June 11, 2024

Is history repeating itself? With Lindsay Chervinsky


Do you know all the ways that America’s first presidential elections look like today’s? We sure didn’t! In this episode of Transition Lab, historian Lindsay Chervinsky tells us the story of America’s first two presidential transitions and how George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson established a tradition for the peaceful transition of power while navigating extreme partisanship, foreign interference and questions of democratic legitimacy.

Lindsay Chervinsky is a scholar at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and focuses on early American history and the institution of the presidency. She’s the author of, “The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution,” and the upcoming book, “Making the Presidency: John Adams and the Precedents that Forged the Republic.” She is a former White House historian at the White House Historical Association, publishes a weekly newsletter, “Imperfect Union,” and is a frequent contributor to numerous publications. Starting in July, Lindsay will be the Executive Director of the George Washington Presidential Library.

Tune in to this episode from “Transition Lab” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow us and subscribe to our show to receive notifications when we release a new episode.



Valerie Boyd: From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Transition Lab Season Two. This season, we’ll explore the relationship between presidential transitions, effective government and a strong democracy. We’ll examine the peaceful transfer of power, why it matters, the traditions it rests on, and how to strengthen continuity across administrations today. We’ll also talk about the nuts and bolts of modern transitions, share some expert advice from the public servants who have done this work before, and discuss real time developments in this year’s transition planning.

Because we’ll represent a variety of views, every listener might not agree with every guest we bring on the show – but stick with us. We’re looking for what continues to unite us and where we go from here.  This is Valerie Boyd, and you’re listening to Transition Lab.

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Valerie Boyd: This week on Transition Lab we’re speaking with historian Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky. Dr. Chervinsky is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, where she writes primarily on the institution of the presidency and early American political history.

She’s the author of two books and prolific op-eds and essays.  Her first book, The Cabinet, focuses on George Washington’s formation of the Cabinet and the precedent it set for future administrations.  Her upcoming book, called Making the Presidency: John Adams and the Precedents that Forged the Republic, will tell the tale of the nation’s first two transfers of power and all the tensions of foreign interference, fraud allegations, and Constitutional crises, that impacted them, many of which continue to be issues we deal with today.

In her newsletter and op-eds, she has a talent for drawing connections between the questions our Founding Fathers faced and the trends we see in politics today. She also brings a sense of optimism to some of these hard questions. 

Lindsay, Thank you for being here!

Lindsay Chervinsky: Well, thank you so much for having me. I am a huge fan of season one and really looking forward to this conversation.

Valerie Boyd: Well, we want to talk to you about the first presidential transition in history, but before we get to George Washington’s momentous decision to step down, I wanted to ask you first about the dynamic between George Washington and John Adams over the preceding eight years.

Was there trust between them? How much did Washington share with Adams?

Lindsay Chervinsky: This is a great question and a really important place to begin because I think it both contains the brilliance of the first transition and some of the obstacles that Adams then had to tackle later on. So, when John Adams and George Washington first came into office, they had known each other for a very long time.

They had served together. All the way back in the Continental Congress and John Adams had actually really engineered the nomination of George Washington as the commander in chief of the Continental Army. There was a lot of respect between the two of them, but they were not particularly close. I like to joke that if you think of two white dudes from the 1790s, you probably can’t get more different in terms of their personalities.

And that was certainly true. They initially, I think. intended to work together. Washington sent a letter to John Adams just a couple of days into his presidency asking for advice on things like, could he attend private events? Could he have people to the president’s house trying to sort of figure out the social elements of the presidency and how the president was supposed to comport himself?

Because of course, none of those details are really articulated in article two of the constitution. However, almost right away, that relationship started to fray a bit. John Adams took a relatively unpopular position in the summer of 1789. He wanted a more sort of fancy title for the president. He had just come from, you know, Europe and had spent many years there.

And he worried that people coming from Versailles or the court of St. James would come to Philadelphia and would think that the new government and the president was sort of this podunk backwater. And so, he thought a fancy title might help instill some respect amongst both the citizens, but also from foreign visitors coming to this new nation, and that was a pretty unpopular position, and I think it caused Washington to lose some trust in John Adams political judgment. And so, from that point, he really distanced himself. Washington never invited John Adams to a single cabinet meeting, really kept him at arm’s length, they never really talked about policy or matters of state substance until the spring of 1796 when Washington had already made the decision to retire. So, their relationship was not particularly close, even though they did see each other all the time.

