Jefferson was one of four presidential candidates. Though he hated leaving his hilltop plantation and believed that gaining the presidency would make him “a constant butt for every shaft of calumny which malice & falsehood could form,” he nevertheless sought the office “with sincere zeal.”
He had been troubled by much that had occurred in incumbent John Adams’ presidency and was convinced that radicals within Adams’ Federalist Party were waging war against what he called the “spirit of 1776”—goals the American people had hoped to attain through the Revolution. He had earlier characterized Federalist rule as a “reign of witches,” insisting that the party was “adverse to liberty” and “calculated to undermine and demolish the republic.”
If the Federalists prevailed, Jefferson believed, they would destroy the states and create a national government every bit as oppressive as that which Great Britain had imposed on the colonists before 1776.