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Readers will find many similarities between the intense electioneering of Adams and Jefferson, and the heated political races of today. For instance, Larson delineates debates about security and the Alien and Sedition Acts, the complex calculus of the Electoral College and the ad hominem remarks of commentators. Larson's volume will join Susan Dunn's Jefferson's Second Revolution as an invaluable study of a crucial chapter in the lives of the founding fathers—and of the nation. First serial to American History magazine. The Tumultuous Election of , America's First Relying, then, on the patronage of your good will, I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become sensible how much better choice it is in your power to make.

And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity. Larson is the author of seven books and the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in History for his book Summer for the Gods: His other books include Evolution: God and Science on the Galapagos Islands. Electioneering Has Already Begun.

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Its result re-oriented the country in its promised direction and solidified the two party system. Larson tells the saga of this 16 month pre-media electoral slog. The Constitution had not anticipated political parties. It called for electors today, our vestigial electoral college to cast the presidential ballots and left each state to determine its own election rules. The parties studied the rules, did th This was, given the consensus for Washington to be President, our first national election. The parties studied the rules, did the math, and attempted to manipulate rules, events and perceptions to change the outcome before and after the fact.

The story is reported with facts and quotes. By nature of its content, there is a lot of technical detail. Slavery, which gave the south disproportionate electoral influence due to the Constitution's specified population count, was not an issue for the participants, and perhaps not the rank and file free male voter either.

It faintly emerged when the Republicans need to show their "toughness" in response to a slave revolt.


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The author does a good job of cataloging, state by state, the electioneering. The actual votings, by the electors and by the the House of Representatives, could have had a more detailed and interpretive treatment. After having recently read Fallen Founder: Larson, like others, refers to Burr's negative qualities such as extreme ambition or untrustworthiness without evidence. There is mention of his potential profiting from founding a NY bank, but other banks, oriented towards Hamilton, favored the American aristocrats and essentially cut out the average person in lending decisions.

In the absence of hard data showing that that Burr profited, should he not be celebrated for this? Did Andrew Jackson accomplish this much? The treatment of Hamilton differs from that in Chernov's Alexander Hamilton To Larson he is an extremist schemer, to Chernov, an achiever, albeit an contentious one.

John Adams is portrayed as learning too late that he had been used by this party's extremists. The detail in the treatment here, defines the limitations of drama, such as the recent HBO series on John Adams, in portraying this time. To me, the book does not have a fitting title. What was catastrophic about this election? Chaos, tumult or even pandemonium are better nouns than "catastrophe" which implies ruin or destruction.

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One of its participants calls it a catastrophe, but what was destroyed? Jul 29, Jonathan Desimone rated it really liked it Shelves: In the spirit of full disclosure—this is a book for US history nerds. But if you do, this is a well-written, short history of an amazing period in the early Republic, when you had the giants of the age shaping the traditions we take for granted today.

This was an election that was thrown into the House due to the way electoral votes were submitted at the time. Leading up to that was a huge partisan battle between the Republicans In the spirit of full disclosure—this is a book for US history nerds. Leading up to that was a huge partisan battle between the Republicans led by Jefferson, Madison and Monroe and the Federalists led by Adams, Hamilton and Pinckney. While they contrasted their positions as completely different, it does echo the current environment in how we exaggerate difference even while the absolute difference on many issues is relatively small.

The book sets the stage for this battle and walks through the key issues and key events leading up to the actual electoral vote. Every state had their own way to pick electors and the skirmishes that led up to the actual election are fascinating. Each side pushed a mechanic to its own advantage in that state, whether it be district election, popular vote, selection by the state legislature and so on. While the Republicans triumphed, barely, over the Federalists, the lack of clarity on votes almost gave Aaron Burr the Presidency.

Typically up to that point, a single elector for a party would decline to name the VP candidate to ensure the Presidential candidate had more votes. However, in the intensely partisan atmosphere of , no one did that. The House ended up choosing the President after over 30 ballots by state so one needed 9 of the 16 states to win and significant intrigue.