Valerie Boyd: Am I ready to understand that, that Washington did not share his farewell address? with Adams before he gave it, and he shared it with others.

Is that a sign of their relationship?

Lindsay Chervinsky: Absolutely. That’s such a great example. He had sort of hinted to Adams that he had planned to retire. So that news itself wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but Washington had sent a copy of The Farewell Address. to John J to review with Alexander Hamilton, and they were some of Washington’s most trusted advisors.

He also shared a copy with his cabinet secretaries prior to publication, and yet he did not afford that same benefit to his vice president, who instead received it in the mail, a copy of the newspaper publication in the mail, which must have been quite a surprise.

Valerie Boyd: So, the fact that Washington did not invite Adams to the cabinet meetings, the fact that he didn’t share the momentous decisions like this in advance, it, it makes me wonder how prepared was Adams to take on the presidency?

Lindsay Chervinsky: Well, on one hand, I think John Adams was amongst the most prepared presidents. He had served in Congress. He had helped craft the Massachusetts state constitution, which actually served as one of the models for the United States constitution. He had incredible foreign policy and diplomatic expertise. So, he, he really was quite brilliant.

He was very experienced. He had devoted decades to public service. However, he had never held an executive position. He had never been a governor. He had of course, never been president, and he didn’t really have an opportunity to observe. What that looked like in person, especially in the presidency and the way Washington ran, his cabinet was very personal.

It depended a lot on the interpersonal relations between himself and the department secretaries and Adams didn’t really get a chance to see that. And so on one hand, he had all the CV boxes that you would want someone to be able to check before going into that highest office, but he had a lot of, he had a lack of a lot of the sort of hands on experience that I think one really needs to manage other people.

Valerie Boyd: So, I think this leads us into talking about this first competitive election in U.S. history. And the fact that, as, as we all learned in elementary school, the presidency until then was really embodied in one person in George Washington. And that it was surprising to so many people that he decided to step down and alarming.

So, can you tell us a little bit, was there anything about the election that helped people see the presidency as not just about not just embodied in one person?

Lindsay Chervinsky: Well, I love this question because I think it really does get at the moment in 1796 after Washington made this announcement. We sometimes, from the benefit of 2024, we, you know, look backwards and we know that most presidents stepped down after two terms.

After Washington’s example, and then, of course, after the Constitution was amended. And we expect that to happen. It becomes normal to us. But in the 1790s, This was the age of Napoleon and monarchies, and people tended to hold on to power for as long as possible. So, this announcement, especially after Washington had already given up power once, one which he did after the war really shocked people that someone could be so disciplined as to walk away from the highest seat of authority.

So that in and of itself, as like a concept, was revolutionary. It was also revolutionary in practice because humans have a tendency to only be able to envision what they have already seen before. That’s why representation and having different types of people in positions is so important because until we see it, we’re not sure that it actually works.

And the presidency had only been filled by Washington. He was the only person that had been able to bring everyone together, to be able to unify the country. And there was a real question about whether or not anyone else could actually fill that role. Could everyone, could anyone else bring together the nation, bring together various citizens?

Could anyone else manage the responsibilities and the enormous power of the presidency in a trustworthy fashion? Could anyone else demand to their respect of foreign policy? Other foreign powers and their various visiting dignitaries. So, these were all real concerns that people genuinely had as they went into the election.

And I think the election also posed a question about what was the vision for the future of the nation going to be. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were the two presidential candidates, really represented the two sort of baby emerging political parties, they weren’t sort of political parties like we think of today, but they certainly were starting to emerge in terms of their sophistication and their supporters.

And so, people had to think about what it meant to have a competitive election, what it meant to have two people representing two different visions and two different parties. What does that look like? How do you engage in these activities? How do you campaign? How do you vote in a way that is fair but still competitive?

 So, there were a lot of questions and unprecedented experiences at the federal level that Americans had to grapple with.

Valerie Boyd: So those dynamics are huge, like none of this had ever happened before. They’re figuring it out in real time. And is it also true that there were some additional concerns that there were questions about foreign interference or voter turnout?

And I ask, of course, because these are questions that still come up today.

Lindsay Chervinsky: Absolutely. One of the things about the 1790s that I think is so important is just the sheer number of parallels to our current moment. So the 1790s had been dominated by pandemics, they had been dominated by concerns about political violence, about contested elections, who belonged as a citizen, who had the right to vote, who was permitted to partake in this experience, and foreign interference was a regular part of elections, especially at the federal level, and it wasn’t subtle. It wasn’t behind the scenes. It wasn’t trying to hack into a machine. It was a foreign dignitary, putting articles in the newspaper, advocating blatantly for a particular candidate or trying to arrange, like, legislation that would be unpopular to one party.

