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America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800

Weisberger, Bernard A.

144 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 038097763X / ISBN 13: 9780380977635
Published by William Morrow, New York, 2000
Condition: Fine Hardcover
From Steven G. Jennings (Spring Branch, TX, U.S.A.)

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Bibliographic Details

Title: America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the ...

Publisher: William Morrow, New York

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition: Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Printing

About this title


"Bernard Weisberger has once again brought the past to life. If you want to experience the crossfire of intellectual and political ferment at the dawn of our Republic, open these pages and start ducking."
--Bill Moyers

America Afire is the powerful story of the election of 1800, arguably the most important election in America's history and certainly one of the most hotly disputed. American self-government was still an endangered experiment seventeen years after the War of Independence had been won. As 1800 dawned, the sacrifices and fraternity of "the spirit of '76" had vanished, replaced by bitter and angry rivalries. Former allies Adams and Jefferson, president and vice president, now Federalist versus Republican, squared off in a vicious contest to win the fourth presidential election under the Constitution.

The Constitution was still new and untried. The young republic lacked a cohesive national identity, the strength to confront aggressive foreign powers in a world racked by war and revolution, and a stable system for working out political differences electorally. Political parties were new, unforeseen, and unwelcome creations. Small wonder that no one was prepared for the partisan warfare that threatened to rage out of control. Or for the broken friendships, scandals, riots, slanders, beatings, and jailings -- elements of a crucial and perilous election that sparked a constitutional crisis and threats of civil war.

Ultimately, the surprise is not that problems arose, but that the United States emerged from them a stronger nation. For when Adams stepped down from the presidency peacefully in 1801, it was the first time in modern history that a leader had voluntarily turned over power to his political enemy. This was truly a revolution and a triumph for democracy "made in America."

Scrupulously researched and eminently readable, America Afire tells the tale of a watershed event in American history and lends a valuable new perspective on the early years of the United States, as well as the genesis and nature of our political system.


That John Adams was a great American revolutionary patriot, there is no doubt. That he remained great once the revolution was won is a matter of considerable debate, in Adams's own time as well as ours. Even a sometime ally portrayed him as a "petty-minded egoist fussing about his own dignity," an aspirant to leadership who urged that the man who held his office be addressed as "His Highness, the President of the United States of America and Protector of Their Liberties."

Still, Adams, that hard-minded New Englander, was a shrewd leader with a clear agenda: he labored to extend national power over the sometimes ragtag, sometimes rebellious individual states, and eventually to forge an empire led by a sort of "republican sovereign" just short of a king. These goals put him squarely at odds with his fellow revolutionary Thomas Jefferson, an often self-contradictory champion of states' rights, against whom Adams won the presidency in 1796--and to whom he lost that office after an astonishingly acrimonious campaign in the election of 1800.

Bernard Weisberger provides a highly engaging, thoroughly well-written account of the Adams-Jefferson rivalry, which traded on both personality and ideology--and, indeed, on markedly different visions of human nature. His book is timely, for many of the issues Adams and Jefferson argued over remain with Americans today and are the subject of constant controversy. Which is, Weisberger says, just as it should be; it means that "the revolution is still at work." --Gregory McNamee

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