Many Federalists pushed for Burr over Jefferson though Hamilton did not, having been an enemy of Burr as a fellow New Yorker on the other side of the aisle. While Jefferson ultimately prevailed over Burr who then won a duel with Alexander Hamilton and ended his political career , it was high drama for the new nation. Jun 03, Manny rated it really liked it. This book details the struggles concerning the elections of Ironically, I found many parallels with present day politics.

The "Federalist" who believed in big government and central power in a sort of monarchical government against the 'republicans' or "anti-federalist" that where big supporters of the original intent of the Constitution, de-centralized government doing battle. This fits the narrative we see today where the two factions are "Big Government" Republicans and Democrats and th This book details the struggles concerning the elections of This fits the narrative we see today where the two factions are "Big Government" Republicans and Democrats and the smaller government "republicans" emphasis on the lowercase 'r' which has members of more "traditional" Democrats and Republicans.

The book covers the elections of where John Adams 2nd President seek re-election. The most interesting information in this book is how two men could have been allies and come together to create the Declaration of Independence yet be so diametrically different in their respective visions for the country. Truth be told, I find it fascinating that so soon after winning are independence from the Crown, that John Adams would be the impetus for the Alien and Sedition acts.

Ironically, the President and the House were protected from criticism, but the Vice President Thomas Jefferson , was not protected. As you all know, Adams was unsuccessful in retaining a second term as President and was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson which served two terms as President. After their rivalry, Jefferson and Adams remained in contact via mail and talked about religion, politics, to name a few. It is difficult to ascertain a particular agenda or ideology from the writer.

This is important to me as I like to form my own opinions. With that said, the author did take certain liberties and stated "FACTS" that in my opinion where not exactly facts. The one that comes to mind is, that of Jefferson being a deist.

A Magnificent Catastrophe

The book flows well and is engaging. I could not put it down. Not necessarily a page turner, but if you enjoy history; more specifically political history, you will enjoy this book. It might take me awhile to put this book into perspective. It provides a huge insight into partisan politics, from when they began in the US.

Conservative bloggers and radio personalities are so irresponsible with their "facts" and theories. The Shirley Sherrod scandal proved that they purposefully distort the truth to attack the other side. The arguement over the Muslim community center in New York was started by a crazy right wing conspiracy theorist blogger who also thinks Malcolm X is Obama' It might take me awhile to put this book into perspective. The arguement over the Muslim community center in New York was started by a crazy right wing conspiracy theorist blogger who also thinks Malcolm X is Obama's father.

I understand that I'm biased, isn't everyone? Even the junior Quayle who used to write for a porn website, Rand Paul who wouldn't have voted for the Civil Rights Act, and the Tea Party which is secretly backed by two billionaire oil industrialist brothers not a conspiracy theory, look it up, their name is Koch Before I get too sidetracked, this book seems to put all of this in perspective because over years ago, the election between Adams and Jefferson had the same type of attacks.

Newspapers were very partisan and were about as good with their fact-checking as conservative bloggers. People thought the country would fall apart if the other side won the election. So what does this all mean? After over years of partisan politics, we haven't learned anything, if anything, we may even be worse at it. That's kind of the point of having two parties. One gains power, the other, in opposition, gains strength until they eventually take over control. Power just goes back and forth. Even with all the federalists who thought the country would fall apart if Jefferson was elected, and all the people who thought the country would go into a terrible recession, be involved in two neverending wars, and lose a lot of the progress we had made towards better environmental responsibilities if George W.

