The 1796 Election: Random Interesting Facts

by Jonathan Hobratsch

I’ve finished reading a 24-book series on presidential elections by the University Press of Kansas. More books are probably forthcoming. I’ll update this list as I read any new books. But for now, I’ll post my notes for each of the books I’ve read, starting with The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy by Jeffrey L. Pasley.

I’ll attach the map here, for reference:

1796: VP John Adams defeats Fmr. Sec. of State Thomas Jefferson

The first competitive presidential election pit two major Founding Fathers together. Adams’s support was primarily from those who were happy with Washington’s administration, Hamilton’s economic policies, mostly merchant class, bankers, those from upper class families in states mostly free of slavery, and some in merchant and banking-dependent coastal cities and towns in the South. Jefferson’s support came from those critical of Washington’s administration, Hamilton’s economic policies, or both. Additionally, Jefferson tended to have support from agrarian regions and among workers and farmers that wished to see expanded white male suffrage for those not yet eligible to vote, such as those without property, some immigrants, etc. Jefferson’s supporters tended to favor the ideals of the French Revolution, seeing them as one in the same with the ideals of the American Revolution, while Adams’s supporters saw Britain as a natural ally with a common language, culture and better for trade. Slavery really didn’t play a role in the election and both parties had major slaveholders at this time. For instance, South Carolina had a strong Federalist upper class who were among the largest slaveholders in the country.

My book notes from this election

  • One theory is that Federalists aimed at defining themselves as “fathers,” and Jeffersonian Republicans preferred to be viewed as “friend of the people.” In my opinion, this framing compelled a choice for the voter to choose between trusted authority and empathetic ally.
  • Hamilton’s economic policies were never completely fulfilled. He hoped to subsidize manufacturing startups. The working conditions in 1796 seemed so ideal at the time–high wages and seemingly infinite land–that workers would likely have to have been women and children. The author doesn’t elaborate. I assume he assumes that the subsidies would have opened up mostly low-paying positions in a time of very low unemployment. There’s no mention of immigration as a solution. It seems implied the policy was ignored because of favorable economic conditions of the present. Hamilton was looking into the future.
  • Jefferson and Madison feared the banks and their proposals were inherently poisonous and corrupt. As the banks would control and influence the currency and the wealth, they assumed they’d control Congress, which would centralize authority nationwide.
  • Hamiltonian Constitutional thought rested on the idea that if something wasn’t explicitly prohibited in the Constitution, then it was permitted by it, so long as the purpose was constitutional. I think this is an interpretation of the “necessary and proper” clause here. Just about anything can be argued as necessary (or not) and proper (or not).
  • Jefferson was reluctantly to be the leader of the anti-Federalist forces, possibly since Washington was so closely linked to the Federalists, even if unofficially. John Beckley, a clerk for the US House, and Madison were applying the pressure. I get the idea that Jefferson had too many interests to go all in on politicking, but once he felt compelled, he kind of went all in.
  • Jefferson pushed newspapers as the way to keep the electorate informed of the virtues of Jeffersonian Republicanism. Philip Freneau seemed to be the main newspaper man for Jefferson’s party, and John Fenno was the Federalist counterpart. Freneau was the first to refer to Jefferson’s anti-Federalists as “Republicans.” To clarify to any readers, “Democrat-Republicans” is a common later invention to make this Republican Party distinct from the later one. Jefferson’s party was also often called the “Democratic Party,” but disparagingly, since the Federalists considered Democracy dangerous and impractical. I like to use the term Jeffersonian Republican because it is more accurate. However, since parties were very decentralized in 1796, that is not completely true. George Clinton, Aaron Burr, and William Maclay all had their own unique spin to their Republicanism.
  • It is argued that Jefferson’s position as a party leader didn’t come from successful efforts of Madison and Beckley to conscript him as leader, but rather, it came from Hamilton and William Loughton Smith creating the idea that Jefferson was secretly plotting to get the presidency for himself. I’m assuming there was a little of both. Madison and Beckley likely used Hamilton and Smith’s propaganda for their own purposes in urging Jefferson to step forward.
