The United States’ first contested presidential election was a real nail-biter.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, once fast friends, had turned on each other. Standards of the time meant the candidates themselves had to refrain from open campaigning, but this did not apply to their supporters.
The Jefferson camp called Adams a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman," and Adams’ supporters responded by calling Jefferson a “mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” (The scandal over Jefferson’s affair with a slave did not surface until the next election.)
Although the Democratic-Republicans made a sound alliterative argument with “hideous hermaphroditical character,” thoughtful electors were evidently swayed by the question of whether Jefferson’s mother were indeed a half-breed squaw. That and the fact that all the New England states went to Adams was enough to decide the election.
But the political invective did nothing to cement the friendship between the two men, and since according to the procedures of the time, the runner-up Jefferson would end up being Vice President, the campaign must’ve made for prickly relations in executive branch.
Statesman, architect, writer of the Declaration of Independence and inventor of macaroni and cheese, Jefferson lost the election by a mere three electoral votes.
John Adams: 71
Thomas Jefferson: 68