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Assistant Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Adam Car­rington com­pared the Cold War to modern pol­itics and ide­ology during a talk for Young Amer­icans for Freedom on Feb. 20. Vic­toria Mar­shall | Col­legian

Is the bitter par­tisan divide we face in this country a battle between two opposing regimes? Assistant Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Adam Car­rington asked this question during a talk at Hillsdale College, com­paring today’s current political climate to that of the Election of 1800.

The lecture, titled “The First Cold Civil War: The Election of 1800,” was hosted by Young Amer­icans for Freedom on Feb. 20.

Car­rington started the talk by ref­er­encing a term Charles R. Kesler, pro­fessor of gov­ernment at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate Uni­versity, uses to describe today’s current political climate: a “Cold Civil War.”

According to Car­rington, Kessler uses the term to describe the current par­tisan divide in American pol­itics. More specif­i­cally, it refers to the division between the elites on the coasts and the working classes in middle America.

“[The Cold Civil War] is seen as a battle between a con­sti­tu­tional regime and a post-con­sti­tu­tional or even anti-con­sti­tu­tional order,” Car­rington said. “We’ve all heard before, ‘It’s never been this nasty, it’s never been this awful, this is the worse pol­itics has ever gotten.’ What I’d like to ask is: Is this unprece­dented?”

Calling upon the Election of 1800, which was between Fed­er­alist John Adams and Demo­c­ratic-Repub­lican Thomas Jef­ferson, Car­rington asserted that there are a few par­allels between then and now.

“If you look at the divi­sions in society, the claim was that this was a regime-level debate. In fact, Jef­ferson said that the election of 1800 was a rev­o­lution, and not just a rev­o­lution of a kind, but equal to 1776,” Car­rington said.

Both parties rep­re­sented a dif­ferent sector of the elec­torate. Fed­er­alists tended to be wealthy landowners and Demo­c­ratic Repub­licans were rural farmers. The Fed­er­alists viewed them­selves as upholding the rights of the minority, but were viewed as the elites and aris­to­crats. The Demo­c­ratic Repub­licans viewed them­selves as the party of the people, but were viewed by the Fed­er­alists as wanting to sac­rifice indi­vidual rights for the majority, cul­mi­nating in mob rule.

To capture the bitter climate of that election, Car­rington read a hit-piece written by a Fed­er­alist that was printed in the news­paper at the time: “‘If Jef­ferson is elected ‘murder, robbery, rape, and incest will be openly taught and prac­ticed, the air will be rent with the cries of the dis­tressed, the soils will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes,’” Car­rington quoted.

But sur­pris­ingly, the end results of the Election of 1800 were not what the parties pre­dicted. Jef­ferson won the pres­i­dency, and the Demo­c­ratic Repub­licans took both chambers of Con­gress. The Fed­er­alist Party began to die out and the “Era of Good Feelings” com­menced.

“Was their appraisal of each other correct? Were they two regimes fighting for control?” Car­rington asked.

Car­rington said it was a pos­si­bility, but regardless of the answer, the two parties still agreed on certain fun­da­mentals.

“They were com­peting ten­dencies of the same kind of regime, despite how out­landish their rhetoric about each other was,” Car­rington said. Men­tioning that both parties shared a strong belief and foun­dation in American founding prin­ciples.

Regarding modern times, Car­rington asked the same question — is our bitter par­tisan divide a battle between two regimes — or as Kessler says, the post con­sti­tu­tion­alists versus the founders?

“If that’s the case, then I think you have to say that it’s a tale of two very dif­ferent regimes— a regime that is based on some concept of natural rights and some concept of equality as under­stood during the founding, versus a sort of post-con­sti­tu­tion­alist order that rejects many of those things. It’s hard not to see those as two regimes,” Car­rington said.

Car­rington did not leave this as the only way to define the political divide. The two regimes could both be post-con­sti­tu­tional, with the split being between the old left pro­gres­sives and the new left pro­gres­sives.

Both of these groups “reject natural rights, natural justice, they accept history with a capital H as the movement of rights and values,” Car­rington said. “They believe in an expansive role of gov­ernment, they reject the tra­di­tional sep­a­ration of powers from Fed­er­alism. They’re unified on these things.”

In the end, Car­rington offered a final solution to our modern-day political divide.

“Ulti­mately, the people need to decide this, and they need to be the ones allowed to decide,” Car­rington said. “And just because it was ugly in the past and present doesn’t mean it needs to be ugly in the future. But fun­da­men­tally, we need to be asking ques­tions about who better under­stands man, who better under­stands justice, and what is pos­sible in light of what is good?”

Freshman and YAF officer Brandt Siegfried said the lecture shed some light on the current political envi­ronment.

“A lot of people look at the political sit­u­ation now and think that it’s unique to 2016 onward, and I think that Dr. Car­rington showed us that divisive pol­itics have been present in American political affairs for hun­dreds of years,” Siegfried said.

Sophomore Kate Ford was sur­prised to hear about the extreme per­sonal attacks during the Election of 1800, and said it should give people per­spective on the current state of pol­itics.

“It was very inter­esting to learn about the very per­sonal attacks that were allowed and the dif­ference in kind of what is allowed to be said now,” Ford said. “There are per­sonal attacks now, but nowhere near as filthy as they were back then, and I just think that it’s inter­esting to keep in mind when people fear that the country is coming apart and it’s getting worse — it was worse at one point.”