“The Revolution of 1800”
IN 1796 JOHN ADAMS AND THOMAS JEFFERSON WERE THE presidential candidates of the rival political parties that had grown up during the past several years. Neither man was an advocate of political parties as an instrument of government. The Constitution had been intended to function without them. Yet political parties had formed on great issues of foreign and domestic policy, each with its own array of doctrines, symbols, and slogans, its own newspapers, its own network of allegiances—in outline, a system of two-party politics wholly unknown to the official government of the Constitution. President George Washington issued a stern warning against the “baneful” influence of parties in his farewell address. They came between the people and their representatives, distracted the public councils, agitated the community with ill-founded jealousies and alarms, and were especially dangerous as channels of foreign intrigue in the young republic. Washington had tried to govern as a leader above parties, and although he had finally failed in this, becoming a Federalist president in spite of himself, the almost universal veneration for his name had been a unifying force, perhaps the strongest the country possessed. With his retirement this force would be removed, for no national halo surrounded Adams or Jefferson or anyone else. Extreme partisanship would likely assert itself and the transition prove difficult whoever the new president might be.
The presidential campaign tended to confirm these apprehensions. Following on the heels of the divisive Jay Treaty, the campaign featured Federalists and Republicans trading accusations of subversion to foreign influence, the former, as friends of the treaty, to Great Britain, the latter, its ardent foes, to France. In this great division in foreign affairs—one that went back to the American Revolution but matured in the French Revolution and the subsequent war between the monarchical coalition, Britain at the head, and the French republic—Adams and Jefferson were clearly identified in the public mind as the friends of Britain and France respectively. The French Revolution had become a political touchstone, communicating to American politics the passions, the hopes and fears, of a struggle between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces in the Western world. Not only had the vice-president supported the British treaty, as he had all the leading measures of the Washington administration, but he was also remembered for his advocacy of doctrines favorable to monarchy and aristocracy and hostile to the democratic revolution. (The libelous use made of the Defence of the American Constitutions during the campaign, he remarked, gave him no pain, since it caused the book to be read by more people during six months than would otherwise read it in a hundred years.)1 Republicans portrayed Adams as “the champion of rank, titles and hereditary distinctions,” while Jefferson was imaged as “the steadfast friend to the rights of the people.”2
The Federalists, of course, had no use for Jefferson, and in the inner circle around Alexander Hamilton, the former secretary of treasury, there was little enthusiasm for Adams. It was Hamilton who, unknown to Adams, had schemed to throw votes away from him upon his election as vice-president; and in 1796 Hamilton secretly plotted to bring in another Federalist candidate, Thomas Pinckney, over Adams’ head. The Hamiltonians considered Adams vain, jealous, and independent. He was not one of them. Despite the Jay Treaty, he frowned at Britain; despite the favorite Federalist measures to stimulate a capitalistic economy, he hated banks and paper money, prized social order over innovation and growth, and seemed to share the simple “agrarian” preferences of the Jeffersonians.3 Obsessed with ideas of his own dignity, and conceiving of the first magistracy as a stewardship of the national interest, loftily ruling over “the spirit of party,” Adams, the Hamiltonians feared, would make a fetish of his independence and brook no interference from them. Yet they had little choice but to take him in 1796. He had been a good soldier in the second office, at least since 1791; his private character was unassailable; and he had more political assets and fewer liabilities than any other available Federalist. On the whole, his claims to the succession could not be denied.
Jefferson had left the government at the end of 1793 with resolutions of never again stirring from his beloved Monticello. “My farm, my family and my books call me to them irresistibly,” he said.4 Before long he was boasting of never reading a newspaper. To these resolutions his Republican friends quietly demurred, while the Federalists suspected they covered a political ambition so poisonous Jefferson dared not acknowledge it to himself. Adams never doubted that the Virginian, for all his vauntings of philosophical tranquility, was his principal rival. Far from being “the ardent pursuer of science” that some thought him, Jefferson was so indolent and so consumed by politics that he would die of frustration at Monticello, Adams predicted. His retirement was, in fact, a masterful political stroke to gain the presidency. “Jefferson thinks by this step to get a reputation as an humble, modest, meek man, wholly without ambition or vanity. He may even have deceived himself into this belief. But if the prospect opens, the world will see and he will feel that he is as ambitious as Oliver Cromwell.”5 History would bear Adams out. Yet there is no reason to question the sincerity of Jefferson’s earlier professions. The Jay Treaty shook him out of his political slumber at Monticello. Viewing it as the capstone of the Hamiltonian system, Jefferson said it was “nothing more than a treaty of alliance between England and the Anglomen of this country against … the people of the United States.”6 Nevertheless, he had no wish to return to the political wars. “The little spice of ambition which I had in my younger days has long since evaporated,” he told Madison, the Republican leader and his personal candidate.7 He never consented to run, or if elected to serve; and lest he refuse, he was not even asked. It had all been done against his will, Jefferson protested. If his friends believed him, it was too much to expect of his enemies. Wasn’t it marvelous, Adams quipped, how political plants grew in the shade!8
The two candidates were silent observers of the campaign that raged around them, and neither could truthfully recognize the other in the images limned by partisan foes. They had, after Jefferson’s departure from Philadelphia, occasionally exchanged letters, which showed how reluctant each man was to yield the old friendship and yet, at the same time, the difficulty of maintaining it on the condition of evading the questions that concerned them most. Thus when Jefferson introduced his idea of the sovereign right of each living generation to determine its destiny independently of its predecessors—an idea inspired by the French Revolution—Adams checked himself, returning only a mild dissent, and Jefferson dropped the subject so obviously harrowing to Adams’ feelings.9 The next letters between them came six months later. And so it went. Early in the election year, months before it was known for certain that Washington would retire, Adams hinted at his own retirement, hoping in this way to sound the depths of Jefferson’s ambition. In a masterful reply, the latter again expressed his loathing of politics, signaled his confidence in Adams’ republicanism and implied he would never be an obstacle in his way. “I am sure, from the honesty of your heart,” he wrote, “you join me in detestation of the corruption of the English government, and that no man on earth is more incapable than yourself of seeing that copied among us, willingly. I have been among those who have feared the design to introduce it here, and it has been a strong reason with me for wishing there was an ocean of fire between that government and us. But away with politics.”10 The final flourish had become such a cliché that it no longer carried conviction, certainly not to Adams, though he was reassured by Jefferson’s sentiments in regard to himself. Adams could not pretend to an indifference he did not feel; he desperately wanted to be president of the United States and was determined to play second fiddle to no one but Washington.
