To the UVA Community:
In a few days, American citizens will stream to polling places across the country to cast their votes for the next president of the United States. This is our right and our duty as citizens who share a concern for the future of our country, and I encourage students, faculty, and staff who are eligible to vote to fulfill your responsibilities on Election Day.
I also have some words of encouragement for the days and weeks after Election Day. Following this year’s divisive campaign season, all of us should make the effort to come together—as a University community, as a country—in spite of any lingering differences in political opinion. To rise above the hostility and vitriol of recent months and to move forward, we must embrace a spirit of cooperation and respect.
To find an example for ourselves for the days ahead, we can look to the nation’s recovery from the bitterly contested election that brought UVA’s future founder into the presidency. The campaign of 1800 pitted Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr against incumbent Federalists John Adams and Charles Pinckney. As the campaign progressed, the political discourse rapidly devolved into mud-slinging and name-calling. The Federalist Alexander Hamilton said the election was the nation’s only hope to be saved from the “fangs of Jefferson,” and a pro-Adams newspaper warned that Jefferson would create a nation in which “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced.” Even Mr. Jefferson got into the action; he referred to the period of Federalist control as a “reign of witches,” and his allies accused Adams of being a “gross hypocrite” and having a “hideous hermaphroditical character.”
Jefferson prevailed in the election, and once he was in office, he worked eagerly to bring the country together again. In his Inaugural Address in March of 1801, he said, “Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things...” Later that summer, he wrote to a friend, “The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people.”
Alan Taylor, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Chair of UVA’s Corcoran Department of History, wrote a compelling essay about the campaign of 1800 and its aftermath. As Mr. Taylor points out, Thomas Jefferson was the first American president to wrest power from an opposing party, yet he also provided a potent precedent for the peaceful transfer of power and the healing of a divided nation.
A civil society begins with civil individuals. I encourage every member of the UVA community to place our common bonds above our political differences in the days ahead. As individuals we will always have our differences, but our capacity to respect and even celebrate those differences is essential to the cohesiveness of our communities and the integrity of our democracy.
Teresa A. Sullivan
To the UVA Community: