After a bruising two-year battle (let’s face it, the presidential race effectively commenced immediately after the 2010 Congressional elections), an estimated cumulative $6 billion in campaign expenditures, dozens of Letterman’s Top Ten Lists, and several thousand hours’ worth of political ads (remember this
?), the 2012 United States Presidential Election finally concluded with President Barack Obama securing a second term in office.
One more time, in case anyone missed it: $6,000,000,000.
This is larger than the entire annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the 54 smallest economies in the world. It’s even larger than the 2011 GDP of the Principality of Monaco, where billionaires spend their summers watching $7 million F1 race cars zooming around town. It’s larger than the combined 2010 and 2011 GDP of the Cayman Islands. It’s larger than Grenada's last ten years’ GDP, where Clint Eastwood once famously led an American invasion force. Wait, that was Heartbreak Ridge
Was it worth it? You bet. Every single cent was worth it, regardless of how one looks at it. We are, after all, speaking about electing the leader of the most powerful country in the entire recorded human history, either relative or absolute.
However, President Obama’s victory doesn’t appear to be banishing the sense of uncertainty that is enveloping the nation. America appears to be more divided than ever in the backdrop of the most challenging economic climate in living memory. The $16 trillion albatross hanging around the country’s metaphorical neck only adds to the growing anxiety of the populace. Congress is still split between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate.
And to top it all off, perhaps the sight of what many consider as the most contentious, spiteful and fractious presidential election ever, between two equally forceful candidates, has led many Americans to look at the future with a little trepidation. There seems to be a growing culture of hatred in the national political discourse.
Surely the country has never faced anything even remotely similar to this, right? Wrong.
Compared to what the nation experienced in the third presidential election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, what we are seeing now is child’s play.
When George Washington indicated his preference for John Adams to be his Vice President in 1789, such was his stature, the Confederation Congress and state electors fell in line and voted accordingly, despite concerns over his volatile temperament. So when Washington declined to run for a third term in office, and spend his retirement in Mount Vernon, there was a scramble for the presidency.
The most influential Federalist in Philadelphia, Alexander Hamilton, was fearful that Vice President Adams might decide to back off from running in favor of his good friend, the genius Thomas Jefferson.
Everyone still remembered that Adams was the main reason why Jefferson was tasked with drafting the Declaration of Independence a decade earlier. After the death of his wife, Martha, Jefferson sought companionship with Adams and his wife, Abigail, and became a frequent guest at their home. Jefferson even developed a strong platonic friendship with Abigail Adams. In fact, Jefferson had a habit of buying presents for Abigail during his travels.
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams (Paris, Sep. 25, 1785)
“Mr. Short's return the night before last availed me of your favour of Aug. 12. I immediately ordered the shoes you desired which will be ready tomorrow. I am not certain whether this will be in time for the departure of Mr. Barclay or of Colo. Franks, for it is not yet decided which of them goes to London. I have also procured for you three plateaux de dessert with a silvered ballustrade round them, and four figures of Biscuit.”
Hamilton and his allies, advocates of a strong, centralized federal Republic, were fearful of Jefferson’s populist, small and regionalized government concept. So Hamilton began a character assassination campaign against the popular and well respected Jefferson. Explosive stories about a colored
harem in his Virginia estate became the talk of town, courtesy of widely distributed poison-pen letters. Jefferson's private statements about equal rights for the slaves drew gasps of horror. Most damaging though, was the allegation that he fathered a child with his black concubine, Sally Hemings. Adams, by virtue of his Vice Presidency and being the public face of the Federalist faction, took the blame for most of Hamilton’s machinations.
Hamilton, who was holding a grudge against Jefferson for publicizing his affair with a married woman several year earlier, was hell bent on destroying Jefferson’s public standing and his friendship with Adams. Even as their relationship deteriorated, Jefferson and Adams fully understood the role that Hamilton played. So much so, Jefferson referred to Hamilton as the devil several times in public, while Adams called him a ‘fiend’ in private. Nonetheless, their friendship waned, and both men ran for the presidency in 1796.
Despite Jefferson’s early favorite status, he was ultimately defeated by Adams in the election. However, he received enough electoral votes to become Vice President. At the time, the person with the second highest Electoral College count is automatically appointed Vice President.
And thus, the stage was set for a rematch in 1800. This time, Jefferson, aided by his right-hand man, James Madison (another future president), marshaled the Democratic-Republican Party (the granddaddy of the present Democratic and Republican Party), and went after Adams and Hamilton with a vengeance.
Jefferson and his allies discreetly hired fugitive Scottish writer, James Callender, to write a whole series of poison-pen letters aimed at destroying the reputation of both Adams and Hamilton. Jefferson, at the time, was not aware that Callendar was also hired by Hamilton four years earlier, and was the one who broke the Sally Hemings story.
Adams, concerned with Jefferson’s growing popularity, pushed for the creation of a Grand Committee, a five-man body purported to “adjudicate any disputes in the election of the president
.” The move was interpreted by many as an overt attempt to prevent a Jefferson presidency. A year earlier, the Adams’ administration even engineered the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which sought to suppress public criticisms of his administration, especially those made by Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party.
During a fiery debate in Congress Hall, Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon, one of Jefferson’s strongest allies, spat tobacco juice in the face of the Federalist’ Connecticut Representative Roger Griswold. Griswold then picked up a cane and charged at Lyon, who quickly grabbed a pair of fire tongs from the fireplace to defend himself. They were of course separated.
Over the next one year, Jefferson and Adams went after each other mercilessly, ridiculing one another at every opportunity (monarchist was an often used term), right up to Election Day.
Jefferson, by virtue of his position as Vice President, was responsible for counting the Electoral College ballots received from the states. With only Georgia to go, Jefferson was leading Adams by 69 to 65 votes. The four Georgia electors had voted in favor of Adams, which tied the contest.
However, Jefferson realized that the Georgia electoral ballots did not fulfill the requirements laid out in the Constitution:
Article II, Section 1.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.
Jefferson promptly awarded the ballots to himself, and with no opposition from any of the legislators present in Congress, declared victory. And thus ended the most acrimonious presidential campaign in the history of the United States. Amidst the resulting cries and criticisms, there were strong fears that the young nation would crumble under the weight of the unrelenting infighting.
But instead, the nation healed, and entered into a period of political and economic stability, as evidenced by the election of three consecutive two terms presidents (Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe). And Thomas Jefferson is now widely recognized as one of the greatest American Presidents ever.
Have faith, electorates. These United States of America will emerge stronger from this.
Note: Thirteen years later, Adams wrote a letter to Jefferson.
“You and I ought to not die, before we have explained ourselves to each other.
And at the bottom of the letter, Abigail added a little note for her old friend.
“I have been looking for some time for a space in my good Husbands Letters to add the regards of an old Friend, which are still cherished and preserved through all the changes and vicissitudes which have taken place since we first became acquainted, and will I trust remain as long as… A. Adams
Sadly, while they began to write to one another again, their friendship never really recovered.
Note 2: On Tuesday night, President Obama and Gov. Romney spoke of each other during their respective speeches.
President Obama's Victory Speech
“I just spoke with Governor Romney, and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. We may have battled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply, and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service, and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight. In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.
Gov. Mitt Romney’s Concession Speech
“I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. I wish all of them well, but particularly the president, the first lady and their daughters. This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.