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"America's First Peaceful (Just Barely!) Transfer of Power" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2021 9:33 p.m. PST

"On July 14, 1798—nine years to the day after the storming of the Bastille—President John Adams signed an American Sedition Act into law. The 1789 Parisian incident had set in motion events that ultimately toppled and killed King Louis XVI; his queen, Marie Antoinette; and their heir to the throne, the dauphin. Adams's signature likewise led to his own ouster, but the president; his lady, Abigail; and their heir, John Quincy, got to keep their heads in the transition and thereafter. On two telling dimensions—orderliness of regime change and avoidance of bloodshed—Federalist-era America showed itself vastly superior to Revolutionary France. But the events of 1798-1801—America's first peaceful transfer of power from one presidential party to another—were in fact far more fraught than is generally understood today and in myriad respects cast an eerie light on the not entirely peaceful transfer of presidential power in 2020-21.

UNDER THE TERMS OF THE Sedition Act, anyone who dared to criticize the federal government, the president, or Congress risked a fine of up to $2,000 USD and a prison term of up to two years. But venomous criticism, even if knowingly false and violence-inciting, that targeted the vice president was fair game under the law. Thus, in the impending 1800 electoral contest between Adams and his main rival, Thomas Jefferson—who was also Adams's sitting vice president—Adams and his Federalist Party allies could malign Jefferson, but Jefferson and his allies, the Democratic Republicans, could not reciprocate with equal vigor. Congressional aspirants attacking Congressional incumbents would need to watch their words, but not vice versa. Just in case the Democratic Republicans managed to win the next election, the act provided that it would poof into thin air on March 3, 1801, a day before the new presidential term would begin…"
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