Jefferson, on the other hand, if he must serve, preferred the second office to the first. The electoral vote was uncomfortably close (the final tally showed 71 for Adams, 68 for Jefferson) and while it was still undecided he wrote to Madison that in case of a tie the decision in the House of Representatives should go to Adams.11 He had always been senior. Defeat would cost Jefferson nothing; it would cost Adams everything. Besides, the vice-presidency was “honorable and easy,” affording him “philosophical evenings in the winter, and rural days in the summer,” while the presidency was but “splendid misery.” Finally, the storm that had been brewing with France was about to burst upon the nation, and now was not the time for a Republican to take the helm. Madison quietly circulated his friend’s letter in Philadelphia, where it fell in with the sentiments other Republicans were receiving from Monticello, and raised the possibility of a political entente between moderate Federalists and Republicans. Adams seemed cordial. As Madison and others reported, he spoke of Jefferson in friendly terms and invited a conciliatory administration in cooperation with him.12 Hamiltonian Federalists were alarmed. It was all a “Jacobinical intrigue” to divide the party, and Adams was lending himself to the plot. “Our Jacobins say they are well pleased,” Hamilton wrote in disgust, “and that the Lion and the Lamb are to lie down together. Mr Adams’ personal friends talk a little the same way. Mr. Jefferson is not half so ill a man as we have been accustomed to think him. There is to be a vigorous and united administration.… If Mr. Adams has Vanity,” he concluded, “ ’tis plain a plot has been laid to take hold of it.”13
There was no plot, yet Hamilton’s suspicions were well founded. While the prospects of political concord matured in Philadelphia, Jefferson wrote a warm, congratulatory letter to Adams. No one could congratulate him with more disinterestedness, he said. Though he might not be believed, he had never for a moment wished for his own election. “I have no ambition to govern men. It is a painful and thankless office. Since the day too when you signed the treaty of Paris our horizon was never so overcast.” He prayed that Adams’ administration would be “filled with glory and happiness to yourself and advantage to us,” issued a pointed warning against “the subtlety of your arch-friend of New York,” Hamilton, and pledged his support.14 It was obvious that Adams would have to seek support either from the ultras in his own party or from the Republicans. In Jefferson’s view, the mass of Federalists were, like Adams, republicans at heart who had been misled by the Hamiltonians and seduced by the popularity of Washington. The latter influence had been withdrawn and the former might be checked. Jefferson hoped to draw Adams and the moderates into the Republican party, or rather into a grand political consensus that would render parties and their dissensions insignificant. He worried over the letter to Adams, discouraged by the difficulty of making himself believed, and laid it aside. After reading the reports of Adams’ friendly attitude, he decided to send the letter, but, still hesitant, put it under cover of another to Madison, who was authorized to intercept or forward this epistle from Monticello as his on-the-spot judgment in Philadelphia dictated. “If Mr. Adams can be induced to administer the government on its true principles, and to relinquish his bias to an English constitution,” Jefferson said, “it is to be considered whether it would not be on the whole for the public good to come to an understanding with him.”15
Madison was startled by the suggestion of an understanding, probably a coalition; and if this was the kind of overture that lurked in the honeyed phrases of Jefferson’s letter, it should go no farther. And it did not. Madison was still no friend of Adams, but his action was based on hard political calculations. The conciliatory feelings between Adams and Jefferson were well enough advertised already, he argued. Any excessive forwardness on Jefferson’s part would compromise his independence and prove embarrassing should the course of the new administration call for vigorous opposition. Nor should the interests of the youthful Republican party, only now beginning to feel its strength, be neglected. Already many Republicans groaned at the idea of a rapprochement. Adams had everything to gain by it, the Republicans everything to lose. The true policy, Madison said, lay in cultivating Adams’ better nature, separating him from the ultras, and giving a fair start to his executive career without, however, in any way compromising the integrity of the Republican party. Jefferson was persuaded. He thanked his friend for suppressing the overture, and on this note the dialogue on conciliation was adjourned, to be resumed a few weeks later upon Jefferson’s arrival in Philadelphia.16
The mounting crisis with France stared Adams in the face at the outset of his administration. The French Directory, angry over the Jay Treaty, had retaliated by plundering America’s neutral commerce and had even made a clumsy attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election. Diplomatic relations between the two countries had collapsed. Several months previous, Washington had recalled James Monroe for alleged failure to cushion the shock of the Jay Treaty in Paris. The Directory then turned its back on Monroe’s replacement, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Jefferson believed that Hamilton and his minions in Washington’s cabinet, which the new president was about to inherit, would attempt to use the crisis to provoke war with France in alliance with Britain. Adams might avert this calamity. Jefferson did not think that he wanted war. He had, to be sure, backed the pro-British foreign policy of Washington’s second administration; but Jefferson remembered his earlier preachments favorable to American “disentanglement” from Europe, antagonistic to Britain, and at least acquiescent in the French alliance. On March 3, the day before his inauguration, Adams called on Jefferson to discuss a bipartisan approach to the French crisis. Writing of the interview some years later, Adams said, “Though by this time I differed from him [Jefferson] in opinion by the whole horizon concerning the practicality and success of the French Revolution, and some other points, I had no reason to think that he differed materially from me with regard to our national Constitution. I did not think that the rumbling voice of party calumny ought to discourage me from consulting [one] whom I knew to be attached to the interest of the nation, and whose experience, genius, learning, and travels had eminently qualified him to give advice.”17 Adams’ first wish was to send Jefferson to France. The same idea had occurred to several of Adams’ friends, who saw it in the same light as he did, as a way of accommodating the prejudices and opinions of the Republicans. But Jefferson said he was sick of Europe and would never think of going there again. Even had his response been different, Adams thought the government would be degraded by the dispatch of the “crown prince” on a diplomatic mission. He then unfolded the plan of a bipartisan commission. Various names were mentioned, but Madison was the key to its success. Would he go? Jefferson agreed to ask him. As expected, Madison declined. On March 6, as he and Adams walked back to their lodgings following a farewell dinner at Washington’s table, Jefferson reported the result of his inquiry. Adams, somewhat embarrassed, said he had already dropped the idea. He did not explain why, but Jefferson suspected what had happened. When Adams had mentioned Madison’s name to one of the cabinet officers, Oliver Wolcott, secretary of treasury, he was met with the pouting response, “Mr. President, we are willing to resign.”18 The ultra-Federalists, Adams discovered, would not tolerate the conciliatory gesture he had planned, and rather than fight them, he submitted. As Jefferson remembered that evening stroll with Adams, they came to the point “where our road separated … and we took leave; and he never after that said one word to me on the subject [of the French mission] or ever consulted me as to any measure of the government.”19 It was a momentous parting, full of consequences for the government of the United States.
