jefferson’s confidence. America winning their revolutionary war and gaining independence in 1776 was vital for Jefferson’s national American supporters. Moreover, the flaws in the American voting system and the actions of Alexander Hamilton aided Jefferson to be favored as president.
The two major contemporary historians of the Revolution were David Ramsay of South Carolina and Mercy Otis Warren of Massachusetts. Ramsay, in his The History of the American Revolution (1789), told the story of how virtuous “husbandmen, merchants, mechanics, and fishermen” won independence from the corrupt British. He saw the Revolution as a constitutional crisis brought on by the irreconcilability of Britain’s imperial interests and the colonists’ experience in self-government. The first female historian of the Revolution, Mercy Otis Warren, in her History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805), described the Revolution as a “boon of liberty.” Being the sister of James Otis, Jr. and the wife of Dr. James Warren, she had been personally involved in the coming of the Revolution and saw the actions of the British in the 1760s and 1770s as attempts to establish tyranny over the colonies. Having been participants in the events of which they wrote, both saw their histories as a moral story and warned their readers against eschewing virtue for the vices and corruption of the British.
George Washington resigning after his second term in 1797, and shortly his death on December 14th 1799, factored into Jefferson’s success in the 1800 election. George Washington’s influence on the American public appeals to every class, he was revered as the leader of the American army that won their independence and was the first president of the United States. Washington became a figure that “nobody could hope to gain presidency from” (Llewellyn, Thompson, 2015) which is why his resignation was vital to Jefferson’s election success, it had given Jefferson the confidence to resign as Secretary of State and run for president. It also offered Adams the confidence to run for presidency. Furthermore, the legacy of Washington left the slaves, women, and working class of America to appeal to revolutionary ideology, since their victory from the revolutionary war in 1781. His death also left an age of mourning for all the classes in America, they were vulnerable and hoped for any president that was as great as Washington. Essentially, Washington’s design and death had a long term effect on the American social climate, and they were in a vulnerable state that would appeal to Jefferson’s campaign since he followed a similar revolutionary ideology.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the influence it had on the United States was a major factor for Thomas Jefferson’s success in the 1800 election. The signing of the document gave birth to the United States of America and the “document is symbolic of American democracy and one of the free charters of freedom”(ushistory.org, 2008) as America was ruled as a matriarchy under Britain. The Declaration gave American nationalists a justification to revolt against the federalist government that no longer guaranteed them of their natural rights. One of the major movements in this revolutionary age was the American women, historian Cokie Roberts considers these women “our founding mothers”(nationalpublicradio.org, 2014). The women supported the revolutionary cause by boycotting British imports, including tea as that was popular and in demand during the time. An advocate for this movement was John Adam’s wife, Abigail, stating that “we … will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation,” (Boyer, 2012, page 24) – she inspired the women around her to support the social democrats, she also constantly challenged John Adam’s federalist ideology. The Declaration of Independence enhanced the rebellious nature of American citizens, and urged them to revolt against any connection to British government, such as the women of America who would go on to favor Thomas Jefferson and his campaign for the 1800 election.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s opposing political ideologies and campaigns, had expressed that Adams administration was contradictory of America’s newfound independence. John Adams’ campaign was called the federalists, they favored an energetic strong central government, but a weaker state government. Thus they believed that an excess of democracy would lead to chaos and instability, this fear grew from the ongoing French Revolution 1789. Moreover, their method of running government is reminiscent of Britain, America in 1783 had gained their independence from Britain, so the general public and American nationalists did not favor the Federalists for presidency. However, Thomas Jefferson representing the social democrats favored a limited central government and strong state governments, and they believed that the greatest threat to America was a strong distant government controlled by a few self serving aristocrats. Their view on the French Revolution was contradictory of the Federalists, as they saw it as progressive and necessary. Historian Gary Nash describes this confrontation between the two ideologies as America a “colonial society filled with political disorder” (Nash, 1987, pg 154) as mass protests and rallies occurred. The two sides as well critiqued each other through their similar use of propaganda. This propaganda was primarily pamphlets and newspapers featuring illustrations and excerpts ridiculing the other. Historian Bernard Bailyn expressed that propaganda “would flow through all subsequent stages of American political thoughts and provide the permanent foundation of the nation’s political beliefs” (Bailyn, 1990, pg 143), and this shift of political beliefs would decide the presidency. Ultimately, the Federalists and democratic republicans opposing ideologies would inevitably lead to one of the parties being elected and the other disgraced.