It makes it all seem somewhat existential. What difference does it all make? At the same time, I don't think apathy is really the answer to our problems. Mar 05, John rated it really liked it Shelves: Reading Larson is a pretty good strategy. A Magnificent Catastrophe tells the story of the election, which established the basic pattern for US presidential elections and nearly undid the country in the process. The election between Adams and Jefferson was the first to feature political parties in a leading role, and all that we've come to know and love about them was there from the start -- including gaming the Electoral College, negative advertising, machine politics, intra-party rivalries, and whispering campaigns that leading candidates were not quite American enough.

It was also the only election to end in a tie, the first to be settled by the House of Representatives, and a major test of whether the country could change ruling parties and survive. In the history lessons I remember from school, it's that last fact that gets the emphasis -- that Jefferson's being able to assume the presidency without constitutional crisis was proof that the U. Larson's point comes at that one an oblique angle; he seems to argue -- and this is especially interesting in the face of all the Founding Father celebrations published in recent years -- that American presidential politics was pretty much the same dreary spectacle years ago as it is today, and the wonder of it all is that we made it this far.

Larson's a lively writer as well as a careful historian, and A Magnificent Catastrophe practically becomes a page-turner as the Democratic-Republicans conduct a too-disciplined race for the White House the cause of the tie and Federalists scheme to stop them even as their own party begins to fall apart. A very compelling read; I'm looking forward to picking up his Pulitzer-winning book on the Scopes trial from a couple of years back.

Jun 26, Jeffrey rated it really liked it Shelves: Filled with rich detail and vigor, the book shows that our elections have always been poisonous affairs that can destroy friendships and families. The book is a perfect fit for our current election cycle. The book chronicles the first part A Magnificent Catastrophe: The book chronicles the first partisan election and how the party system came to be.

Whether it is the wheeling dealing of Aaron Burr or the sabotage of Adams by Hamilton, the stories stand out for how closely they mirror current events. The death of the original intents of the framers in electing the Chief executive is plainly shown, as is the flavor of later day contests. This book is an enjoyable history of political events. Yet, as I read this book some thing kept popping up in my thoughts that I could not contain.

John McCain can be seen as a current day John Adams. Not the John Adams that we now know, but the Adams as seen at the time. As the book clearly shows, Adams was a candidate for a party that did not support him as is McCain. McCain is known for his violent temper and his raging rhetoric when angered, as was Adams. This does not mean that Obama is Jefferson, though. There is no correlation available.

As the time is ripe for Veep picks, let us see if the candidates follow the pattern set from the book.

A Magnificent Catastrophe | Book by Edward J. Larson | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

Obama would need to chose a toady that can shore up the southern vote Edwars current troubles leave him on the bench and McCain will need to pick a party beloved or respected by the Party faithful. Jun 01, Joseph McBee rated it really liked it. Throughout this well-written book I had the words of Ecclesiastes going through my mind; "There is nothing new under the sun. I hear--and have even said myself--that our Founders were more interested in public service than they were in gaining and retaining power.

As this book very convincingly shows, politics has always been politics and the campaign Throughout this well-written book I had the words of Ecclesiastes going through my mind; "There is nothing new under the sun. As this book very convincingly shows, politics has always been politics and the campaign for president between Jefferson and Adams set the tone for every election following and firmly established the bitter rivalry in the two party system.

Lies, scandal, gossip, mudslinging, posturing, and cronyism are all there in abundance. The Religious Right is there proclaiming that one candidate is "God's choice" while the other is clearly god-less. Promises were made and broken. Support was bought with the public purse, and every person involved was proclaiming they were the truest patriot and champion of the Constitution while the other was a man of more than questionable character.

This was a truly fascinating expose and the author never once attempted to make any connections between then and now--he didn't have to--it's all there and easy to see.

A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign

The author simply faithfully reported on the events in an interesting and unbiased fashion. However, he does leave the reader with a sense of hope as he briefly describes the reconciliation between Jefferson and Adams in their later years, which subtly reminds us that despite all its flaws, our system of government works. It may not work perfectly, but we must remember that we are all profoundly flawed people and are doing the very best we can.