The euphoria of reconciliation still lingered after Adams’ inaugural address. There were things in it that must have jarred Jefferson. Considered in the abstract, “the spirit of party” and “the pestilence of foreign influence” were indeed dangers to free government; but why did Adams feel compelled to introduce these condemnatory phrases, so long hurled at the Republicans, into his address? And what was his perfervid resolution to appoint only good Christians to office but a slap at Jefferson and his philosophical friends? More importantly, however, Adams declared his unequivocal loyalty to the Constitution, repelling the “political heresies” that had been charged to him, and professed his friendship for the French nation.20 Republicans were pleased with the address, while some Federalists thought it “temporizing.” But the euphoria soon vanished. Adams made the decision to retain Washington’s cabinet: Timothy Pickering, Oliver Wolcott, and James McHenry, all high Federalists who took their marching orders from Hamilton. Adams refused to credit the stories of Hamilton’s “Pinckney plot” in 1796 and, of course, did not suspect the extent of the New Yorker’s influence over his chief advisers. He bowed to the party yoke without knowing he was putting it on. The implications were plain to Jefferson on March 6. Every effort would be made to keep foreign policy on a collision course with France and also to alienate the president from him. As events unfolded, Jefferson realized how mistaken he had been to seek a political accommodation with Adams. He gave himself over to the Federalists, yet, what was worse, imagined himself the lofty and lonely sentinel of the national interest. Washington had made the delusion believable, almost to the end, but Adams was no Washington and the president who attempted to repeat his performance was doomed to disappointment.
Adams convened a special session of Congress in May to deal with the French crisis. Recent dispatches from Pinckney, the president declared, proved the determination of the French government to force its will on the United States by a combination of plunder, insult, and blackmail. He did not call for an immediate declaration of war but for strong defense measures to back up the commission he intended to send to France in a last effort to preserve peace.21 Nevertheless, Jefferson and the Republicans heard the speech as a “war message.” The plan to negotiate peace while preparing for war was a transparent fraud. Peace being the great imperative of the nation, in Jefferson’s opinion, the crisis called for a posture of conciliation rather than of sword-rattling insult and recrimination. He did not believe France wanted war with the United States, though she might be provoked to it by the “British faction” that had thrown American commerce into the scales of British power and then treated French protests with contempt, as by the recall of Monroe and now by Adams’ blustering speech. British monopoly and influence still held the country in bondage, Jefferson thought. What was amazing was that the British faction, by raising the hue and cry of “foreign influence,” had been able “so far to throw dust into the eyes of our citizens, as to fix on those who wish merely to recover self-government the charge of subserving one foreign influence, because they resist submission to another.”22 He was reluctant to include the president in the British faction, yet his policy seemed to place him there. And, in fact, Adams did now believe that France was the mortal enemy of the United States, less from her weight in the European balance of power than from her zeal in fomenting revolution abroad, seizing on popular notions of democracy, separating the people from their government, and turning demagogic leaders into traitors against their own country. This system of revolutionary terror had conquered Holland and Geneva and was raising havoc all over Europe. Who could doubt that the French Directory practiced the same system toward the United States? Of course a “French party” existed; it began with the alliance of 1778, nourished itself on weak ideas of national gratitude and British malignity, and grew into a monster on the popular heresy that the French Revolution was an extension of the American. Adams was determined that France would not “put petticoats” on the United States, as she had on others. And if war should result, it would not be the worst of dangers. War upheld honor, and it had, at least, heroic virtues, which were not unwanted in a torpid “bedollared nation.”23
By the end of the special session of Congress, the political break between Adams and Jefferson was complete. The appointment of a three-man commission temporarily defused the crisis. Jefferson was satisfied with the commission primarily because of the inclusion of Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, a moderate Federalist who had been acting as a self-appointed mediator between him and Adams. Gerry kept relaying Jefferson’s reassuring words to Adams only to find them cancelled by the machinations of the Hamiltonians who surrounded him. “It cannot help but damp the pleasure of cordiality, when we suspect that it is suspected,” Jefferson remarked to Gerry in May. “I cannot help fearing, that it is impossible for Mr. Adams to believe that the state of my mind is what it really is, that he may think I view him as an obstacle in my way.”24 This is precisely what Adams concluded, and not without reason. Jefferson, who had expected his office to be “honorable and easy,” was thrust into another and unofficial role, the leadership of the Republican party, in which he was the second most powerful figure in the country. The vice-presidency, Federalists came to believe, was a privileged sanctuary from which Jefferson conducted a partisan campaign against the government. What a travesty on the office of the “crown prince”! Adams had given loyal support to President Washington; it was, he said, “the pride and boast” of his life, and he had hoped that Jefferson, placed in the same office, would conduct himself in the same dignified manner.25 Instead he surrounded himself with pernicious political characters, threw off all restraints on ambition, aimed to pull Adams down by fair means or foul, and mount to the presidency on the ruins of his administration.
Duplicity, ultra-Federalists had argued, was the fundamental vice of Jefferson’s character, and Adams became convinced he was an object of it. Publication in May of the Virginian’s year-old letter to Philip Mazzei disclosed the extent of his malignity, not only to the ruling Federalists, who were denounced as “an Anglican monarchical and aristocratical party,” but also to Washington, elliptically lumped with apostates “who have had their heads shorn by the harlot England.”26 If these were Jefferson’s true sentiments toward his predecessor, Adams could not help but wonder what they were toward him. In June an old friend, Uriah Forrest, forwarded the evidence that turned suspicions into certainties. Forrest had been privy to certain “disgraceful insinuations” and “barefaced assertions” Jefferson had made in a confidential letter to a Maryland Republican. Struck by the discrepancy between the censorious tone of the letter and the public professions of cordiality to Adams, Forrest thought the president should be put on guard. The revelation was “a serious thing,” he replied. “It is evidence of a mind, soured, yet seeking for popularity, and eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant.”27 The breech with Jefferson was irrevocable, Adams soon reported to his son. “You can witness for me how loath I have been to give him up. It is with much reluctance that I am obliged to look upon him as a man whose mind is warped by prejudice and so blinded by ignorance as to be unfit for the office he holds. However wise and scientific as a philosopher, as a politician he is a child and the dupe of party!”28 Without reciprocating the personal acrimony, Jefferson thought it was Adams who had become “the dupe of party.”
