Humiliated, Angry, and Hurt

After losing reelection, he left Washington early. Humiliated, angry, and hurt, John Adams boarded a morning coach leaving the Capitol.

The prevailing issue in the campaign of 1800 concerned France, and that nation’s ongoing, and bloody revolution. Moreover, the French had declared war on England, and both belligerents  meddled in American domestic politics to turn public opinion.

As President, Federalist John Adams, had skillfully steered America clear of the European conflict, avoiding the danger of being ensnared between the two superpowers. Proud of his diplomatic accomplishments, Adams still brooded, unhappy with his lack of support from the country. His detractors belittled him, disparaging Adams as a pale substitute to the legendary George Washington.

His political challenger in 1800? The clever and calculating Thomas Jefferson. 

An outspoken critic of the Adams Administration, Jefferson had been hurling plenty of invective toward the sitting President. What had once been a warm friendship between the two men quickly soured. Petulant and  thin-skinned, Adams had lashed out by pushing laws that restricted the free press and cracked down on immigration. Outraged by these policies, Jefferson, and his growing cadre of supporters, challenged the clear violations of the Constitution. 

In only the nation’s third presidential election the moment appeared volatile and uncertain. On one side was the defensive and testy incumbent, and on the other, a political foe intent on replacing him.  

Adding to the turbulence, a political wildcard entered the fray; New Yorker, Aaron Burr.

Burr, like Jefferson, had opposed unpopular and heavy handed Federalist policies, and Jefferson knew the ticket needed an electoral-rich northern state for strength. As party leader, Jefferson assumed Burr understood his lesser place, and only when the electors met did he learned just how wrong he had been. 

In the final tally, poor John Adams not only lost the election, but came in a distant third behind both challengers. Thomas Jefferson garnered 73 Electoral votes, followed by Burr with 73 of his own. Adams came in last with 65. (That tie is another story.)

Humiliated, Adams left Washington DC in a huff, but made no move to challenge the outcome. And though the former President did not greet the President-Elect, and pointedly skipped the inauguration, John Adams did not put his interests above the nation’s. 

He conceded in silence because he valued our country over his own interests. 

There is no precedent for false assertions from the clear loser in 2020.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle, or at http://www.river-of-january.com.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

No Guarantee

Henry-Clay-9250385-1-raw-res-AB.jpeg

SCENE FOUR

The lights rise on an empty stage. The back curtain ripples with an image of the American flag, circa 1824. “Hail to the Chief” plays in the background. Only a table and two chairs rest at stage left, with a liquor bottle and two glasses. Clay enters from the wings. As Clay speaks the image and music fades.

CLAY A festive atmosphere greeted the 1824 election season. And some apprehension, as well.

Clay pours a drink, leaning against the table.

CLAY Secretary of War John C. Calhoun hoped he might find enough political momentum to land the highest office, but discovered little, outside his home state. Though I never forged a warm friendship with Calhoun, we shared common cause promoting a protective tariff and investment in the American system.

He sips his drink.

CLAY As electioneering heated up, reports circulated in Washington City that the frontrunner, Georgia’s William Crawford, had fallen perilously ill. Initially, details were scarce, but in due order, a diagnosis arrived suggesting apoplexy. His allies vowed to continue the race, though Crawford’s prospects appeared dim.

Clay ponders a moment before continuing.

CLAY My old associate, John Quincy Adams, entered as well, with support from the whole of New England, including dispersed Yankees throughout the North. His supporters detested slavery, and as it happened, me, the slave holder. Resolving the Missouri crisis did nothing to gladden our fellow citizens of the North. Such is the thankless plight of public resolutions.

He smiles sadly, and sips. A melody, “My Old Kentucky Home,” increases in volume.

CLAY Despite my very public stance on gradual emancipation, the Adams people were not moved a whit. Their fierce intransigence gave me pause.

Clay stares a long moment. The music fades.

CLAY Then there was Andrew Jackson.

He issues a mirthless laugh.

CLAY As Jackson waited to enter the 1824 race, the Tennessee legislature elected “Old Hickory” to the United States Senate. Taking great pains to avoid any public positions, the honor must have horrified him. Jackson had to publicly commit to policy votes, and vote he did. Bills for the protective tariff, and for funding internal improvements. Hrrumph! But he had nothing to fear. Jackson’s reputation remained firm with his states rights’ proponents. I believe he could have shot someone in the lane and preserved his support.