Sep 27, Bob Schmitz rated it liked it. A Magnificent Catastrophe describes in excruciating detail the elections for legislators and then electors in the election vote by vote, state by state, machination by machination, slander by slander, letter by letter, between Federalists John Adams and Charles Pinckney, and Republican T. Jefferson and Arron Burr. The book describes how Burr ran a text book, ward by ward, election campaign in NY to win the state for the Republicans. Hamilton says at one point that the stakes are so high the A Magnificent Catastrophe describes in excruciating detail the elections for legislators and then electors in the election vote by vote, state by state, machination by machination, slander by slander, letter by letter, between Federalists John Adams and Charles Pinckney, and Republican T.

Edward Lawson - A Magnificent Catastrophe

Hamilton says at one point that the stakes are so high there is no reason to be to over scrupulous. Hamilton plots to have Pinckney beat Adams and when that doesn't work pushes for Burr to be selected over Jefferson. The Federalist in power pass the Alien and Sedition Acts which forbade citizens from criticizing the government, and in their lame duck session packed the Federal courts with Federalist judges.

People wondered how Jefferson a deist could have the moral fiber to run a country without being a Christian. The race is eventually thrown into the House where the Republicans in power think of ways to delay a vote until Adams' and Jefferson's terms end and they can appoint a Republican to the presidency.


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The continuation of our new democracy is in doubt. And of course we all know that Hamilton and Burr fight a duel later. Presidential races today are tame. But beware of or enjoy the excruciating detail. It almost reads like a textbook. Dec 28, Brian rated it it was amazing Shelves: Edward Larson provides a very detailed and in depth look at the election of and how the Congress choose a president for the first time in history and the last time where both candidates would be from the same political party.

The book looks at the careers of the four contenders in the election focusing on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson but still paying significant attention to Aaron Burr and Charles Pinckney. The electioneering at the time was just getting started and it was rare to see th Edward Larson provides a very detailed and in depth look at the election of and how the Congress choose a president for the first time in history and the last time where both candidates would be from the same political party. The electioneering at the time was just getting started and it was rare to see the candidates themselves get involved.

Retired founding fathers like George Washington would weigh into the fray and the seeds would be further sown for the duel that Burr and Hamilton would face. At the end of the day through the odd politicking of the time it would result in a tie from two republicans Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson that the Congress would have to decide between.

The ultimate winner was Jefferson which set the stage for a transformation and proof that democracy would work in the United States. Overall for those looking for a thorough and well thought-out analysis on the election is a great book to choose. Oct 13, John Wiswell rated it really liked it Recommends it for: History readers, political readers, biography readers who enjoy context.

A superb history of the U. Larson's best tool is bringing up issues in relation to incidents along the campaign, such as elaborating on their religious views when they became sensationalized in the press, foreign policy during an international crisis with France and Britain, and their views on slavery when an insurrection rose up. Larson's language is succincent and comprehensible, so that if i A superb history of the U. Larson's language is succincent and comprehensible, so that if it is not conversational, it would still be an excellent college lecture. His research is not only deep but exquisitely approachable, such that anyone with a high school education and only fleeting familiarity with the U.

He shows admirably little bias in handling topics like bigotry against atheists and institutional slavery, a considerable feet when opinions on such topics are so ardent today. There are only a few moments when he makes commentary, such as his criticisms of Aaron Burr's apparent foolishness during political in-fighting, and his concluding paragraph, a naive assessment of how popular two-party government is different from the elitist two-party government George Washington feared. Top rate history for people of any level of familiarity.

Jan 11, Tony rated it it was amazing. I hate to break out the spoilers, but in case you were concerned, Thomas Jefferson does win the presidential election of Filled with letters and correspondences, Mr. Larson brings the reader up close and personal to the leaders of the young republic Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Burr and Hamilton.

The truly am I hate to break out the spoilers, but in case you were concerned, Thomas Jefferson does win the presidential election of