The breech, for all its historical and human interest, assumed much greater significance as in the course of events Adams and Jefferson came to stand for fundamentally incompatible conceptions of political freedom in the American republic. The road to the “revolution of 1800,” which brought Jefferson to the presidency, passed through the “crisis of 1798” and took its character as a consequence. The outcome of the mission to France became known in April, when Congress published the dispatches of the envoys detailing the so-called XYZ Affair: the intrigue by agents of the French foreign office to secure a large loan and douceur as the price of treating with the Americans. The nation was outraged. Jefferson made the best excuses he could for France, rallied the wavering Republicans, and argued strenuously for keeping the door open to peace. Adams’ immediate reaction had been to demand a declaration of war, but he drew back and settled for an accelerated defense program, meanwhile letting opinion ripen for war. Congress proceeded to renounce the French treaties, suspend trade, build frigates, authorize the capture of French ships, lay direct taxes, and establish a large provisional army. Under cover of the whipped-up war hysteria, the Federalists assailed the patriotism of the Republicans and portrayed the more zealous among them as Jacobin disorganizers in the country’s bowels, whose ultimate treachery only awaited the signal of the French invaders.
“Whatever chance was left of escaping war after the publication of the dispatches,” Jefferson wrote in May, “the President’s answers to the addresses pouring in on him from the great towns … are pushing the irritation to a point to which nobody can expect it will be bourne.”29 These bombastic answers revealed a style of thinking, even a political philosophy, sharply at odds with Jefferson’s. Adams denounced the “rage for innovation,” which had been raised to a “pitch of madness” by “the wild philosophy” of the French Revolution, and which had nothing in common with the conservative wisdom of the American.30 Jefferson was no longer enthralled by the French Revolution, but he still believed in the ideals that had inspired it and in the Enlightenment directive to learn from the follies rather than the alleged wisdom of the past. Adams appealed to the religious feelings of the people in behalf of the war spirit, proclaimed national fast days, and contended that religious duty was a necessary postulate of republican government.31 Jefferson held that the duties of religion were of no concern to the state, and after he became president declined to proclaim fast days. Adams lashed out at the “spirit of party, which scruples not to go all lengths of profligacy, falsehood, and malignity in defaming our government.”32 What was this, Jefferson asked himself, but a denial of any title of patriotism to Republican opponents of the administration? What was it but the bold assertion that those who censured the governors attacked the government itself? “Nor is it France alone,” he observed, “but his own fellow citizens against whom his threats are uttered.”33 Decrying “domestic treachery” more fatal than war, Adams supposed that war may have been sent by Providence to extinguish the evil. There were no greater enemies than those who still pled the cause of France or paralyzed the vengeance of the government. To the “soldier-citizens” of New Jersey he stoutly declared that “the degraded and deluded characters may tremble, lest they should be condemned to the severest punishment an American suffers—that of being conveyed in safety within the lines of an invading enemy.”34 No one could doubt for whom these grotesqueries were intended. It was enough to plunge Jefferson’s friend Madison into melancholy reflection on the old truth, which perhaps not even the most favored nation on God’s footstool would escape, “that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against dangers real or pretended abroad.”35
Adams entered heart and soul into the war hysteria. On May 7 the “Young Men of Philadelphia,” twelve hundred strong, the black cockade in their hats (a counter-symbol to the tricolored cockade) paraded down Market Street to a swelling throng before the president’s house. They came to offer their lives if need be in war against France. Adams received them in full military regalia, heard their address, and responded with a lecture on ancestral piety that proved to be especially grating to Jefferson. The American Revolution had arisen not from discontent, not to effect anything new in government, Adams declared, but “to vindicate the immemorial liberties of our ancestors.”36 Two days later, on the national fast day, rumors spread of a Jacobin plot to terrorize the city. A few scuffles occurred, a sham battle of the cockades, and the lighthorse patrolled the streets that night, but nothing more disturbing to the public peace. Fifteen years afterwards, Adams freely recalled the spectacle for Jefferson: “When … Market Street was as full as men could stand by one another, and even before my door; when some of my domestics, in frenzy, determined to sacrifice their lives in my defense … ; when I myself judged it prudent and necessary to order chests of arms from the War Office, to be brought through by lanes and back doors; determined to defend my house at the expense of my life.… What think you of terrorism, Mr. Jefferson?”37 Jefferson, whom Adams supposed had been “fast asleep in philosophical tranquility,” thought in 1813, as in 1798, that the terrorism had come from the Federalist “war party,” yet the delusion of a Jacobin conspiracy still hung in the old man’s memory.