So, it was quite out in the open and quite explicit and both sides condemned the other party’s use of foreign interference and sort of ignored their own their own efforts to embrace these activities.

Valerie Boyd: There’s one more parallel to ask you about, which is Adams’s ultimate victory was pretty narrow, right? Can you remind us how narrow it was?

Lindsay Chervinsky: Yes, absolutely. So, Adams only won by three votes. So, and this is of course, three electoral college votes. And so, the electoral college, while a lot of our voting mechanisms look a little bit different today, the electoral college was functioning at that point as well.

And one of the really interesting things about the Electoral College and the elections going forward is in 1796, Adams won by three votes. In 1800, he came in third behind Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. But if the Constitution hadn’t had the three fifths clause, if it hadn’t been possible for the southern states to sort of boost their representation in the Electoral College because of enslaved workers, John Adams would have won reelection.

So, from the very beginning there are these big constitutional questions about how votes should be counted and who should be counted. And they were very contested elections.

Valerie Boyd: It’s an ongoing conversation to this day. So, I, I want to ask you about how the transition ultimately was successful between Washington and Adams.

And given all of the dynamics that we’ve talked about, what were some of the factors that made it successful, or some of the small gestures that they each did?

Lindsay Chervinsky: Well, I think the most important thing for us to remember is sometimes this election gets overshadowed by the one that happened in 1800 because power was transferred from one party to another, which was a remarkable moment and really important in American history.

However, that hadn’t happened yet, and they didn’t know that that was down the road. And so, in 1796, the election, and then the transition in 1797, this was the first time that this had been done in the United States. This is the first time that power had been willingly exchanged from one person to another.

And the people who were observing this, the most recent transition they had witnessed in sort of a global context was the French Revolution. Which, of course, was characterized by unbelievable violence and bloodshed and literally guillotines in the street chopping people’s heads off. So, that was obviously not the model that we were trying to follow, and that John Adams and George Washington wanted to emulate.

So, what marks their behavior about this period is just the intentionality of it. They were so careful and meticulous to be respectful of one another, to be respectful of the process, of the precedents they were establishing. And recognizing that every choice they made, including what they were wearing, was going to symbolize something.

So, for example, John Adams was staying at a local hotel because, of course, George Washington was in the president’s house. And he stayed that night with Thomas Jefferson. They both stayed at that hotel. And that was really important because John Adams had been elected president, Thomas Jefferson had been elected vice president, and they thought it was important symbolically for them to be under the same roof.

That meant a lot in terms of unifying the American people. On the day of, each chose their outfits very carefully. George Washington was known for wearing a black velvet suit, that was typically what he wore when he was out in public. And so, John Adams wanted to wear something that was different, that would distinguish him, but was still somber and sort of reflected the seriousness of the moment.

So, he went with a black velvet suit. Pearl gray velvet, which he ordered special for the occasion and Thomas Jefferson wore blue so that he could make sure he also was distinguishing from the two. John Adams recognized that he probably wouldn’t be able to get away with his much pomp and circumstance.

As George Washington typically enjoyed. And so, he turned down a military escort from the hotel to the state house, which was where Congress Hall, where Congress was gathering at the time, he did buy a new carriage for his presidency, but it was much more simple in nature than Washington’s carriage and it had fewer horses.

Pulling it on the day of, when he arrived, he was very careful about his language and his inaugural address. He acknowledged the incredible contributions of George Washington, the person, of course, coming before him. And he articulated his concerns for the nation, his hopes for the future, but really tried to pull people together and turn away from some of the more radical language that had been used during the election.

Other people present were equally as important. So, the fact that Washington showed up to the inauguration was a bit of a surprise. There was no example of a former person coming to the inauguration. At the state level, governors typically didn’t attend the inaugurations of their successors, but he understood that his presence was so essential to giving the practice legitimacy of a handoff from one person to another, and it would really give people a vote of confidence in John Adams.

A lot of the other cabinet secretaries attended as well. And it was really a way to try and build support for this new administration that no one really knew what was going to happen. On the way out, I think that their dynamics are so important as well. John Adams, after he gave his address and took his oath of office, he walked out of the building and Washington walked behind him.