  • Much of the appeal for the Federalist Party seems to come from the fact that the US was dependent on British manufacturing, British credit, and British naval protection. Strangely, the very Pro-British Hamilton’s manufacturing, banking, and military policies would push the US into a more independent direction. If Hamilton’s policies were fulfilled completely and swiftly, it would also weaken the Pro-British plank of the Federalists unofficial platform.
  • The Spanish Empire, a Revolutionary War ally of the US, took a hard stance against the US as soon as the Rev War ended. Since they were fearful of US expansion into their New World territories, they closes the Mississippi River off to US trade and gave away sparsely populated land west of the Mississippi to both Native Americans and white US citizens in exchange for loyalty to Spain. The Spanish Empire also bribed converts or attracted Spanish-friendly spies in the US with business deals and or Spanish New World political positions. The book mentions Daniel Boone, when he was old, and Andrew Jackson, when he was young, as two notable figures that took at least some of the Spanish offers. The author does not elaborate on Andrew Jackson’s role with Spain.
  • As the French Revolution became more radical, the issue became more divisive. Jefferson apparently embraced the overthrow of the monarchy, guillotines, etc. However, I’ve also read that Jefferson became less enthusiastic about it as it became more violent. Jefferson in private and Jefferson in public are often two different people, and I suppose it also matter who he is speaking to in private that might make a different as well. No doubt, another cause for Federalist appeal was the fear of a Jefferson-inspired bloody revolution occurring in the US.
  • Hamilton became one of the first to argue that the US alliance with the French should end in the event that the French monarchy is overthrown. Hamilton’s reasons had more to do with trade and finance, but Washington and Adams preferred the French monarchy to French egalitarianism. I have read that ultimately the Washington administration declared that the alliance with France ended when the either the monarchy was overthrown or when the monarch was guillotined. That is to say, the French Republic was seen as a new government–a new country–and not a continuation of France.
  • When Washington, as president, led troops to quell the Whisky Rebellion, it was the largest military force in the history of North America. While not elaborate on, it does show that military organization (or at least cohesion) had noticeably progressed since the Revolutionary War. I’m assuming that this response boosted some confidence for the US prior and up to the War of 1812.
  • The number one issue for the election was the Jay Treaty, a treaty which made few ecstatic, was argued to have made too many concessions to the British, and was also argued to have violated our alliance with France. Nevertheless, it did do at least three things: 1) Prevented a potential new war with Great Britain. 2) Allowed the US to expand settlement into future Ohio and Indiana without British interference. 3) Secured better trade conditions with Great Britain. It definitely upset the French, but they were bogged down in Revolution. None of this is new information to me, but I leave this hear for any readers. As the US wasn’t a major country in 1796, a US election focusing on Great Britain and France isn’t too odd when you consider that many countries today likely focus much of their election rhetoric on relations with the US, China, or Russia.
  • Hamilton, who liked to meddle in elections, seems to have had three primary deputies: William Loughton Smith, Robert Goodloe Harper, and Oliver Wolcott, although he had other minions as well. Smith and Harper are Southerners, which shows how much more national the Federalist Party was at this time. By 1812, the party was regional.
  • Much of the divisiveness of the Jay Treaty was because the treaty was perceived as favoring northeast merchants. However, the better argument, I think, is that diffusing a potential war with Great Britain, increase trade with the most powerful merchant country in the world, and securing expansion in westward into Ohio and Indiana ultimately benefitted a larger geographical range of US citizens. There was probably an outside fear of war against France, but consider the ongoing French Revolution, they would not have been able to act on it. In the New World, only the French-controlled of Haiti was within striking distance of the US. Louisiana and Quebec had been controlled by Spain and Great Britain, respectively, for decades. On top of this, Britain was already at war with France, so they likely couldn’t afford to send ships and troops across the Atlantic. The US had the luxury of breaking an alliance without repercussions.
