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

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

by Edward J. Larson

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Pages: 352
Paperback
ISBN: 9780743293174






Available to Buy

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

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

"They could write like angels and scheme like demons." So begins Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Larson's masterful account of the wild ride that was the 1800 presidential election—an election so convulsive and so momentous to the future of American democracy that Thomas Jefferson would later dub it "America's second revolution."

This was America's first true presidential campaign, giving birth to our two-party system and indelibly etching the lines of partisanship that have so profoundly shaped American politics ever since. The contest featured two of our most beloved Founding Fathers, once warm friends, facing off as the heads of their two still-forming parties—the hot-tempered but sharp-minded John Adams, and the eloquent yet enigmatic Thomas Jefferson—flanked by the brilliant tacticians Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who later settled their own differences in a duel.

The country was descending into turmoil, reeling from the terrors of the French Revolution, and on the brink of war with France. Blistering accusations flew as our young nation was torn apart along party lines: Adams and his elitist Federalists would squelch liberty and impose a British-style monarchy; Jefferson and his radically democratizing Republicans would throw the country into chaos and debase the role of religion in American life. The stakes could not have been higher.

As the competition heated up, other founders joined the fray—James Madison, John Jay, James Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, George Clinton, John Marshall, Horatio Gates, and even George Washington—some of them emerging from retirement to respond to the political crisis gripping the nation and threatening its future.

Drawing on unprecedented, meticulous research of the day-to-day unfolding drama, from diaries and letters of the principal players as well as accounts in the fast-evolving partisan press, Larson vividly re-creates the mounting tension as one state after another voted and the press had the lead passing back and forth. The outcome remained shrouded in doubt long after the voting ended, and as Inauguration Day approached, Congress met in closed session to resolve the crisis. In its first great electoral challenge, our fragile experiment in constitutional democracy hung in the balance.

A Magnificent Catastrophe is history writing at its evocative best: the riveting story of the last great contest of the founding period.

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

"They could write like angels and scheme like demons." So begins Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Larson's masterful account of the wild ride that was the 1800 presidential election — an election so convulsive and so momentous to the future of American democracy that Thomas Jefferson would later dub it "America's second revolution."

This was America's first true presidential campaign, giving birth to our two-party system and indelibly etching the lines of partisanship that have so profoundly shaped American politics ever since. The contest featured two of our most beloved Founding Fathers, once warm friends, facing off as the heads of their two still-forming parties — the hot-tempered but sharp-minded John Adams, and the eloquent yet enigmatic Thomas Jefferson — flanked by the brilliant tacticians Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who later settled their own differences in a duel.

The country was descending into turmoil, reeling from the terrors of the French Revolution, and on the brink of war with France. Blistering accusations flew as our young nation was torn apart along party lines: Adams and his elitist Federalists would squelch liberty and impose a British-style monarchy; Jefferson and his radically democratizing Republicans would throw the country into chaos and debase the role of religion in American life. The stakes could not have been higher.

As the competition heated up, other founders joined the fray — James Madison, John Jay, James Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, George Clinton, John Marshall, Horatio Gates, and even George Washington — some of them emerging from retirement to respond to the political crisis gripping the nation andthreatening its future.

Drawing on unprecedented, meticulous research of the day-to-day unfolding drama, from diaries and letters of the principal players as well as accounts in the fast-evolving partisan press, Larson vividly re-creates the mounting tension as one state after another voted and the press had the lead passing back and forth. The outcome remained shrouded in doubt long after the voting ended, and as Inauguration Day approached, Congress met in closed session to resolve the crisis. In its first great electoral challenge, our fragile experiment in constitutional democracy hung in the balance.A Magnificent Catastrophe is history writing at its evocative best: the riveting story of the last great contest of the founding period.

The New York Times - Gil Troy

Democratic dialogue demands engagement; popular politics require passion. It is impossible to achieve both the broad participation Americans seek and the quiet contemplation they desire. As long as elections remain free and contested, they will often be "magnificent catastrophes" with partisans scurrying for advantage, campaigns lurching out of control, conscientious citizens becoming both involved and appalled. A master storyteller, Larson illustrates these conclusions through a gripping narrative rather than an explicit analysis…his dramatic tale offers fascinating modern parallels…

About the Author, Edward J. Larson

Edward J. Larson is the author of seven books and the recipient of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History for his book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. His other books include Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory; Evolution's Workshop; God and Science on the Galapagos Islands; and Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution. Larson has also written over one hundred articles, most of which address topics of law, science, or politics from an historical perspective, which have appeared in such varied journals as The Atlantic, Nature, Scientific American, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, and Virginia Law Review. He is a professor of history and law at Pepperdine University and lives in Georgia and California.

