American History for Truthdiggers: The Jeffersonian Enigma (1800-1808)
Jeffersonian newspapermen called President Adams and the Federalists “loyalists,” “monarchists,” “Tories” and the “British faction.” Essentially, so the thinking went, these Federalists, led by Adams, were traitors, and loyal Republicans needed to “turn out [to vote] and save [their] country from ruin!”
Of course, the fierce rhetoric ran both ways. One Federalist paper predicted that, should Vice President Jefferson be elected president, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, and the soil will be soaked with blood.” With the ad hominem attacks running at that fever pitch, it is little wonder that the country seemed to be on the verge of civil war after the election results were so close that the matter had to be sent to the Congress for adjudication. Rumors and conspiracies flourished, and many armed themselves for the expected chaos.
In this political cartoon, an eagle prevents Jefferson from burning the Constitution. (American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.)
It never came. After dozens of tied votes in the House between Jefferson and his preferred vice president, Aaron Burr, a number of Federalists relented and handed victory to Jefferson. In the convoluted system of the day, presidential electors in the Electoral College did not designate which of the two men running on a given ticket (Federalist or Republican) was preferred as president and which as vice president. Therefore, when Jefferson bested Adams in a rather close election, both he and his running mate, Burr, had the same electoral vote count. Loathing Jefferson deeply, some Federalists threatened to throw their support behind Burr, but, after dozens of tied votes, a few Federalists—ironically under the direction of Jefferson’s sworn enemy, Alexander Hamilton—gave in and ensured Jefferson’s election.
Yes, there was the civil war. This first transfer of power from one political party to another inside the US colonies was full of threats, bluster, name calling and weapons accumulation for fear of bloodshed on both sides. In the end, the Republic survived this transfer of power and that transfer has happened many times since then.