  • To prove the influence of the French Revolution on the 1796 election, effigies of both Washington and John Jay (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and negotiator of the Jay Treaty) were burned. Jay had an effigy that was decapitated with a guillotine. These gestures show a potential–however small–that the French Revolution could have carried on over in America between Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans. In a worst case scenario, I imagine the most radical Jeffersonians storming the properties of most of the Founding Fathers and dragging them to the guillotine, Washington included. Fortunately, nothing close to this occurred, possibly because the leading Jeffersonians–Jefferson and Madison–weren’t radicals. No radical appears to have had the charisma or following to have contested Jefferson and Madison. James Monroe, Thomas Paine (then in France), and William Maclay were radicals at this time. None of them were a Robespierre.
  • The famous historian Henry Adams (descendent of the presidents Adams) believed that most Americans thought the Jay Treaty was so bad that they preferred war to peace by 1810. This is probably in reference to the Treaty not having curbed enough British abuses, such as impressment of US sailors and some restrictions on some US exports.
  • To show that the Jay Treaty wasn’t completely detested. John Jay resigned as Chief Justice, sometime after the signing of the Jay Treaty, and won election as governor of New York, the first Federalist governor of that state. However, he never held office again after his governorship, but that was probably due more to Jeffersonian election strategies, which were far superior and had far more common sense than the Federalist approach. Federalists didn’t fight for votes, expecting to be recognized as the rightful authority figures. Jeffersonian Republicans went straight to the people. Jay also probably retired because he saw no chance for a Federalist President in the future soon after the 1800 election, which meant he was unlikely to receive an appointment and Jeffersonians had taken firm control of New York.
  • At the time of the Jay Treaty, there was only one John Jay Treaty skeptic: Edmund Randolph of VA, the Sec of State. Two of Hamilton’s cronies, Oliver Wolcott and Timothy Pickering (both of New England), manufactured a scandal involving Randolph (a bribe with France). While the scandal likely wasn’t true, Washington now had a reason to force Randolph to resign, so that the administration was 100% behind the treaty.
  • The book suggests that the presidential election began in Fall 1795 when Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, attacked Washington’s reputation via his Aurora newspaper. I should not to readers that Bache would be locked up by the Adams administration for supposedly violating the Sedition Act during the Quasi-War. Bache’s Philadelphia paper was arguably the leading Jeffersonian paper. It’s interesting that Franklin was famously moderate, non-partisan, while Bache is one of the great partisan figures of the early Republic. To Jeffersonians, the crucial next step to reforming policy and replacing government officials was getting rid of President Washington.
  • According to the author, Federalists saw themselves as “the Christian party.” It seems there’s always one party that defines themselves as such. Federalists also built a kind of cult around George Washington for those less devout. This claim might have been easy to make, considering Jefferson’s eccentric take on Christianity (he made his own Bible by ripping out the sections that he thought were too fantastical to be true). Jefferson was labeled a secret atheist. This also reminds me that Hamilton was in the process of making a new party shortly before he died. He had realized the Federalist Party had little appeal outside of New England by 1804. Hamilton had plans to create a new party using Christianity as a main tenant of the party. Hamilton was not very religious. Strangely, many Christian conservatives today would have been skeptical of the Founding Fathers as Christians. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and possibly Madison and Hamilton too, were all deists. John Adams and JQ Adams were Unitarians. There was a serious questioning or criticism of the Biblical God and Jesus among the Founding Fathers. This would not have been the case with the average voter and average non-voter. Federalists had to appeal to the people’s faith in God or veneration for Washington to get voters since appeal to Federalist authority was not enough.
  • James Madison was the opposition leader in the US House of Representatives. Madison was never Speaker of the House or House Minority Leader (this latter role didn’t exist until much later). The Speaker had very little authority or power until Henry Clay. Madison was unofficially what we would consider a Speaker or House Minority Leader, depending on when the Federalists or Jeffersonians had the majority or the minority.
  • Even though Hamilton was scandaled out of Washington’s cabinet before Washington’s presidency had ended, he still was Washington’s key advisor. Hamilton, I think, might have been able to wield even more influence in this unofficial capacity.