And this was probably the first time in two decades that Washington had walked behind someone else, it was a hugely symbolic gesture about who was in charge and who was now just an average citizen. And what I think is so amazing about this moment is the people who were present understood and grasped exactly what was happening and exactly what virtues and principles were on display and the unbelievable historic nature of the moment.

They talked about how amazing it was to see one rising sun and another setting sun. And they said it was the most sublime thing that had happened in human history. And there was not a single dry eye in the room that tears were literally streaming down the faces of people present. And if they took it that seriously, I think we also should too.

Valerie Boyd: I love that. I think from, from the very beginning when you were talking about the care that they took with the symbolism of what they wore, with their carriage that they chose- it’s beautiful that they were showing respect for each other and for the institution. So, you previewed some of the dynamics in the 1800 transition of power.

Before we get there, I do want to ask a couple of questions about the Adams administration that feel relevant today. And one thing that we often talk about here at the Center for Presidential Transition is how hard it is for presidents to get their teams in place. And so today we have long delays in the Senate confirmation process and, and you’ve written a bit about a couple of difficult nominations that, that John Adams had to make.

I think one was the envoy to France was a contentious confirmation. Can you tell us a little bit about that and whether there are any potential delays parallels today?

Lindsay Chervinsky: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think actually I should probably start with his with John Adams cabinet because we now have the expectation when a new president comes into office that they’re going to pretty much have a clean slate of advisors, even when a president dies in office their successor often will maybe keep the cabinet for a little while, but then will ultimately replace the secretaries with people that they’re more comfortable working with. And that’s sort of the expectation that, you know, you have to be able to trust and want to work with your secretaries in order for them to be effective advisors and managers of their bureaucracies.

But that precedent wasn’t in place. And so, John Adams didn’t want to seem as though he was disagreeing with Washington’s judgment. He didn’t want to, didn’t want it to seem like he was saying that Washington had selected his secretaries incorrectly. He knew that the transition was going to be very tumultuous as it was, and so he wanted to provide some stability.

And so, he did end up keeping the cabinet thinking that they would be loyal to the office of the presidency as opposed to the person. And that’s really where his inability to see how cabinet dynamics worked prior to coming into office, I think hampered that choice and it ended up being kind of a disaster.

Some of the cabinet was like kind of quasi treasonous and was absolutely horrible and undermined his administration and in really stark ways but did, then, set the precedent for future presidents that you have to pick your own cabinet if you have any chance of it wanting to work well. So that’s a really important discovery for American history and the president in general.

And one of the things that Adams really, grappled with, in particular with his cabinet, was this nomination for a peace envoy to France in 1799. So by 1799, France and the United States had been in a state of quasi war for about a year, year and a half, where French ships were sort of attacking American shipping, and American ships were sort of trying to defend themselves from French privateers, and Adams had sent one peace commission to France to try and negotiate a diplomatic settlement, and it had gone terribly. This is what’s known as the XYZ affair, where French officials basically demanded bribes and special policies on behalf of the Adams administration to even begin negotiations. And ultimately, the commission was basically kicked out of the country.

It was a huge insult to American sovereignty and American pride at a time when they were trying to establish themselves as a member of this international community. But by 1799, it was clear that France had really had a change of heart. At least it was clear to Adams, who was getting sort of behind-the-scenes information from various different dignitaries and diplomats across the Atlantic in Europe. And France had realized it had sort of made a mistake in. American response was quite militaristic in response to this insult, and so France was really looking for a peaceful way out. And Adams decided to appoint William Vans Murray, who was at that point the current minister to the Hague, to go to Paris and to negotiate a new treaty. Where this became contentious is he did so without really telling anyone. Now, the Constitution doesn’t say that he has to tell anyone. He has to, of course, tell the Senate when he submits the nomination, but he is not obligated to consult with his cabinet on nominations. However, some of the cabinet secretaries and their allies in Congress, this is what I often call the arch federalists, it was the more radical wing of the Federalist Party at the time, really felt insulted by this. They, they wanted war with France. They felt like it would be politically beneficial. And they were outraged by this appointment and threatened to reject it in the Senate.

And ultimately, Adams was able to sort of negotiate with a committee of senators that he would appoint two additional commissioners to go with William Vans Murray to Paris to try and come up with a peaceful solution. And he would only do so once France promised to treat them with the appropriate respect. So, once he did get that promise, he was able to send off his commissioners, but the commission was delayed by many, many months over this grappling and the promises that were required to be received from Paris.