This little bit of retrospection was started by Adams when he discovered that Jefferson had criticized his address to the young Philadelphians as an appeal to the past against the progress of science. It was an issue to which Jefferson was especially sensitive. As a good philosophe, he thought that a country, a government, dedicated to the freedom and happiness of the people ought to cherish the methods with the fruits of scientific inquiry. Science and freedom were coupled in his thinking. His ideal was not merely a democratic republic but “a republic of science,” and he spoke of freedom as “the first born daughter of science,” thereby linking the political revolution of his age with the scientific revolution earlier commenced by Copernicus and Galileo. Freedom of inquiry was the beginning of political freedom; the latter could not exist without the former. Yet Federalist spokesmen constantly ridiculed Jefferson’s scientific pretensions and accused him of “philosophism”—an ism that combined the qualities of infidelity, pedantry, and dreamy utopianism, all unwanted in the practical business of statecraft. “It suffices,” Jefferson wrote indignantly in 1798, “for a man to be a philosopher, and to believe that human affairs are susceptible to improvement, and to look forward, rather than back to Gothic ages, for perfection, to mark him as an anarchist, disorganizer, atheist and enemy of the government.”38 Adams, of course, had no idea of going back to “Gothic ages,” yet Jefferson thought the tendency of Federalist doctrine justified the charge, hyperbole and all. In his conception of the party conflict, and of the choice before the people in 1800, he and the Republicans stood for “the progress of science,” Adams and the Federalists “for awing the human mind with stories of raw-head and bloody bones to the distrust of its own vision.”39 The issue was philosophical, between the friends and enemies of enlightenment, therefore elevated far above the usual petty quarrels of politicians. It was this conviction that had prompted his criticism of Adams’ addresses, Jefferson wrote in retrospect. “One of the questions you know on which our parties took different sides, was on the improvability of the human mind, in science, in ethics, in government etc. Those who advocated reformation of institutions, pari passu, with the progress of science, maintained that no definite limit could be assigned to that progress. The enemies of reform, on the other hand, denied improvement, and advocated steady adherence to the principles, practices and institutions of our fathers, which they represented as the consummation of wisdom, and acme of excellence, beyond which the human mind could never advance.”40
The issue assumed most tangible form in the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798. The former was but one of three laws enacted against aliens; the other two lengthened the period of residence required for citizenship from five to fourteen years and regulated the status of enemy aliens in time of war. The Alien (or Alien Friends) Law authorized the president summarily to deport aliens deemed dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. As originally passed by the Senate, over which he presided, Jefferson thought it “worthy of the eighth or ninth century;” and he did not think much better of the final act.41 It was aimed at two large foreign-born groups, the French and the Irish, who were allegedly arrayed on the side of the malcontents, and more particularly at certain philosophers and journalists: Joseph Priestley, Thomas Cooper, C. F. Volney, William Duane, and others who were Jefferson’s friends and associates. The Sedition Act, aimed at “domestic traitors,” made it a federal crime punishable by fine and imprisonment to publish “any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government, Congress, or the president. The act rested on the ancient rule of law that government, and governors, can be criminally assaulted by opinion and, further, that government has an inherent right to protect itself, indeed to protect the people themselves whose guardians the governors are, by punishing so-called seditious libels. Jefferson had predicted passage of a sedition law weeks before the subject was introduced in Congress. The president’s addresses invited it; the rising intolerance of any opinion critical of the war system demanded it. The real object of the law, which the smokescreen of Jacobin intrigue and subversion could not conceal, was the suppression of the Republican press.
The French crisis precipitated the Sedition Law, but viewed in the longer perspective of political controversy, Jefferson could see it as the more or less inevitable outcome of Federalist ideology. Conceiving of themselves as a ruling class, as the guardians of the government they had established, the Federalist leaders feared its vulnerability to the shifting currents of public opinion, feared the “natural turbulence” of the populace, and denied the legitimacy of a political opposition organized outside the official channels of the Constitution. When the Jeffersonians went outside the government and built a political party in the broad electorate, they set up a different ideal, one that saw in the agitation and mobilization of public opinion the vital principle of republican government. The people were to be cherished, not feared; the free criticism of “constituted authorities,” so long condemned, became a political virtue; and the government was no longer to check, control, or rise above public opinion but to merge with it.
The issue was never far from the surface during the Federalist decade. In 1791 Jefferson and Madision set in motion a newspaper, the National Gazette, intended to counteract the court newspaper in the capital and to circulate throughout the country as “a Whig vehicle of intelligence.” The proposition behind this move had been clearly enunciated by Jefferson. As the people are “the only censors of their governors,” it is necessary to give them full information of public affairs; newspapers penetrating “the whole mass of the people” are the surest means to this end. “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people,” he said, “the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”42 The Federalist leaders, Hamilton at the front, felt threatened by the National Gazette and launched a campaign to discredit it as a tool of faction tending to subvert the government. In 1793 the country witnessed a spontaneous outburst of “democratic societies,” similar to the corresponding societies before the American Revolution, though their impetus was another revolution, the French, and they sought to channel enthusiasm for revolution abroad into the Republican cause at home. The Federalists linked the societies to the notorious Jacobin Clubs of Paris and implicated them in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. President Washington then delivered the crushing blow by publicly condemning them as illicit political engines. Jefferson was shocked: “It is wonderful indeed, that the President should have permitted himself to be the organ of such an attack on the freedom of discussion, the freedom of writing, printing and publishing.”43 Two years later, in his farewell address, Washington again betrayed intolerance of political opposition from outside constituted channels of authority. Unknown to Jefferson, Adams’ opinion was, if anything, more severe. The democratic societies were “criminal” he said, as it was unlawful “to meet and publish censures upon laws and libels upon men and measures.”44 More recently, in 1797, the grand jury of the federal circuit court at Richmond, presided over by an associate justice of the Supreme Court, issued a presentment against Virginia congressman Samuel J. Cabell for disseminating in letters to his constituents “unfounded calumnies against the happy government of the United States.” Jefferson at once demanded protective action by the Virginia assembly.45
The Alien and Sedition Laws originated with the Federalist leaders in Congress, yet Adams bore a substantial share of responsibility for them. He helped to create the climate of opinion in which they were enacted; he articulated the principles and fears they embodied; and despite later disclaimers, he cooperated in their enforcement. The Alien Law was not fully executed in a single instance, primarily because the more celebrated of the “degraded foreigners,” as Adams called them, took the first ship out of the country. But Adams signed blank warrants for Secretary of State Pickering and specifically authorized him to expel at least three aliens. Moreover, he denied passports to certain foreigners, one of them Jefferson’s friend Dupont de Nemours, supposedly on a scientific mission but suspected of spying for the Directory. “We have had too many French philosophers already,” Adams told Pickering, “and I really begin to think … that learned academics, not under the immediate inspection and control of government, have disorganized the world, and are incompatible with social order.”46 Quite aside from his taste for French philosophers, Jefferson, from his first publication, the Summary View, had advocated the natural right of expatriation, which, by reciprocity, denied the right of exclusion to any country. Federalists, on the other hand, tended to follow the common-law rule of perpetual allegiance. The Sedition Law, unlike the Alien Law, was generously enforced. Twenty-five persons were arrested, fourteen indicted, ten tried and ten convicted, principally Republican printers and publicists. Most of the prosecutions were targeted for political effect. Scarcely an opposition newspaper north of the Potomac escaped this “reign of terror.” Jefferson’s forecast for the law was thus amply fulfilled.