  • Now obscure, Fisher Ames, US Rep of MA, was the Federalist’s greatest orator, its rising star, and possibly the politician that saved the Jay Treaty from being voted down. Had the Federalists developed into a lasting party, he would have likely become a US Senator or more, but he was young in 1795-1796, and he died young–even before the Federalist Party faded into a regional party. An alternate history with a strong Federalist Party might have seen a Sen. Ames, Speaker Ames, or President Ames. I also remember reading that of all the Arch-Federalists (Federalists who were extremely partisan), Ames was the one to recognize that the Jeffersonian election strategy was superior and destroying any chances for Federalist survival. He suggested adopting Jeffersonian tactics and strategies; however, many older Federalists (which means about all the other Federalists) thought it beneath them to “beg for votes.”
  • To show how decentralized the parties were, even with leaders such as Jefferson and Hamilton, the book provides an example in New York. The Jeffersonian Republicans had three leaders in New York — all different factions — and all hating each other. The main fight was over who should lead the state party rather than on policy differences. The three at war with one another were George Clinton (future VP), Robert R. Livingston (who swore Washington in as the first president), and Aaron Burr (future VP and killer of Hamilton). Each would attempt dominance and try to fill offices with their cronies. Burr was a founder–possibly the central one–of Tammany Hall. I notice that these factions continue through the 19th century with the Democrats. It often seems as if the battle is between NYC and Albany, although that’s probably simplifying it. DeWitt Clinton, Daniel Tompkins, Martin Van Buren, and many others carry on this tradition of party in-fighting in New York.
  • John Adams believed he was being groomed to follow Washington as President as early as January 1796. However, rumors spread that he would likely stay on as Vice President under either Jefferson or John Jay (the favorite of Hamilton’s faction). The book suggests that Adams might have refused to serve as VP again if elected.
  • Hamilton was one of the first to learn that Washington would not seek a 3rd term. Washington almost retired after one term and had Madison write a farewell address on his behalf. As he opted to serve the second term, and was no longer friends with Madison, he gave Hamilton Madison’s letter to edit/rewrite for a new farewell address.
  • John Adams was the only 1796 candidate to show interest in the presidency on paper.
  • Jefferson was the first declared 1796 candidate, primarily via propaganda by Hamilton and his allies. The assumption of Jefferson running was so likely that it was no surprise when he was declared. The author claims Jefferson did nothing to encourage his presidency and stayed on his farm in Virginia. We may not have evidence of Jefferson encouraging his candidacy, but I find it difficult that he wouldn’t be involved in private conversation. Madison would be in Virginia often, for instance. Certainly the two men talked about the upcoming election. I do believe Jefferson was reluctant, but I think he also wasn’t oblivious to the certainty of his candidacy. Jefferson certainly meddled into things as President. It’s hard to imagine him avoiding involvement in anything that likely to involve him. He couldn’t have refused candidacy. I do think he would have waited for Washington to announce retirement to increase verbal involvement outside of Madison. The appearance of disinterest was considered attractive in a leader at this time. John Adams, who was interested, was out of style.
  • Hamilton and his allies accused Jefferson of achieving his goals behind the scenes and through allies. This is a rather funny accusation considering Hamilton operated as party leader without taking on leading political roles (aside from his time as Sec of State). Hamilton also often published under pseudonyms or anonymously. Hamilton would also interfere in the 1796 and 1800 elections behind the scenes.
  • Hamilton and Noah Webster (the Dictionary man was a Federalist) both believed opposition to the Jay Treaty was more about attacking John Jay so that Jefferson would have the upper hand in a potential Jay vs Jefferson 1796 election or so that George Clinton, who had been Gov of NY since the Revolution, would win reelection against a potential John Jay gubernatorial bid. If this was a strategy, it didn’t work. While Jay did not run for president, he did win election as Governor of NY.
  • Hamilton believed there were only three prominent people for presidency in the upcoming election: Adams, Jay, and Jefferson. All three had experience and nationwide and international name recognition. None were too regional. International name recognition might have been the top priority in the early Republic. One had to have experience and respect to gain the attention of Great Britain and France–the two major powers. It’s not a coincidence that until 1840, every president, and most of the failed nominees, had served either as Sec of State, ambassador to a major foreign power, or both.