Valerie Boyd: So, the dynamics have always been a little contentious and complicated. And this is why it’s so fun and important and relevant to be learning about what they were dealing with.

Lindsay Chervinsky: yeah, there, there have certainly been moments where presidents have enjoyed a great deal of leeway. So, Washington enjoyed a great deal of leeway over his nominations and I would say for a lot of American history cabinet appointments have generally been at the president’s discretion but there are a lot of colorful examples where Congress has pushed back in certain ways over various appointments usually for partisan reasons, but there’s always an example of, of infighting in some way or the other.

So, it’s definitely not unprecedented.

Valerie Boyd: So, one thing that strikes me reading your writing is that there were some pretty strong language used back then. And I guess this is not a huge surprise, but you see things like good and evil and existential threat. Do you think that was because of dynamics around the revolution and that there were, that there was something about different periods that, you know, that helped calm it down?

Or has there always been this undercurrent of high political stakes?

Lindsay Chervinsky: So, I think there are a couple of factors at play. We tend to forget because we know that the nation survived past this period, that they didn’t know them, and that the U. S. Constitution and the federal government was actually the nation’s second chance at having, having a government form for the Republic and in fact the Articles of Confederation, which was basically the first constitution, had failed spectacularly. And most nations don’t get second chances, so they already felt like they were kind of on their ninth life, so to speak, and that one wrong decision or one wrong choice or one wrong leader would lead to the collapse of the Republic. They felt like it was really quite imminent. And that tension and that fear was widespread and shared really among members of both parties for, for different reasons, of course. So, because the stakes were so high, they saw their opponents as really as mortal enemies rather than just political opponents to be negotiated with.

So, I think that’s the first factor. The second factor is because the parties were very weak. They couldn’t really impose all that much discipline amongst themselves. And so, what that meant was it actually led to increased partisanship. And this is one of the parallels that I think is so relevant for today and is worth us paying attention to.

When more radical members of the party felt like the more moderate members were compromising or were taking positions they disagreed with. Rather than understanding that parties needed to be a big tent and they needed to have a multitude of voices and protect maybe some of the more vulnerable members, they would turn their vitriol on themselves, and they would often actually save their harshest rhetoric for members of their own party that they felt weren’t toeing the line.

And this actually happened in 1799 after Adam’s did send that peace commission, a lot of members in his party started talking about him as, as an evil that had to be eradicated from the party. And the peace commission was going to destroy the nation, even though it was their own party that had sent the commissioners to France.

And so, I think that increased partisanship was really a reflection of the weak party dynamic. And at times we have seen a decrease in that type of rhetoric, and this is I think the third factor. There was a sense that I think really didn’t emerge until the 20th century, the early 20th century, that politics should be a little bit more civilized, it should be a profession.

Politics in the 19th century was dirty and violent and there were brawls and duels, and the floor of the House of Representatives was covered in straw because the members couldn’t be bothered to spit their tobacco juices into the buckets and just spit it onto the floor. So, Congress was a very rowdy place in the 19th century.

But by the 20th century, politics did begin to be viewed as more of a profession and there were certain standards that had to be upheld. And people had to speak in a certain way to be taken seriously and respected and it was good to work with colleagues across the aisle. And so, I think that there have been periods where there’s an expectation of professionalism and we’ve seen a little bit of a decrease of that, and I would say the last 10-15 years.

Valerie Boyd: I think your, your phrase about turning vitriol on ourselves is a little applicable today.

So, there’s clearly some parallels there. I want to ask you one more question about the early transitions, because we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about how Adams reacted when he lost to Thomas Jefferson and what that transition looked like.

Lindsay Chervinsky: So, you know, there’s no denying that Adams wanted to win.

I think any presidential candidate, of course, wants to win. You don’t go into it wanting to lose. And so, there’s no doubt that he was disappointed, and he was bitter at what he felt like was a lack of appreciation from the American people about all that he had sacrificed on the nation’s behalf. And he really had spent his almost entire adult life in service to the nation, rarely with the type of thanks that George Washington got, for example.

So, he was definitely a little bit better about that. But there was also no question that, of course, he would leave the office. There was no question that he would turn over power. He never, for a moment, considered staying in office. And, in fact, once the election got quite messy, because Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both tied with the same number of votes, the election was then thrown to the House of Representatives.

And some of those arch federalists tried to think about some ways that maybe they could slip a federalist in instead, whether it was through legislation, or by delaying things so long that they had to kind of appoint someone, and Adams said absolutely not. He said he would have nothing to do with that.

