“Both parties instead hoped to crush the other in the national election of 1800.  The campaign rhetoric became especially dire and bloody under a Republican administration, ‘murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, the nation black with crimes.’ A Republican journalist countered by denouncing Adams as ‘one of the most egregious fools in the continent,’ who meant to become an American king.  Republicans and Federalists brawled in city streets in competitions to sing songs and display their flags.”—Alan Taylor, American Revolutions:  A Continental History, 1750-1804, W.W. Norton Co., 2016, p. 424

Sound familiar?  For those who need refreshers on our history, in 1800 Republicans (not to be confused with today’s Republicans) were the party of state’s rights and limited government led by Thomas Jefferson, and Federalists were the party of a strong central government led by a powerful executive, exemplified by John Adams.  The Federalists were leery of pure democracy which they felt led to anarchy and mob rule. The Republicans were leery of centralized government and a strong executive which they believed would lead to a monarchy.  Our constitution can be viewed as a great compromise between the two viewpoints which gave us such arcane features as the electoral college and counting slaves as three-fifths of a person.

Now, almost 220 years later we have the specter of a president who warns that if Democrats are elected there will be an increase in crime and a radical move to the left towards socialism.  The Democrats warn that if Trump is re-elected, he will have free reign to rule as a king.  Both sides have their list of horrors if the other wins.  1800 all over again.

It is over a year to go before the November 2020 election.  But you can already see both side’s playbook:  The Republicans mongering fear by screaming the “S” word, and the Democrats mongering fear by screaming “Unhinged Dictator!”  Will we find middle ground?  Hard to see how in this polarized environment.  But as our Commander in Chief likes to say: “We’ll see what happens.”






  1. “The air will be rent with the cries of distress!”

    McCollough said that John Adams was opposed to the idea of political parties, and said democracy would be doomed if we gave in to that. Just one party – imagine!


  2. Interesting but illustrative of another problem. The issue “who tells your story?” The issues around the 1800 election figure heavily in Ron Chernows book Hamilton. The story of the Federalist Party, while they were troubled, was told by the winners of the election of 1800, Tom Jefferson and the Republicans. Specifically the story of Alexander Hamilton was told by his enemies, Tom Jefferson and other Republicans and stuck for over two centuries.

    Sent from my iPhone



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s