  • By early 1796, Madison thought Jefferson was the only Jeffersonian Republican candidate that had any shot at victory. This is probably true. Samuel Adams and some of the others with name recognition were too old. Madison might have been the third best option, but his experience was very limited at this time. The second best option was George Clinton of NY, but he was mostly a regional influence. Aaron Burr certainly saw himself as a considerable candidate, but he was too young and too unlikable. Jefferson likely saw himself as the only candidate too, which is why I think he didn’t stop anyone from making him a candidate. Without Jefferson, the election would like have seen Adams vs another Federalist with Clinton at a distant 3rd.
  • Aaron Burr, despite being unlikable, was an effective politician. He was also ambitious. In 1792, he attempted to become VP, despite barely being old enough to run for the office. Burr’s skill, manipulations, and ambition caused a sort of permanent war with his mirror image in the other party: Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton believe Burr lacked any principals whatsoever (not completely true. Burr was an early opponent of slavery and a sort of proto-feminist, for instance). Hamilton declared Burr an “embryo-Caesar,” which is odd considering Hamilton’s history and plans for his future make him closer to that definition. Burr and Hamilton also had scandalous affairs and both probably sought prostitutes. Burr was said to have no standards for women, whether by age or by physical condition.
  • Burr was early considered as the VP choice in the event Jefferson and the Republicans defeated Adams and the Federalists. However, the Burr question had its problems. Northern Jeffersonians feared Burr would flip Federalist. Southern Republicans wanted a more conventional NY politician like Robert R. Livingston. Senator Pierce Butler of SC left discussions because he wasn’t more favored than Burr. Butler probably represents the desire to have a double Southern ticket to combat the powerful influence of Northern cities over government. However, any ticket that had a shot at winning would have to be geographically balanced. If Jefferson is the Southerner, then they must have a Northerner. NY was the big state to win. That left Burr, Clinton or Livingston as VP choices, whichever was willing and available.
  • Hamilton disliked Adams’s independence from Hamiltonian Federalism. In fact, Adams sort of had a foot in Jeffersonian Republicanism by 1796 (He would eventually vote for James Monroe in old age). Hamilton claimed that Adams was not fit for the presidency, and while he hadn’t the ideal temperament for it, Hamilton’s objections was mainly self-serving. He had some control of Washington, he had about total control over several other Federalists, but he had no direct control of Adams. However, Adams and Jay were the only viable options, much in the way Jefferson was the only viable Jeffersonian option. With Jay running for governor, Adams was left. This didn’t stop Hamilton for trying to think of an alternative to Adams.
  • Since the Federalists still had some strength in the South in 1796, Hamilton sought to find a Southerner who could drain votes from Jefferson in his home region. Hamilton’s top choice as an alternative to Adams was Patrick Henry, famous for his “Give Me Liberty or Give me Death” speech. He was the only Southern Federalist with the name recognition to compete with Jefferson, and while he had initially opposed the Federalists, Henry was a factional rival to both Jefferson and Madison in Virginia. Due to this opposition to the architects of Jeffersonian Republicanism, Washington and the Federalists had been attempting to force Henry to switch allegiances to the Federalists. While Henry had more in common with Jefferson than Hamilton, Henry made the switch as the French Revolution became more radical. However, Henry preferred being a powerful Virginian rather than a powerful American. He rejected offers by Washington for prestigious positions (Washington wanted him as Sec of State), and he would reject any candidacy suggested by Hamilton.
  • By May 1796, Hamilton gave up on his plan to replace Adams with Henry. Even attempts by Rufus King and John Marshall failed to convince Henry to run. Additionally, Hamilton might have realized Henry would be hard to control as he wasn’t a true Federalist. Hamilton’s Plan B was to get one of the Pinckney brothers of South Carolina to run. This family was dominant in the state but likely obscure to many outside of South Carolina. Both Hamilton and Rufus King liked the fact that Thomas Pinckney was inexperience enough that he could be manipulated. It’s worth pointing out that Pinckney, like Washington, was a Rev War general, although not of the level of Washington. Jefferson, while serving a wartime governor, had fled the Virginia capital during the war. I think was likely a campaign battle Hamilton wanted to use in a potential Pinckney-Jefferson matchup.