Congress finally adjourned in July, and the president and vice-president returned to their homes. Surprisingly, war had not been declared, though almost every leading Federalist, including the president, had favored it to the ambiguous “quasi-war”—a war of frigates and privateers—then existing. During the long summer and fall, the gloomiest of his life, he said, Adams was in poor health, his wife seriously ill, and the reins of control over his administration slipped from his grasp. Ironically, the advocate in theory of a “monarchical” executive proved to be a weak president. He lost a crucial contest with the cabinet over the second command, second to Washington, of the provisional army. The post went to Hamilton, who had ambitious plans for employing the army together with the British fleet in conquest of Spanish dominions. This was dismaying enough to Adams, and when combined with his ancient Whig prejudice against standing armies, it definitely cooled his ardor for war. “If this nation sees a great army to maintain, without an enemy to fight,” he wrote to Secretary of War McHenry in October, “there may arise an enthusiasm that seems to be little foreseen. At present, there is no more prospect of seeing a French army here, than there is in Heaven.”47 The navy, on the other hand, partly because it was not an engine of domestic repression, had Adams’ blessing.
Jefferson seemed confident when he returned to Monticello that the evils of standing army, debt and taxes, and oppressive laws would produce their own cure. “A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring the government to its true principles.”48 After two or three months, however, he decided that some incantations by the Republicans were wanted to break the spell. The delusion of the people was so necessary to the Federalists, there was no limit to which they might not go. Would the Republican party survive? Would the republic itself survive? The Alien and Sedition Laws, the worst atrocities thus far, appeared to Jefferson as “merely an experiment on the American mind” to see to what degradation it would submit. “If this goes down,” he said, recalling older fears, “we shall immediately see attempted another act of Congress, declaring that the President shall continue in office during life, reserving to another occasion the transfer of the succession to his heir, and the establishment of the Senate for life.”49 Among the lesser possibilities of 1798 was that of John Adams, for all his momentary popularity, being declared president for life. To such chimeras had the “terror of ’98” carried the leader of the Republican party. Still, in view of the Federalist monopoly of all branches of the government including the judiciary, almost anything was possible. A “revolution of opinion” was necessary, and Jefferson chose to start it in two Republican state legislatures.
The Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798, the former secretly drafted by Jefferson, the latter by Madison, declared the Alien and Sedition Laws unconstitutional and appealed to the other states to do likewise.50 Jefferson’s resolutions set forth the theory of the Union as a compact among the several states. Acts beyond the delegated powers of the federal government were void, and there being no ultimate arbiter of the Constitution, each state had a right to judge for itself the infractions as well as the mode and measure of redress. The Alien and Sedition Laws were found to be gross usurpations of power, therefore warranting the action of “nullification” by state authority. Freedom of speech and press had the same standing under the First Amendment as freedom of religion, Jefferson argued. Congress could legislate in no matter whatever. He did not enter a broadly philosophical plea for these freedoms, preferring rather to rest the case on constitutional grounds, which he considered unassailable. The limits of state authority over these freedoms were left undefined and undisturbed. This did no harm in 1798 when the danger came from the federal government; and Jefferson’s theoretical commitment to freedom of speech and press was hardly open to question. Much more serious, and open to question, was the appeal to state legislatures to adjudge, arrest, or “nullify” a federal law. This raised the specter of disunion, a cure likely to prove no less fatal than the disease. But whatever the later significance of these famous resolutions for the issue of state rights and union—the constitutional issue on which the Civil War would be fought—they originated in a struggle for political survival and addressed the fundamental issue of freedom and self-government descending from the American Revolution.
Adams doubtless considered the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions sedition itself, though he seems not to have suspected Jefferson’s responsibility for them. His ideas of the scope of national power under the Constitution were fully as broad as Hamilton’s, and he abhorred state rights doctrines whether they came from the Republicans or, at a later time, from the Federalists. At home in Quincy he was bombarded with letters and reports conveying assurances of the French government’s desire to reopen negotiations with the United States. While they were not without effect, Adams’ annual message to Congress in December, stiffened by Hamiltonian influence in the cabinet, proposed no relaxation of the administration’s warlike posture. Then, on February 18, 1799, without forewarning or consultation, the president nominated William Vans Murray, the American envoy at The Hague, as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate peace with France. The Federalist leaders were outraged. “Never did a party show stronger mortification,” Jefferson wrote, “and, consequently, that war had been their object.”51 Jefferson should have been overjoyed. But he was unable to accept the nomination at face value. Nothing in Adams’ recent conduct suggested that he was any less infatuated with the war system than the ultras in his party. On the very day of Murray’s nomination, the army bill looking to a force of 30,000 regulars and 75,000 volunteers cleared the Senate for the president’s signature. Some days earlier, the Senate had approved his nomination of envoys to negotiate treaties of amity and commerce with Russia and Turkey, both new accessions to the second coalition against France. What was this, Jefferson wondered, but a deliberate provocation to get from France the declaration of war the administration was afraid to be the first in making? Adams had gone on inflaming the public mind with his addresses. The domestic machinery of the war system remained in place. Although petitions poured into Congress begging the repeal of the Alien and Sedition Laws, the Federalist majority specifically reaffirmed them. Moreover, the administration stepped up enforcement of the Sedition Law, keeping the gun at Republican heads throughout the ensuing presidential election. All considered, then, Jefferson had reason to be skeptical of the Murray mission. He conjectured that Adams, finding he could no longer conceal French advances, took a step “which would parry the overture while it wears the face of acceding to it.” The president expected the Senate to reject the nomination of Murray, he supposed; and if it did not the administration would effectively negate the mission by tactics of obstruction and delay.52
Jefferson was wrong, in the main. It was a pity he could not perceive the irony of the situation. Adams plunged a sword into the Federalist party, one which its leaders believed a betrayal to Jeffersonianism, but which appeared to Jefferson as only a “parry” of French advances. He had forgotten that John Adams, whatever else he was, was an honest man and a man ultimately driven, even perversely driven, to self-righteous independence of party. Rather than risk all character for probity, he would make the stretch for a peace he did not expect or perhaps want. Even as he nominated Murray, he voiced contempt for “the babyish and womanly blubbering for peace,” and for the next eighteen months his mind wavered between peace or war as the better course for the country.53 Jefferson was right in predicting that the mission would be delayed. The cabinet demanded a three-man commission; and after the two additional envoys were appointed, obstruction continued for several months. This was not Adams’ doing but, retired to Quincy, he was very slow to combat it. The success of the war system, the Hamiltonians realized, depended on the public conviction of its necessity to defend the nation against France. To act on the contrary assumption, as Adams appeared to do, was like declaring “the emperor has no clothes,” which, of course, had been the Republican cry all along. How was it possible to cripple the Republican party, stamp out sedition, raise a standing army, consolidate the national government, and go filibustering in the Spanish dominions when the rationale for these enterprises was taken away? Adams drew back as he slowly realized he had been the dupe of political folly. He grew more and more anxious about the army, and later said he made peace with France in order to squelch Hamilton’s grandiose schemes of war and conquest.54 Mounting debt and taxes recalled him to the Whig doctrines learned in his youth. “All the declarations, as well as the demonstrations, of Trenchard and Gordon, Bolingbroke, Barnard and Walpole, Hume, Burgh, and Burke, rush upon my memory and frighten me out of my wits,” he confessed.55 Finally, in May 1800, he dismissed two of Hamilton’s servants in the cabinet, Pickering and McHenry, irrevocably splitting the Federalist party.