John Adams own personality and ideologies played a significant part in the success of Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 election. Adam’s campaign for the 1800 election was very unpopular among the general public and the democratic side of America, as the Federalists being pro-British contradicted their independent way of life. Furthermore, a significant policy he issued in his campaign for presidency 1978 was the Alien sedition act. Historian David McCullough expresses that this policy was “rightly judged by history as the most reprehensible act of Adam’s administration” (Wilentz, 2001). This was because the act made it harder for immigrants to migrate into America, and easier to deport them. The act featured laws that the government could arrest anyone who critiqued the Federalists, and immigrants could vote only after being a citizen for 14 years, whereas before it was 5 years. Furthermore if war with France broke out, all male foreign immigrants in America could be deported. These ridiculous policies had a major effect on Jefferson’s campaign as his propaganda editors were imprisoned and immigrants who favored his party were unable to vote. This policy was seen as necessary by the nationalists and federalists as the Navi confrontation Quazi war in July 1798, angered them and conveyed that French were not to be trusted. However, Adams in his presidency was able to end this conflict with signing the Treaty of Mortefontaine on September 30, 1800. Adams presidency was filled with conflicts with France, historian Kenneth Walsh expresses that “Under Adams, there was deep public dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and rising divisions” (Walsh, 2018). The sedition acts caused mass hysteria in the supporters of the democratic republicans and immigrants as protests and debate swayed the general vote to Jefferson’s campaign. Adams however did find some support as his campaign’s pamphlets dramatically accused Jefferson’s campaign of enforcing ‘Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest openly taught and practiced’ (Onuf, 2019) these statements made the conservatives of America view Jefferson’s campaign as a threat to society. Fundamentally, Adam’s campaign had made himself unappealing for the general public vote as the Alien sedition act limited his popularity, but his party’s pamphlet attacks on Jefferson were successful and his military past appealed to a minority of nationalists.
Though John Adam’s unpopularity did serve to benefit Jefferson’s electoral success, his campaign was also successful in appealing to the general public. Jefferson’s campaign was very popular prior to the 1800 election. Radicalists saw the democratic republicans as fighting for their national pride as the party believed in decentralized power, and Jefferson was involved in the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Thomas Jefferson can be described as “too revolutionary in his notions, is yet a lover of liberty and will be desirous of something like orderly Government” (gilderlehrman.org, 2012), and as historian Edward Countryman states that Jefferson “saw that people outside his own class would have to be the real source of resistance” (Llewellyn, Thompson, 2015) thus he aimed his speeches towards the working class and middle class. Moreover, Jefferson was heavily supported by French immigrants in the United States for enforcing the Kentucky Resolution of 1798, which abolished the Sedition Acts. Immigrants within the United States were able to vote, and these votes went straight to the democratic republicans. The abolishment of the sedition acts was a strategic move by Jefferson to establish votes for his campaign. Jefferson’s studying as a lawyer is attributed to his strategic mindset and ability to be able to manipulate the nationalists.
Another significant figure that contributed to Jefferson’s electoral success, was the flaws in the American voting system and the attitude and mistakes of Alexander Hamilton. The election of 1800 for the federalists had concluded with Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr tied with 73 votes, therefore the decision was left to the high federalists. Though the federalists did not agree with the democratic ideologies of Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton urged the office to vote for Jefferson. Hamilton stating that “Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself – thinks of nothing but his own aggrandisement – and will be content with nothing short of permanent power in his own hands” (gilderlehrman.org, 2012). Hamilton’s decision was swayed by his own hate for Burr, they have been hostile towards each other since 1776 when Burr took the senate from Hamilton’s step father, Phillip Schuyler. Furthermore, in 1776 Hamilton targeted Adam’s campaign with various pamphlets that severely critiqued and ridiculed Adam. The conservatives of the American population appealed to these pamphlets the most as Hamilton was revered as serving as the secretary of the treasury, and appointed by the respected George Washington. However, Hamilton’s effect on the conservatives was crippled after he was exposed in a sex scandal with James Reynold’s wife in 1797, therefore he was seen as being untrustworthy and unfit to run for presidency.
John Adam’s unpopularity was indeed a significant reason for Thomas Jefferson’s election success in 1800. Adams was extreme during his presidency with issuing the alien sedition act in 1778 and his federalist ideology served to damage his campaign. Other events and movements supported Jefferson, George Washington’s resignation and death served to give Jefferson the opportunity to pursue presidency. The signing of the declaration of independence created enhanced the revolutionary age and inspired the American nationalists to support Jefferson and his revolutionary ideals. Jefferson’s campaign and his efforts also provided his success as his propaganda was effective on the general public, and his studying as a lawyer gave him the knowledge to achieve his goals. Jefferson’s presidency was guaranteed by the actions of Alexander Hamilton as his temper and political position appointed Jefferson as president and made it impossible for himself to run for president.
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