  • While slavery and abolitionism didn’t play a role in this election, Hamilton, Rufus King, John Jay, John Adams, and Aaron Burr, all had moderate anti-slavery opinions. However, all of them swallowed their tongues to win support of the slaveocracy that dominated the Southern States. Any candidate for president that condemned slavery would have demoted their party to a regional party.
  • Burr really helped his candidacy and future goals (although undermined by his own behavior later on) by being a leading force in getting statehood for Tennessee. Most Federalists and many Northern Jeffersonians, opposed Tennessee statehood. The Federalists opposed it because it would guarantee two more Jeffersonian Senators, Jeffersonian US Reps, and electoral votes for Jeffersonian candidates. Northern Jeffersonians sometimes opposed expansion because it would weaken Northern influence over national policy as Northern representation would necessarily decrease as the country expanded. Aaron Burr, being a leading Northerner and a leading figure for TN statehood, won him friendship with many Westerners. As such, Burr’s appeal as a candidate could include this new region as well as powerful New York. Federalists probably put their first nail in their coffin by opposing Western statehood. They closed the door on the limits of their support, rendering them a part east of the Appalachians. They’d soon retreat to New England with a few pockets in PA and DE.
  • Washington wanted to announce his retirement as soon as possible, but Hamilton cornered the president into allowing Hamilton to select the date. Thus, Hamilton, who rewrote Washington’s farewell address did everything but read the address for Washington. Hamilton delayed the speech as much as he could–to late Summer. His goal was to bide time to find an alternate to Adams as candidate and, I assume, delay any open campaigning by Jefferson’s party, who may have been loathe to campaign if Washington announced a 3rd term bid. Thus, Hamilton may have given his party an initial campaign advantage.
  • Edward Rutledge of South Carolina planned to give his states electoral votes to Thomas Pinckney for Pres and Thomas Jefferson for VP. His goal, like Pierce Butler of SC mentioned above, was to shut out the North from the ticket. Such desires, only fed into Hamilton’s goal of replacing Adams with Pinckney.
  • According to the book, the Declaration of Independence was seen more as a simple announcement than as a historic manifesto. This probably means that voters didn’t really think about Jefferson as author of the Declaration, but rather, they saw Jefferson as someone who had served as Governor, ambassador, and Sec of State. I assume some of them would have known Jefferson as one of many American polymaths, a kind of Southern Benjamin Franklin, perhaps. I remember reading that Jefferson wasn’t Washington’s first choice for Sec of State, and might have been his 3rd choice. When did the Declaration get its legendary status? On campaign, during a Jefferson administration? Civil War?
  • There were efforts to replace John Adams as VP in 1792 with George Clinton.
  • The book mentions Hamilton ally, William Loughton Smith, as being one of the unknown founders of American conservatism. While Smith was a Hamilton ally, his ambitions in South Carolina seemed to have been blocked by Hamilton’s fixation on the Pinckney brothers as presidential candidates. Smith ended up sticking with Adams over fellow South Carolinian Pinckney and ultimately did what he could to help Adams. Smith and the Pinckneys were competitors. Adams was friends with the Izards, another South Carolina family that was another competitor of the Pinckneys. Perhaps there was fear that a President Pinckney would close the door to the opponents of the Pinckney’s in South Carolina.
  • Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, who still wanted an all Southern ticket, decided he wanted to see Jefferson as president and Thomas Pinckney as VP. Even though Rutledge was a Federalist, he preferred Jefferson to a Hamilton-controlled Thomas Pinckney. This also shows an example of how decentralized the parties were. It wasn’t uncommon to see a lot of independent thinking among politicians at this time. This also explains why many Southerners flipped to Jeffersonian Republicanism: they feared Northern control–especially Hamiltonian control–of policy.
  • Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans both seem to have been optimistic about how voters would decide to vote. There does seem to be a difference. While Jeffersonians were optimistic that the common man could vote, including those ineligible to vote because they did not yet own property or had not yet resided long enough in the US, the Federalists were optimistic that voters would be able to discern that one party (Jeffersonians) were flatterers of the people and that one party (Federalists) were the servants of the people. Undermining the Federalist claim is that the Federalists had an overemphasis on buffeting established powers–be it elite families, elite professions, elite institutions, etc. In short, the were the elitist party banking on hopes that the common man would prefer to keep the status quo rather than embrace a party that promised upward mobility or, at the very least, politicians that would listen to the concerns of the common man.