He would not participate. And while he didn’t necessarily speak out against those plans, his refusal to partake his refusal to meddle in any sort of schemes in the House of Representatives and to really leave the process up to Congress as the Constitution required was hugely important because it started to establish the precedent that presidents don’t have a say in the outcome of the election. The voters choose who they want, and then that person is put into office. And we talk about often how radical it was for Washington to leave office, but it was also radical for Adams to accept that loss and to leave peacefully, and I don’t think he really gets enough credit for that.

Valerie Boyd: That’s, that’s powerful too. It makes me want to ask, I think you have named a pet after a president.

Lindsay Chervinsky: Yes, I have. So, my dog’s name is John Quincy Dog Adams. So, John Quincy was, of course, John Adams’ son. He was I think one of the most interesting presidents, not necessarily one of the best. But one of the most interesting, although, I think perhaps his life is more interesting than his presidency, he was one of those really important sources.

I was talking about in Europe while his father was president, he was the diplomat to Berlin, and he was sending essential intelligence back to his father and had a really keen eye for what was happening in France. And his assessment was often spot on, but I find him to be a really entertaining character.

He was very self-deprecating. He was a brilliant diarist and probably one of the smartest presidents we’ve ever had. He spoke like 12 languages. I’m exaggerating slightly, but only a little bit. And he was very opinionated. Those factors are what caused me to name my beloved hound after him, because he’s also very opinionated and very smart, sometimes too smart for his own good.

Valerie Boyd: I, I was wondering about the parallels, if he’s a good intelligence officer.

Lindsay Chervinsky: Well, he’s very sneaky and he has, he has strong opinions about people, which John Quincy Adams certainly did as well, but there are times where I am talking with him, and he’ll do something. I’m like, I cannot believe you understood what I was just saying!

So smart dogs are very entertaining. They’re not always the easiest, but they’re very entertaining.

Valerie Boyd: I, I love that. Well, before I let you go, I do want to come back to the theme of hope and optimism because you write about this quite frequently and I think by all accounts, the time that we’re living in is difficult and we see vitriol in Congress and elsewhere.

So, what are you most optimistic about?

Lindsay Chervinsky: Yeah, I think hope and optimism is so important. I think for a couple of reasons. There is a, a quote in Harry Potter that I often refer to that I think is really important when Harry is feeling quite down in the Order of the Phoenix, Luna Lovegood says that Voldemort wants him to feel alone, because he’s easier to fight that way.

He’s easier to defeat if Harry feels like he’s alone and isolated. And I think that that is true of anti-democratic forces across the globe. They want you to feel defeated. They want you to feel tired. They want you to feel alone. And so, the most important thing is to remember that there might be very loud, vitriolic voices who are calling for violence or calling for an end to democracy, but they are a minority. They’re a loud minority, but they’re a minority. And there are more people who are committed to democracy, who are committed to the nation, who are patriotic in their own quiet way. And what I think is so informative to me about both the 1796 and 1800 election, it wasn’t heroic feats of military glory that got us through those transitions or the constitutional crisis that really emerged in 1801.

It wasn’t- a genius on the level of Albert Einstein. We don’t need that type of unique person. We just need small acts of civic virtue, which is, I identify as putting the constitution above your own personal or political goals, and so we don’t need a once in a lifetime leader. We just need people to demonstrate small acts of civic virtue.

And that is what has gotten the nation through its most contentious times and what we’ll get it through again.

Valerie Boyd: Dr. Lindsay Trevinsky, that is a very powerful note to end on. Thank you for those words of wisdom and for helping us see the forces at play in our early history and the similarities to what we’re facing today and giving us that sense of optimism that so we can get through challenges we’re facing today as well.

Lindsay Chervinsky: Well, thank you so much for having me and thank you for all of the work that you guys do to help try and make transitions a very central part of our democratic system. Thank you for letting me go from John Quincy Dog Adams to Harry Potter to civic virtue to political violence.

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Khushi Parikh: That wraps up today’s episode. Thank you so much for tuning in. If you haven’t already, please follow and subscribe to Transition Lab on your preferred podcast platform. Don’t forget to explore the show notes for this episode to delve deeper into today’s topic. Make sure to stay connected with the Center for Presidential Transition through our website and stay updated with the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram for upcoming episodes. Transition Lab is a production of the Partnership for Public Service. I’m Khushi Parikh, serving as today’s episode producer. Mary Monti is our writer; and Barry Goldberg is our script supervisor. See you next time.