The American Revolution of 1800: How Jefferson Rescued Democracy from Tyranny and Faction-and What This Means Today
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In this brilliant historical classic, Dan Sisson provides the definitive window into key concepts that have formed the backdrop of our democracy: the nature of revolution, stewardship of power, liberty, and the ever-present danger of factions and tyranny.
Most contemporary historians celebrate Jefferson’s victory over Adams in 1800 as the beginning of the two-party system, but Sisson believes this reasoning is entirely the wrong lesson. Jefferson saw his election as a peaceful revolution by the American people overturning an elitist faction that was stamping out cherished constitutional rights and trying to transform our young democracy into an authoritarian state. If anything, our current two-party system is a repudiation of Jefferson's theory of revolution and his earnest desire that the people as a whole, not any faction or clique, would triumph in government. Sisson's book makes clear that key ideas of the American Revolution did not reach their full fruition until the "Revolution of 1800," to which we owe the preservation of many of our key rights.
With contributions by Thom Hartmann that bring out the book’s contemporary relevance, this fortieth anniversary edition contains new insights and reflections on how Jefferson’s vision can help us in our own era of polarization, corruption, government overreach, and gridlock.
For in a prophetic statement, which, had he read it in May 1800, might have turned the color of his cheeks, he wrote: “A spirit of faction, which is apt to mingle its poison in the deliberations of all bodies of men, will often hurry the persons of whom they are composed into improprieties and excesses for which they would blush in a private capacity.” The Federalist Papers, ed. Clinton Rossiter (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1961), No. 14. 40. Alexander Hamilton to Theodore Sedgwick, May 4, 1800,
45–46 spirit of party, 100, 111 Taylor on consequences of, 103–104 Washington on, 20 Washington on spirit of party, 99–100 See also faction(s) party spirit, 100, 161 party ticket provision, 106–107 patriots, allegiance of, 161 payment to soldiers, 67–68 peaceful revolution, 42, 55–56, 148, 152, 188 peace settlement in Great Britain, 64 Pendleton, Edmund, 113 Pennsylvania, 75–76, 143–144, 200, 202 people, the. See public concerns periodic revolution, 215 Perot, Ross, 222
Madison’s and a fervent republican philosopher; it was corroborated years later by none other than John Adams himself: The British faction was determined to have a war with France, and Alexander Hamilton at the head of the army and then Pres. of the United States. Peace with France was therefore treason against their fundamental maxims and reasons of State…These were their motives, and they exhausted all their wit in studies and labours to defeat the whole design. A war with France, an alliance
legislation passed by the new administration was a blatant appeal to party violence. Adams, he believed, had gone berserk: “He is verifying completely the last feature in the character drawn of him by Dr. F. [Franklin], however his title may stand to the two first. ‘Always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes wholly out of his senses.’”62 MADISON SEES POWER CONCENTRATING IN THE GOVERNMENT AS DANGEROUS What Madison had concluded, and rather vehemently, was that the politics of faction
States to their Constituents? I would give all I am worth for a compleat Collection of all those circular Letters.71 In John Adams’s mind, his recollections of terrorism were overwhelming. The desire for the “circular Letters” recalled to him the revolutionary impact he believed those documents had. They were the evidence he longed for to prove his case that party was synonymous with terrorism. His assessment, moreover, leaves little doubt as to the historical perspective he places on the idea