As the election of 1800 drew near, rumors surfaced of a new rapprochement between Adams and Jefferson. They had supposedly struck a bargain to make joint stock against the Hamilton party and to trade offices. The cabinet removals, Pickering charged, were part of the bargain, as was Jefferson’s casting vote in the Senate to confirm the nomination of John Quincy Adams’ father-in-law to a federal office.56 Adams was said to speak approvingly of Jefferson once again, to curse Hamilton, and to inveigh endlessly against the “British faction,” the very existence of which he had earlier denied. The Federalist caucus had voted to give equal support to both the party’s nominees, Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina. Hamilton calculated that Jefferson and Pinckney would split the South Carolina vote; if so, and if the Federalist margin of four years ago held up and the party’s candidates were equally supported elsewhere, Pinckney would be elected president. The Pinckneys were different but the plot was the same as in 1796. In the later stages of the campaign, Hamilton published a tirade against Adams’ character, which, unintentionally, was equally damning of his own. The animosity between the two wings of the party, together with Adams’ apparent tacking to the Republican position, gave some substance to the rumors of a Jefferson-Adams coalition. But, of course, the rumors were untrue. The two men were much too seriously alienated. Politically, 1800 was not 1796. As the Republican party regained strength, Jefferson felt neither the need nor the desire for association with Adams. In fact, he was probably embarrassed by the circulation moderate Federalists gave to his letters of 1796 declaring Adams to be a firm and decided republican.57 As for Adams, no doubt he considered the Virginian a small evil compared to the Federalist madmen of the “British faction,” but his enmity made any idea of a rapprochement absurd.
The election was bitterly contested by both parties. Everyone seemed to understand that the decision would fix the political destiny of the country for decades to come. Around Jefferson, imaged as the democratic “man of the people,” the Republicans achieved unprecedented unity of action and feeling. Political parties might still be condemned in theory, but they matured rapidly under the concrete pressure of forming electoral tickets, broadcasting principles and issues, and mobilizing opinion at the country crossroads and in the city wards. Federalists were astounded by the industry and organization of the Republicans, even in New England where, it was said, they were “trooped, officered, regimented” in a manner never equaled by the militia. “Every threshing floor, every husking, every party work on a house-frame or raising a building, the very funerals are infected with bawlers or whisperers against government.”58 Distrusting democracy, “a party of notables” (in Max Weber’s terminology), the Federalists were illequipped to conduct a campaign in the electorate. The war system, with its engines of terrorizing public opinion, was collapsing around them, while the discord within the party left them dismayed and desperate. The leadership in the Senate pushed legislation to set up a joint committee of the two houses which, meeting in secret session, would have final canvassing authority over the electoral vote. Of course, Federalists would control the committee. But William Duane, the Republican editor in Philadelphia, got hold of the bill while it was still under the wraps of secrecy and published it, thereby ensuring its subsequent defeat in the House as well as his own indictment for a false, scandalous, and malicious libel of the Senate. As early as April, the Republicans scored the first victory—many thought the decisive victory—of the campaign when they swept the election for the New York legislature. In that state, as in several others, the legislature chose the presidential electors. Hamilton at once wrote to the governor, John Jay, urging him to convene the lame-duck Federalist legislature in order to change the electoral law and thus contrive to reverse the Republican verdict. Otherwise, he warned, the country faced “a revolution after the manner of Bonaparte.”59 But there was honor among Federalists: Jay quietly buried the proposal.
Not long after the New York election, Jefferson stopped by the president’s office on some official business. “Well, I understand that you are to beat me in this contest,” Adams said with a trace of asperity. Jefferson replied that the contest was not between them but between opposing systems of politics. “Its motion is from principle, not from you or myself. Were we both to die today, tomorrow two other names would be put in the place of ours, without any change in the motion of the machinery.”60 Jefferson did not stay to argue the matter, but if he had he might have pointed to whole clusters of Republican principles and doctrines which, in his opinion, made the conflict with the Federalists irrepressible.61 First, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and press, the right of the people, inseparable from their sovereignty, to criticize and oppose governing authority, and the responsiveness of rulers both to public opinion and to the spirit of science and progress. He had in mind the Sedition Act, obviously, but also the “hue and cry against the sacred name of philosophy” and the concerted Federalist campaign to make religion a political issue by, among other things, conscripting to the pulpit and portraying him as an infidel. Second, the preservation of the Constitution, the separation of powers, and the rights of the states. In his political letters, Jefferson reiterated his long-standing opposition to a system of administration and finance that led to a “monarchical” executive, that multiplied offices, taxes and debt, and sank the states under a consolidated government. “Our country is too large to have its affairs conducted by a single government,” he declared. “Public servants at such a distance … by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder, and waste.… The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations.” Third, “free commerce with all nations, political connection with none.” The principle of divorce and disentanglement from Europe was shared by Adams, but the Federalist system, as he discovered too late, turned upon British trade and power. Foreign influence in American politics was an old story. Jefferson and his party had earlier formed such strong attachments to the French Revolution that they were vulnerable to the charge of subservience to France. But these attachments were now dead, like the Revolution, Jefferson insisted. His own hopes for the Revolution had been jolted over the years, yet as late as 1798 he had kept faith with the French republic. Finally, the 18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte, overthrowing the republic and establishing a dictatorial consulate, crushed Jefferson’s last hopes. He had looked upon France as a commercial ally, but her atrocities on American commerce had produced a crisis that threatened to destroy the country’s liberties. He had looked upon France as the spearhead of republicanism in Europe, but the people’s longings for liberty had been harnessed to Napoleon’s imperial ambitions. He had thought the success of the French republic necessary to secure the American. Nothing was left of that theory in 1800. Jefferson was resigned, at last, to an American destiny in a world of its own. “It is very material,” he wrote to a Republican leader, “for the [people] to be made sensible that their own character and situation are materially different from the French, and that whatever may be the fate of republicanism there, we are able to preserve it inviolate here.”62 Partiality to France was no longer justified; neutrality was no longer enough; divorce from Europe was the true policy, though it would be more easily asserted than accomplished. Adams, had he heard these sentiments, might have chuckled. Jefferson had recovered from his delusions about the French Revolution! And whatever Jefferson might think of him, he had Adams to thank for ending the old alliance, saving the peace, and opening the way to withdrawal from Europe.