Clay refreshes his drink while sitting at the table. He rises.

CLAY I too, craved the presidency. Forgive my repetition, but the so-called “American System” program was too vital to tolerate an ignoramus in the White House.

He pauses.

CLAY Celebrity is no guarantee of competence.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” She is also the writer of Clay, and 3-act play, and Scenes Of A Nation, in progress. Both books are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Aftermath

 

The Constitution was slightly over twelve years old. The rules laid out for presidential elections appeared precise on paper, and in 1800 the front runner, Thomas Jefferson looked to enter the White House with ease. However, though designed by the best minds of that, or any other era, the flaws inherent in the Electoral College system failed to deliver Jefferson his expected victory. Something had gone terribly awry in the electoral process triggering America’s first voting crisis. 

New York Republican, Aaron Burr was chosen as Jefferson’s running mate. The thinking was to balance the ticket with a Virginian at the top, and a New Yorker in the second spot for national unity. Thus the stage was set for a painless triumph over the faltering Federalist Party. However, when the electoral votes were tallied as prescribed by Article 2 in the Constitution, the running mates unexpectedly tied for the top spot.

The fault lay in the statute itself, by failing to anticipate such a scenario. Jefferson soon realized Burr would not passively concede the office, and the tie crisis festered  until forced to the House of Representatives. In the end the stalemate broke when Alexander Hamilton intervened, persuading the hold-over Federalist majority to choose Jefferson as the lesser of the two evils. (One of the grievances leading to the later duel with Burr). 

This was personal. New Yorkers both, Hamilton and Burr had come to detest one another. The former Secretary of State’s intent was to protect the new nation from his nemesis, and block the supposed scoundrel from assuming the highest office in the land.

Jefferson eventually was sworn into office, and later, in 1804, the Constitution was modified with the Twelfth Amendment, rectifying the design flaws in the original document. 

Twenty years later, in 1824, another impasse materialized that touched off national outrage for decades. The shifting winds of political change found a champion in the person of General Andrew Jackson, the victor of the Battle of New Orleans. Old Hickory had built his reputation as a ruthless Indian fighter, slave holder, and conqueror of Spanish Florida. His feats were celebrated throughout the growing nation, and Jackson’s prospects for election seemed assured. But again, events proved otherwise.

When John Quincy Adams was unexpectedly named President the public outcry was deafening. In defiance of the people’s will, Henry Clay, the former Speaker of the House, used his considerable influence to place Quincy Adams in the White House. When Clay became Adams nominee for Secretary of State, cries of “Corrupt Bargain” echoed across the nation. A furious Andrew Jackson at once began his bid for the presidency in 1828.

Other questionable elections have repeated through the years. In 1876 with the election of Ruther”fraud” B Hayes, and again in 2000 with the Bush V Gore “hanging chad” debacle.

Today America is still sorting out another administration struggling for legitimacy.

The Election of 2016 has left the American public uncertain that their votes actually count. Russian interference, through social media, and electronic hacking is an undeniable factor in the outcome. Sinister and new in electoral history, cyber espionage gave America a Chief Executive acutely aware of the dark subversion undermining his victory. 

Losing the popular vote by over 3 million, the president-elect claimed those votes were cast illegally, and demanded voting rolls from the states be turned over to a government committee for analysis. Nothing significant came of that effort, and questions continued to swirl around this shady election cycle. 

Somewhere in the chaos the Russian government reaped apparently what it wanted: domestic turmoil. A long-standing enemy of the United States, the former Soviet Union aims to re-elevate its international stature. What better way could Putin’s objectives be met, than hijacking an American election, and produce enough confusion for a sort of sweet revenge.

Deals have been brokered since the beginning of the Republic, but the players have been competing American interests. We may squabble our political beliefs, but that is the messy nature of freedom. Now the arrangements appear to be negotiated by foreign players. This cannot be repeated, we have future American generations to protect. 

Update: Putin’s masterstroke is still in play. The squawking loser in 2020 continues what Putin began. Red states throughout the country are undermining election integrity by propagating the “Big Lie.” Contact your Senators to support HR1, “For the People Act.” (202) 224-3121

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight.

Available on Kindle

gailchumbley@gmail.com