Even by modern standards, the years that marked the administrations of Presidents Washington and Adams—from 1788 to 1800—were a time of ferocious partisanship in American political life. The nation was torn between those championing ties with Great Britain—tarred by their enemies as monarchists—and those seeking shelter under the wing of France—accused by their opponents of advocating a degree of popular rule that would inevitably lead to despotism. Known as Federalists and Republicans respectively, the factions ranged against one another in bitter combat. Everyone knew that nothing less than the fate of republican government for all ages hung in the balance; otherwise reasonable men were certain that conspiracies lurked in every corner and no one’s motives were to be trusted.


In Virginia, men toasted “A speedy Death to General...


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