A Magnificent Catastrophe
The book A Magnificent Catastrophe, by Edward J. Larson, tells the story of the most bizarre and influential elections that have ever been held in the United States of America. The presidential campaigns were America’s first true campaigns and the contest shaped the future of the country. It was so important that Larson termed it as the ‘second American Revolution’ since it solved many unresolved issues about the government to be formed (Larson 22). The elections were fueled with chaos and confrontations between the two parties. Despite the scheming and backstabbing between John Adams and John Jefferson, the two candidates remain as symbols to be admired in the history of America. This shaped the democracy of the country and hence the name ‘A Magnificent Catastrophe’ that was given to the book by the author.
The author did a fabulous job by narrating the situation in the country after the revolutionary war, and how the two parties, Federalists and Republicans, came up after eleven years under the old constitution. He further goes on to explain the pain and suffering that was brought about by the elections. The system of elections for electing the president and the vice-president was different then as compared to now. This was due to the mistake stated by the constitution that the elected president and his vice would be tied after the electoral votes were counted. The main purpose of the book was to explain in detail the dynamics of elections in 1800, and their influence on the current system.
The book was interestingly written to capture both the public reader and scholar’s attention. In a perfect way, the author relates the complicated issues that affected the Nineteenth Century through to our time and still directly affect us today. The book makes the reader understand the different partisan positions of Nineteenth Century and their sources. Despite there being no simplification in the book, it makes the reader easily understand the complex matters. The author displays the complexity of contemporaneous response to Jefferson’s ideas in a fine way. He also later shows how critics like Christopher Hitchens were off base. There were many awful things said about Jefferson through the history, but they made more sense in a historical point of view once the reader had read this book. The book can be more classified as a scholarship book, very well written without the high-flown rhetoric. Very few people can achieve what the author achieved, especially on a delicate matter like this one.
The writer of the book was not biased. It was a bit difficult to ascertain the writer’s agenda or ideology. However, the reader did take in consideration some facts about Jefferson that were not entirely true. The writer stated that Jefferson was being a deist, which was false. Ideally, the writer did swamp the reader with a lot of information of which makes the reader not grasp everything. In addition to that, the writer should have drawn clearer parallels with the modern day issues that face the electoral system. The author completely exhausted both primary sources and pertinent secondary sources, as the book was detailed and precise. The book is highly recommended for its historical accuracy and keen to detail. Larson also provided the reader with wonderful accounts in that period, the dirty politics that were associated with it and compared them to today’s issues. Thomas Jefferson also commented that the biggest threat of government corruption lay in a president who is powerful and immune from the checks balances of congressional and state authority (Larson 101). Those words are true as we find them to be evident now. It seems things were not done any different two hundred years ago compared to now.
The intention of the writer when writing this book is definite since it is a narrative story. The engaging narrative works typically on two speeds. The first one is the series of events that took place on the Election Day in each battleground in the different states and the second being the broader sweep over the post revolutionary age that led to the nation, as it is currently (Larson 124). Readers who were seeking the history of the broad trends or ideas in the election of 1800 are advised to research in other books. Readers who wanted to know how the original structure of Electoral College affected the elections, and how the political decisions, actions and consequences shaped the nation, as we know it, they should read A Magnificent Catastrophe by Edward J. Larson, which is a worthwhile read. Much that can be learned from this book, the intra-party intrigues on both sides’ being among them. The most interesting was the absolute certainty for the parties, both Federalists and Republicans, that the American democracy would have been destroyed if either side won the much-contested election.
Larson, Edward J. A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign. New York: Free Press, 2007. Print.
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