The so-called Revolution of 1800 put Jeffersonian Republicans in charge and drove the Federalist Party to extinction.
The contested elections of 1876 marked the formal end of Reconstruction in the former Confederacy because of yet another shady deal that put a Republican in the White House but gave southern Whites free rein to install a brutal regime of racial subordination and terror.
None of these elections however bear the same weight as the presidential election of 1860, which decided the fate of the American republic. And in 2020, the stakes seem almost as high.
Historical analogies rarely work in simple parallel ways. 2020 is not 1860 even though we may find some resonance of our current condition in the past. There is no active secession movement ready to take states out of the Union in case Joe Biden is elected to the presidency. While some may threaten or incite violence, we can ill imagine a long drawn out Civil War over the results of the presidential elections. The real fear among many Americans today is the possibility of widespread electoral fraud and interference, something that never entered the political equation in 1860.
The 2020 presidential election is certainly as consequential as that of 1860. It is, as Biden is fond of saying, a battle for the “soul of America.” The fate of the American republic once again hangs in the balance. Like the slaveholders of the 1850s, Trump, his followers and enablers are in a position to pose an existential threat to American democracy. Like many slaveholders, Trump refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.
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