The government was settling into the new capital on the Potomac, a Jeffersonian seat despised by Adams and most Federalists, when the election of 1800 drew to a close. The Republican margin in the electoral vote, 73 to 65, failed to reflect the margin of the party’s victory at the polls. But the victory was jeopardized by a treacherous abyss in the electoral system. Under the Constitution, prior to the Twelfth Amendment, separate ballots were not required for president and vice-president. Electors voted for two candidates, the second office going to the runner-up. Jefferson and his running-mate, Aaron Burr, received an equal number of electoral votes, which threw the choice into the House of Representatives. “Seventy-three for Mr. Jefferson and seventy-three for Mr. Burr,” Adams brooded. “May the peace and welfare of the country be promoted by this result!”63 In the House, the lame-duck Federalist majority, elected in the year of terror, plotted to annul the popular verdict either by creating an interregnum or by dealing Burr into the presidency. Embittered by defeat, Adams stood aloof from the contest, seemingly indifferent to its outcome or to its dangers. Between two ambitious demagogues there was perhaps not much to choose, but he considered Jefferson a lesser evil than the cunning upstart, Burr. In this he agreed with Hamilton, though he did nothing to aid Jefferson. One Federalist plan called for Congress to set aside the election and name the president pro tem of the Senate or some other officer the chief executive. Alarmed by this, Jefferson summoned up his courage to call on the president. The plan was fraught with “incalculable consequences,” he told Adams, which executive action might prevent. But Adams apparently saw nothing wrong with the plan, and observed that Jefferson himself could end the crisis instantly by making certain pledges to the Federalists, pledges he consistently refused. For the first time in their long association, as Jefferson recalled the interview, he and Adams parted with genuine personal displeasure.64 It was their last parting. Finally, February 17, on the thirty-sixth ballot, Jefferson was elected president. Winding up its affairs in a fury of activity, the Adams administration appointed hardened Federalists to a host of judgeships and other offices—an act of “personal unkindness” Jefferson would find difficult to forgive. Early on the morning of March 4, hours before the inauguration of his successor, Adams fled the city, returning to the obscurity of the Massachusetts home he had called “Peace Field” but now renamed “Stony Field.”
Jefferson’s inaugural address was both an epilogue to a long political drama and a prologue to things to come. It was a lofty summation of the Republican creed, elevated to a creed of Americanism. Jefferson traced its principles back to the American Revolution, thereby authenticating it for the national consciousness, and he pledged to make this creed the touchstone of American government. The address made a bold bid for the restoration of harmony and affection. “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists.” Believing that the mass of Americans, omitting the extreme Federalists, were fundamentally united in their political sentiments, Jefferson saw no excuse for the strife, hatred, and fanaticism—the insignia of European politics—that had rocked the republic in recent years. He looked to the gradual disappearance of parties and “a perfect consolidation of political sentiments” as government was restored to true principles, as individuals were left to their own devices, and as the nation realized its destiny in a “chosen country” apart from the Old World. Finally, and above all, the first inaugural was a commitment to ongoing political change through the democratic process of open debate, popular participation, and free elections. Jefferson named “absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics, from which there is no appeal but to force.” This principle, to be effective, demanded unmolested freedom of opinion and debate. “If there be any among us,” he said, alluding to the delusions of ’98, “who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” Federalist leaders had reckoned the strength of government on Old World standards: army and navy, the patronage of “the rich, the well born, and the able,” great treasury, ministerial mastery, central command, the panoply of office and the splendor of state. But Jefferson called the American government, for all its feebleness by these standards, “the strongest government on earth” because it was the only one founded on the affections, the opinions, and the suffrages of the people.65
Jefferson later said that “the revolution of 1800 … was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form; not effected indeed by the sword, as that, but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people.”66 The Constitution became an instrument of democracy, change became possible without violence or destruction, and the process began by which the government could go forward with the continuing consent of the governed. If the frame was that of 1776, the picture was different, for a number of reasons, but in considerable part because of the transforming influence of the French Revolution. It had revived that “spirit of revolution” in the people without which, in Jefferson’s philosophy, free government slid into corruption and tyranny. It had communicated its own egalitarian passion to American politics, exalted the popular will over constituted authority, revitalized an old Whig ideology against privilege and repression, and given sharp definition to competing political ideals previously vague or inchoate. The development of political parties, which no one had wanted, came largely in response to forces released by the French Revolution; and the party of Jefferson, by assimilating elements of that revolution to the creed of the American Revolution, secured the democratic line of advance. It was the second revolution that made the first a datum of American democratic consciousness; but it was the third revolution, “the revolution of 1800,” that warranted no further revolution would be necessary. Democracy superseded revolution.
Jefferson understood this change, indeed he personified it; but its true significance was lost on John Adams. Coddling his disappointments at Quincy, the only revolution he could see was that of crafty politicians bilking the people. While the Federalists had attempted to save the people from their own worst enemy, themselves, the Republicans established their ascendancy by pandering to popular vices and illusions. Democratic politics was simply a Richardsonian plot of pursuit, seduction, and disaster. “Democracy is Lovelace, and the people are Clarissa. The artful villain will pursue the innocent young girl to her ruin and her death.”67 Adams continued to view Jefferson as a creature of party, a Gallomaniac, and a demagogue. The more he reflected on his own downfall, however, the more he concluded that the Federalists were no better, perhaps were worse, than the Republicans. The two parties fed upon each other’s filth, like a famous species of hogs: “Hogs of Westphalia are a saving brood, / What one lets drop, the other takes as food.”68 Such was the character of parties. The vice was entailed on the nation because men like Jefferson, deceived by the French Revolution, had taught the people to think of their government as a democracy rather than a balanced republic after Adams’ vision.