-PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)
In her take on the election of 1800, historian Dunn
(co-author with James MacGregor Burns of The Three Roosevelts,
etc. also offers a dramatic account of the nation's struggle to
establish political legitimacy, but with a sharper emphasis on the
triumph of Jefferson and his populist ideals. As the 19th century
dawned, Dunn explains, the war for independence may have been over,
but the true outcome of the American Revolution was still very much
in doubt. The choices in 1800 election could not have been starker:
Federalist Adams championed the need for a strong central government
that would forge an image of honor and national unity. The Republican
Jefferson prized the rights of individuals to criticize their government
and viewed the Federalist vision as a dangerous slide into monarchy
and a reversal of the Revolution's ideals. Like Ferling, Dunn does
a superb job of recounting the campaign, its cast of characters,
and the election's bizarre conclusion in Congress. That tense standoff
could have plunged the country into a disastrous armed conflict,
Dunn explains, but instead cemented the legitimacy of peaceful,
if not smooth, transfers of power. What sets Dunn's effort apart,
however, is her earnest portrait of Jefferson, and his ideals. While
careful to acknowledge his "blind spots" and internal
conflicts, Dunn eloquently illustrated that it was Jefferson's faith
in the ideals of the Revolution that galvanized in our nation "the
legacy of a political culture energized by the creative conflict
of opposing parties."
Read the review in the Houston Chronicle:
The San Jose Mercury News
September 5, 2004
A lively view of Founding Fathers in political fray
by Charles Matthews
"I always consider the whole nation as my children,
but they have almost all proved undutiful to me," grumbled
John Adams. We've forgotten that the attitude some of the Founding
Fathers had toward the country was less paternal than paternalistic:
Father knows best and don't talk back!
As Susan Dunn puts it, "As far as the governing
elite was concerned, it was understood that some Americans -- the
fathers -- would pilot society, as they piloted their families,
while other Americans -- the wives, the children, the 'people' --
would sit in the back of the boat, obediently rowing."
Dunn's new book, "Jefferson's Second Revolution,"
is lively, highly readable account of how the deadlocked election
of 1800 helped give voice to some of those "other Americans,"
creating noisy conflict of parties and factions that we now accept
as fundamental to democracy.
George Washington, for one, thought political parties
a bad thing: "potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious,
and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the Power of the
People, to usurp for themselves the reins of Government."
And there was nothing about parties in the Constitution,
with the result that it was possible to a president and a vice president
who had radically differing views, as happened in 1796, when Adams
became the president and the runner-up, Thomas Jefferson, the vice
Jefferson was a strong opponent of the Sedition Acts
that clamped down on political dissent during the Adams administration.
The acts helped drive a wedge between the nascent political parties
Federalists -- to which Adams belonged, though a bit reluctantly
-- and Jefferson's Republican.
In 1800, Adams and Jefferson ran against each other
again, but though Adams was defeated, the election was thrown into
the House of Representatives by an Electoral College tie between
Jefferson and Aaron Burr. And as the country worked its way out
of this predicament it became clear that political parties, with
their ability to weld at least a semblance of unity out of a crowd
of conflicting voices, had a role to play in American government.
But the emergence of parties also created -- or at
least exacerbated -- the climate of name-calling and mudslinging
that persists today. Jefferson, who rarely set foot in a church,
was denounced an atheist. Adams was denounced for monarchical ambitions.
And in the most extreme instance, the bad blood between Burr and
Alexander Hamilton proved lethal.
Dunn, who teaches at Williams College in Massachusetts,
has a gift for telling the complex story of a sea change in American
politics, giving it real immediacy and making it at least as interesting
(and sometimes more than) the current partisan conflicts that welter
around us. Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr and others stand before
us in these pages as political animals, not as marble icons.