  • Jefferson was critical of the role of Christianity in both history and politics. William Loughton Smith used Jefferson’s own theological criticism to paint Jefferson as a radical who would put “Jesus on the guillotine.”
  • John Adams was unappealing enough that Federalists focused mostly on attacking Jefferson and only mentioned Adams as a last resort. This reminds me of the tactic that many Republicans used in 2016. For instance, at the GOP Convention, Ted Cruz did not once mention Trump in his speech, but certainly railed at Hillary Clinton consistently. This is not to really equate Adams with Trump. The reason for diminishing Adams’s role was probably different: 1) He did cause some controversy early on by trying to establish some pro-monarchial protocols…titles, for instance. 2) He did not have good relations with Hamilton, the defacto Federalist leader, and was seen as too independent to be reliable. 3) He wasn’t George Washington. The latter point might be the key reason. Certainly, Federalists used Washington’s name frequently on campaign. To bring up Adams would lead to instant comparisons to the legendary man he would be replacing.
  • John Adams, while a moderate, independent Federalist only, had sincere distaste for an active democracy, which was one of the key policies–if not the key policy–of Jeffersonian Republicans. Adams had the highest expectations for himself, for his family, and for his people. He probably thought the right to vote had to be earned through merit and strenuous education. Jefferson would have seen the right to vote as being a basic human right, at least for white men. Those white men impacted by the government aught to have something to say. It should be noted that “white” didn’t include Native Americans, and some Europeans and Middle Easterners now considered “white.” It also wouldn’t include someone who was 7/8ths white, if they were known to only be 7/8ths white. Adams likely believed, via wife Abigail, that some women would make good voters. I’m not sure if Jefferson thought the same. It’s likely neither saw a world in which slaves, former slaves, or free blacks could vote. I’m also not sure if they thought Native Americans were capable of voting well.
  • The author states that both Hamilton and Adams agreed on one key point: that the country will be more stable, unified, and better ruled if the president is shielded from “democratic pressures.”
  • Jefferson and some of his allies feared that Adams–formerly the great man that led the call for independence–had been corrupted into a pawn of the British while serving as the first ambassador to Great Britain shortly after the Rev War.
  • Adams and the Federalists had the advantage in 1796 of having almost all of the famous Founding Fathers and Rev War figures as allies, including Washington. Jefferson had only two major allies of eminence: Samuel Adams (John’s 2nd cousin) and Thomas Paine. However, Paine was in France playing a role in their revolution and would remain there for some time. Jefferson had Madison, but Madison’s label as the “Father of the Constitution” wasn’t developed until later. The author doesn’t mention John Hancock, who was certainly independent, and has been about as skeptical of the US Constitution and Federalism as Samuel Adams. I’m not sure who Hancock voted for in 1796, but it is possible he wouldn’t vote against a fellow Massachusetts man. Samuel Adams was was in his mid-70s in 1796. He was ten years older than George Washington. Jefferson probably couldn’t expect too much active support from Sam Adams.
  • While the concept of “campaign manager” didn’t exist, John Beckley created a sort of campaign template in September 1796 that Jeffersonian Republicans followed. He’d be a sort of proto-campaign manager.
  • Pennsylvania was the primary battleground state in the 1796 with both parties fully invested.
  • While most wealthy businessmen favored Federalists, many notable foreign-born businessmen of wealth, such as Stephen Girard–who would be the wealthiest American in the future–favored Jefferson as Federalists were seen as trying to maintain the current social hierarchy and not let anyone new in.
  • Philadelphia Federalists were either involved in Hamilton’s plot to replace John Adams with Thomas Pinckney or were too afraid to mention support of Adams at the Philadelphia Federalist gathering. At the major gathering before the election, Adams’s name was apparently not even mentioned once.
  • Beckley is seen as crucial in converting many of Philadelphia’s voters into Jefferson supporters. It probably also helped that the major Jeffersonian paper–The Aurora (mentioned earlier in my notes)- was a Philadelphia paper.