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

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Editorials

From the Publisher

"In this absorbing, brisk account, Larson re-creates the dramatic presidential race of 1800...an invaluable study of a crucial chapter in the lives of the founding fathers — and of the nation." — Publishers Weekly

"Pulitzer Prize-winner Larson vividly recounts America's first overtly partisan election.The colorful cast of Founders included Madison, Jay, Pinckney, Monroe and Samuel Adams; the behind-the-scenes machinations of High Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton and Republican organizer Aaron Burr were especially dramatic. Larson does justice to them all and demonstrates his storytelling mastery....[A] smartly conceived, beautifully wrought campaign history, bound to entertain and inform." — Kirkus Reviews

"A splendid new book." — George Will, Washington Post

"Larson...both deifies and debunks the founders in A Magnificent Catastrophe...His dramatic tale offers fascinating modern parallels." — Gil Troy, New York Times Book Review

"Edward Larson...captures the drama — and complexity — of this pivotal event in American history....He is scrupulously fair and balanced." — Glenn C. Altschuler, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Larson... provides one of the finest insights ever written into the history of the founding — and sometimes faltering — first steps of our modern democratic republic." — Thom Hartmann, BuzzFlash.com (Book of the Month Review)

"Smartly conceived, beautifully wrought campaign history, bound to entertain and inform." — Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)

"Through Larson's story, the reader can see the two-party system forming itself." — Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times

"The best book I've seen so far to prompt reflection on what we're doing as we prepare to elect a new president." — John Wilson, Books and Culture

Gil Troy

Democratic dialogue demands engagement; popular politics require passion. It is impossible to achieve both the broad participation Americans seek and the quiet contemplation they desire. As long as elections remain free and contested, they will often be "magnificent catastrophes" with partisans scurrying for advantage, campaigns lurching out of control, conscientious citizens becoming both involved and appalled. A master storyteller, Larson illustrates these conclusions through a gripping narrative rather than an explicit analysis…his dramatic tale offers fascinating modern parallels…
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

John Dossett lends a melodious and erudite tone to this book about the most disastrous presidential election in American history: the 1800 contest between incumbent John Adams and his polymath v-p, populist Thomas Jefferson. Dossett's Jefferson speaks with a slow, suave Virginia drawl, his elegant voice bathing in the rich words that flowed from the founder's pen. His Adams sounds blunt, curmudgeonly and judgmental-as Larson often portrays him. The abridgment narrows the focus of the 1800 election to a horse race between these two very different men, who saw their friendship torn asunder and, many years after the election, pieced together again. Despite the abridgment's careful editing, the audio still has to contend with the weighty and unexciting technical details of backroom politicking and electioneering that shaped the ballot's outcome. But there's plenty to maintain the listener's interest-including slave rebellions, sexual scandals, backstabbing and festering hatred between Alexander Hamilton and the scheming Aaron Burr. History lovers will enjoy this dramatic rendition of one of America's most turbulent political moments. Simultaneous release with the Free Press hardcover (Reviews, May 21). (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Library Journal

Larson (history, Pepperdine Univ.; Summer of the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who can bring history alive. His account of the pivotal election that resulted in a tie between Thomas Jefferson and fellow Republican Aaron Burr-competing to replace President John Adams, who was running for reelection-is a well-researched page-turner useful especially for general readers. Punctuated liberally with quotes from diaries and letters and from the era's rollicking and opinionated press, this is an absorbing account of what was effectively America's first presidential campaign. Larson captures the personalities of Jefferson, Adams, Burr, fellow contender Charles C. Pinckney, and Alexander Hamilton and the conflicting ideologies driving their partisanship (e.g., Federalist Hamilton ultimately worked behind the scenes for Federalist Pinckney over Federalist Adams), which solidified our two-party system. Larson shows Burr and Hamilton adeptly spinning their angles by using the day's highly politicized newspapers, thus reinforcing long-standing political partisanship. The election was thrown to the Federalist-dominated House of Representatives to break the electoral tie. Finally, after 36 ballots, Jefferson, a Republican, was elected when Federalist electors in two states ceased to vote. Larson takes a subject both complex and resonant and produces a fine read. Recommended for public and undergraduate library collections.
—Donna L. Davey

Kirkus Reviews

Pulitzer Prize-winner Larson (Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory, 2004, etc.) vividly recounts America's first overtly partisan election. In 1799, the single man capable of papering over the young republic's widening political divisions died in retirement at Mount Vernon. There had been no open campaign to succeed Washington in 1796 when the electoral provisions of the untested Constitution uncomfortably yoked Federalist President John Adams to Vice-President Thomas Jefferson, the acknowledged leader of the opposition Republicans. Now, the two prepared to face off in what became, and remains, the most vituperative and dramatic of all U.S. elections. Through newspapers, letters and speeches, Republicans hammered Federalists for offenses amounting to a betrayal of the revolution: their sponsorship of the Alien and Sedition Acts, their support of a standing army, their too-friendly disposition toward organized religion and their dangerous sympathies for monarchy. In turn, Federalists, badly split over Adams's leadership, assailed Republicans for their godlessness and blind devotion to liberty at the expense of the public order and national defense, issues brought into high relief by the bloody excesses of the French Revolution. The colorful cast of Founders included Madison, Jay, Pinckney, Monroe and Samuel Adams; the behind-the-scenes machinations of High Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton and Republican organizer Aaron Burr were especially dramatic. Larson (History/Univ. of Georgia and Pepperdine Univ.) does justice to them all and demonstrates his storytelling mastery by lucidly recounting the political histories and procedures unique to each state and deftlydelineating the issues that dominated the national debate. Astonishingly, the hard-fought, bitterly personal campaign resulted in an Electoral College tie between Jefferson and running-mate Burr, whose maddening refusal to defer to the Sage of Monticello encouraged Federalist mischief. It required 35 Congressional ballots before Jefferson finally prevailed. Smartly conceived, beautifully wrought campaign history, bound to entertain and inform. Agent: B.G. Dilworth/BG Dilworth Agency Inc.

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