Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jefferson & Liberty

"Let foes to freedom dread the name;
But should they touch the sacred tree,
Twice fifty thousands swords would flame
For Jefferson and liberty."
--campaign song from the election of 1800.

In America's first two presidential elections, George Washington was the unanimous choice, both by popular vote and by the new, cumbersome Electoral College system.  But come 1796, when Washington politely but firmly stepped aside, the election wasn't quite so easy.  Thirteen men received electoral votes, including two for Washington.  The winner was John Adams with 71.  Thomas Jefferson came in a mere 3 votes behind Adams, with 68.  At the  time, the runner-up became Vice President, so Jefferson served in that office.

In 1798, the Adams administration passed four controversial acts:

1.  The Naturalization Act.  Aliens had been required to live in the United States 5 years before they could become citizens.  This act extended the period to 14 years.

2.  The Alien Friends Act gave the president the power to deport any alien considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States."

3.  The Alien Enemies Act gave the president power to apprehend and deport any aliens whose home countries were at war with the United States.  (This act is still in force today.)

4.  The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials.  (Freedom of Speech?  Who needs it?)

Vice President Jefferson and his followers argued that the acts violated the Constitution.  In November 1798, a group in Dedham, Massachusetts set up a liberty pole with the words, "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President."  The group's leader, David Brown was arrested and tried in 1799.  When the judge wanted Brown to name everyone who'd helped him or subscribed to his writings, Brown refused.  He was sentenced to 18 months in prison (and prisons were pretty horrendous back then).

In the 1800 election, Adams' Federalist party used the Sedition Act to try to stifle the opposition, but Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans continued to publish and voice their criticisms, such as the campaign song "Jefferson & Liberty."  Here are two verses:

"The gloomy night before us flies,
The reign of terror now is o'er;
It's gags, inquisitors and spies,
It's herds of harpies are no more.
"Let strangers from a thousand shores
Compelled by tyranny to roam
Shall find amidst abundant stores
A nobler and a happier home."

For an idea of the mud-slinging and name-calling, watch this video, courtesy of ReasonTV:

The 1800 election was one of the hardest fought in American history.  The results?

Thomas Jefferson: 73 electoral votes
John Adams: 65
Aaron Burr (another Democrat-Republican):  73
Charles C. Pinckney (a Federalist): 64
John Jay: 1

Because Jefferson and Burr were tied for the lead, the House decided the election, giving Jefferson the presidency and Burr the vice-presidency.

"Rejoice, Columbia's sons, rejoice!
To tyrants never bend the knee,
But join with heart and soul and voice,
For Jefferson and liberty!"

Please vote on November 2nd.

Your humble servants,

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