  • The French intervened in the election in an attempt to hand Jefferson the victory. Considering we weren’t a major power and France was, this would be considered.
  • As election day got closer, Hamilton and Rufus King realized their Thomas Pinckney plot was too risky. They used their cronies to spread the word to Federalist electors to use one of their two votes for Adams and the other for Pinckney. Hamilton held out hope that at least one Southerner would refuse to vote for Adams, therefore giving, Pinckney at least one more vote than Adams. Under the old system for presidential elections, this would make Pinckney president, provided he got more votes than Jefferson as well.
  • Oliver Wolcott Jr, a Federalists, noted a problem with his fellow New Englanders. Adams was likely to carry all of New England, but some Federalists were likely to select Jefferson over Pinckney for their 2nd vote, which would likely give Jefferson the VP spot, instead of Pinckney, if Adams won the presidency. The author mentions that Wolcott thought Jefferson could do a lot of damage as VP, even though the VP hadn’t had much power. The argument is that the position would legitimize Jefferson’s views as being popular. There’s no mention of Jefferson’s role as president of the US Senate, if he were to become VP. That role was ill-defined then.
  • Ultimately, Thomas Pinckney would greatly underperform as some Federalists selected John Jay or Oliver Ellsworth with one of the electoral votes. It is supposed that some did this as a reaction to Hamilton’s meddling or just because of regional differences with a South Carolinian. I would also guess that some former Pinckney supporters failed to see the attraction to Pinckney once the plan to toss out Adams was given up.
  • Aaron Burr apparently spent six weeks in New England trying to gain support, but the entire region went straight Federalist. The book suggests that Burr was believed to have been up there for self-interested reasons. My guess is that he was thinking down the road. He had gained some support in the West for his leadership in gaining Tennessee statehood. He would have a lock on support in New York. If he could raise support in New England, then he might have solid foundation for a presidential run in 1800 or 1804.
  • Jonathan Dayton, Speaker of the US House, and Federalist friend of Burr, suggested Burr as a VP for Adams or possibly a replacement for Adams. Such thoughts coincides with the general belief that Burr was capable of switching parties or was more Pro-Burr than Pro-Republican. In short, Burr was Dayton’s preferred candidate, rather than Thomas Pinckney, for replacing Adams. Having two northerners likely would not have worked, but considering where the votes were, it might have worked. Who knows how the South would have reacted after the election.
  • While Burr came in fourth behind Adams, Jefferson, and Pinckney, he was a much more distant fourth than was expected. Similar to how some Federalists refused to vote for Pinckney, some Southern Jeffersonians opted for Samuel Adams and George Clinton over Burr.
  • This is not from the book: Adams defeated Jefferson by three electoral votes. Pinckney did not help Adams in getting South Carolina, but he may have helped in getting one breakaway EV each from NC and VA. Additionally, Adams got one breakaway EV from PA. MD just about split their EVs. Had every state been uniform in who they supported, Adams would have won by only 1 EV. However, if the notorious Two-Thirds Compromise, which artificially inflated the electoral votes in the South, had not existed, Adams would have won by a more convincing number. In fact, Adams would have won in 1800 had Jefferson not benefited from electoral vote inflation in the slave states.
  • This is not from the book: Adams won the popular vote by just under 6% points. The popular vote, as we have today, was greatly restricted. It appears some locations had a true popular vote, but many states had voters vote for electors and not the president. Many states also had their state legislatures select the electors, thereby leaving out the people completely. Some of the popular vote totals have been lost. Some of the popular vote totals seems odd. For instance, Massachusetts gives 5,247 popular votes for Adams and zero popular votes for Jefferson! Overall, those who could vote were often restricted to natural born Americans who owned property.

I’ll post my notes for the 1800 Election at some point in the future.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Alfred Corn says:

    An extraordinary amount of research is on show here. Is it part of a book-length project?


    1. historymonocle says:

      I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. I read these election books primarily to see if anything in them would help me with the game I’m making. However, I’m always thinking about book-length projects too. I have more projects than time.


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