In 1788, George Washington was the nation's unanimous choice for the first President of the United States. John Adams was elected Vice President and Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State. As time passed, differences immerged on how people thought the country should be ran and how the Constitution should be interpreted and enforced. Two political parties started to form.

Washington and Adams were part of the Federalist Party. Federalists believed in a strong federal government with a broad interpretation of the powers granted in the Constitution. Jefferson was the leader of the Republican Party (not the same as the modern Republican Party.) Jeffersonian Republicans believed in a small federal government with the state and local governments making decisions. They also believed that unless the Constitution expressly gave a power to the federal government, then that power belonged to the states.

After two terms as President, Washington retired from public service and Adams was elected President in 1796. At that time the President and Vice President were not listed together on one ballot. The candidate with the most votes was President and the second place winner was Vice President. Even though he belonged to a different political party, Jefferson was Adams' Vice President.

John Adams was in a difficult position because he was following the great George Washington, so he kept Washington's Cabinet. Many of them were loyal to Alexander Hamilton and followed Hamilton's direction over Adams'. As the Federalists began to see that the Jeffersonian Republicans were gaining in power, they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Act increased the amount of time an immigrant had to live in the US before becoming a citizen from seven to fourteen years. Many of the immigrants who were coming to the US at that time were Jeffersonian Republican supporters. The Sedition Act made it a crime to criticize the government and certain government officials. The Jeffersonian Republicans felt the laws were targeted towards them. There was merit to this claim since the Sedition Act expired in 1801 when Adams' term was up and the Vice President was not included on the list of officials who could not be criticized.

At this time, newspapers were very biased. The newspapers were often funded by one of the political parties. Jefferson hired James Thomson Callender to write inflammatory stories about the Federalists. Callender did so and was arrested under the Sedition Act. He was eventually released and when Jefferson became President he expected a plum position in the government as reward. When Jefferson refused, Callender was angry and in 1802 broke the story about Jefferson's relationship with his slave, Sally Hemmings. However, at the time of Callender's arrest and trial the Jeffersonian Republicans used him as an example of the tyranny of the Federalists.

In 1799, George Washington died. The tenuous ties that were holding the Federalists together broke. As the election of 1800 approached, Alexander Hamilton even published a pamphlet criticizing Adams.

In this election, the Jeffersonian Republicans instructed their delegates in the Electoral College to vote for Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr to prevent the President and Vice President from being from the different parties. They won, but it created a tie between them for President. This was a crisis because Burr refused to defer the win to Jefferson. It took thirty-six ballots in the House of Representives before Jefferson won when some of the Federalists abstained from voting to give Jefferson a majority. The Twelfth Amendment was later passed to prevent this from happening again.

As an American in the twenty-first century, you may be asking yourself "So what?" This was a pivotal moment. When Adams was elected, Washington had voluntarily left office and Adams was of the same party. This made for a smooth transition of power. In 1800, there was fear that Federalists would use the impasse to seize power and remain in office. Some states had their militias ready to make sure the election was honored. On the other side, one governor was advising Jefferson to take office without waiting for the tie to be broken. There was also the fear that Jefferson and the Jeffersonian Republicans, who had also won a majority in Congress, would overturn everything the Federalists had done creating chaos.

However, Adams was a dedicated patriot and he did what was best for the country. He worked hard to make it a smooth transition of power. Also, Jefferson went far to calm the fears with his First Inaugural Address which included the statement "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."

Power was transferred peacefully. Jefferson referred to the election as "the Revolution of 1800." It was a revolutionary and remarkable because nothing happened. Before this a transfer between two such different parties would most likely involve blood-shed. Today, one can find several examples from around the world of transfers of power that are not peaceful.

As mentioned before, newspapers were very biased. Part of this also included negative attack ads against opponents. The negative campaign ads we see today are nothing compared to what existed at this time. For this section, watch the video. Of course, there were no TV ads but the script for this fake attack ad was based on actual things published about Jefferson.



In groups, create a political commercial. The commercial should either refute the accusations of this ad or it can be an attack ad against John Adams. For either ad type, actual facts and accusations from the Jeffersonian Republicans must be used. Post the video to YouTube and put the link in the DISCUSSION tab at the top of this page..