Founding Fair Play

Political campaigns were just as bitter two centuries ago. How Thomas Jefferson cooled tempers, wooed enemies and expanded the power of the presidency

Time & Life Pictures Pictures / Getty Images

It had been a brutal race. Two hundred twelve autumns ago, in the campaign of 1800, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams faced off over the future of the young nation. Each believed the other's election would be cataclysmic. For Jefferson's Republicans, Adams, a Federalist, was an incompetent President and an aspiring monarch. Americans, one Republican wrote, "will never permit the chief magistrate of the union to become a King instead of a President." For Federalists, Jefferson was a radical infidel. The Gazette of the United States told voters to choose "God--and a religious President" or "Jefferson--and no God."

Through an electoral...

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