Federalists slashed Jefferson as a "fanatic," a "spendthrift" and a "libertine," whose election would unleash an orgy of "murder, robbery, rape, and incest." Jefferson's unorthodox religious opinions especially incited the Federalists. No one knew, a Connecticut paper asserted, "whether Mr. Jefferson believes in the heathen mythology, or in the alcoran [the Koran], whether he is a Jew or a Christian, whether he believes in one God or many or in none at all." The choice for every American, another Federalist paper proclaimed, was simple and stark: "Shall I continue in allegiance to GOD -- AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT; or impiously declare for Jefferson and no god!!!"
Adams was handled almost as roughly. A Republican paper in New York called him "a person without patriotism, without philosophy, and a mock monarch." A Philadelphia editor declared him "old, bald, blind, querulous, toothless, crippled."
How could our Founding Fathers allow this to happen in our electoral process?
The drafters of the Constitution ran out of energy and imagination when they got to the method for choosing presidents, and their lapse has haunted America ever since. The Founders initially hoped to craft a government above parties, which they considered evil manifestations of the corruption in British politics that had provoked the colonies to separate from England in 1776. And because they wanted a government without parties, they expected the electoral college to serve as a screening committee for the numerous favorite sons the states would doubtless put forward -- as well as a check on the popular passions that might give rise to partisanship. The electors, Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 68, would be the men "most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations," and by employing them, the country would "afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder." ...But parties emerged almost at once...
Imagine if they ran against each other today. I think Jefferson would be toast against any contender, with "family values" and "moral issues" so important to churchgoing voters.
Who would you vote for?
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