John Adams: The Early Years

John Adams: The Early Years

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A look at the daily routine of John Adams, who woke before dawn, walked 5 miles at a time, and drank hard cider at breakfast

After graduating from Harvard in 1755, he worked as a schoolmaster in Worcester, Massachusetts. The role wasn't a great fit.

From there, Adams began studying law and was admitted to the bar in 1758. Over the years, Adams would become a legal powerhouse in New England.

He was also an early rebel against the Crown, writing essays criticizing measures like the Stamp Act and helping to prod the colonies into war with England.

Adams would become a crucial member of the Continental Congress. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence. He also teamed up with Benjamin Franklin to work as a diplomat in France.

After the war, Adams became the first-ever US vice president. In 1796, he was elected the second president of the new United States.

So what did this very busy Massachusettsan get up to all day?

David McCullough's "John Adams" includes plenty of details on what an average day looked like for this Founding Father.


Family of John Adams

John Adams was born on 19 October 1735 (Julian Calendar) /30 October 1735 (Modern Calendar) in Braintree, Norfolk, Massachusetts [3] (now Quincy, Massachusetts) to the Puritan deacon John Adams and Susannah Boylston, [4] the daughter of a prominent family. While his father's name was John Adams Sr., the younger John Adams has never been referred to as John Adams Jr. [5]

Adams married in 1764 to 20-year-old Abigail Quincy Smith in Weymouth. [6]

They had five children in ten years, and one more, a stillborn daughter, in 1777. Their first son, John Quincy Adams, would become the sixth president of the United States. [5] [4] [7]

Adams' great-great grandfather, Henry Adams, emigrated circa 1636 from Braintree, England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Henry's 89 grandchildren earned him the modern nickname of "Founder of New England." In terms of contemporaries, John Adams was second cousin to the statesman and colonial leader Samuel Adams. [3]

Adams was highly conscious of his heritage. He considered his Puritan ancestors "bearers of freedom." He also inherited a seal with the Boylston arms on it from his mother. This he loved and used frequently until his presidency, when he thought that the use of heraldry might remind the American public of monarchies.

Career of John Adams

As a young man, Adams attended Harvard College. His father expected him to become a minister. Instead, Adams graduated in 1755, taught for three years, and then began to study law under James Putnam. He had a talent for interpreting law and for recording observations of the court in action.

He became prominently involved in politics in 1765 as an opponent of the Stamp Act. In 1770, he won election to legislative office in the Massachusetts General Court. He later served as a Massachusetts representative to the First (1774) and the Second (1775-1778) Continental Congresses, as ambassador to Great Britain (1785-1788) and to the Netherlands (1782-1788), and as Vice President under George Washington from 1789 to 1797.

Adams found the role of Vice President to be frustrating. He wrote to wife Abigail that, "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." After George Washington stepped down, Americans narrowly elected John Adams, a Federalist, President over his Democratic-Republican opponent, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson became Adams's Vice President. In 1800, Jefferson finally won the presidential vote, and Adams retired to private life in 1801 when his term of office expired.

Retirement & Death

President John Adams retired to his farm in Quincy, Massachusetts. Here he penned his elaborate letters to Thomas Jefferson. Here on 04 July 1826, he whispered his last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” But Jefferson had died at Monticello a few hours earlier. [8]

In 1820, he voted as elector of president and vice president and, in the same year, at the advanced age of 85, he was a member of the convention of Massachusetts, assembled to revise the constitution of that commonwealth. Mr. Adams retained the faculties of his mind, in remarkable perfection, to the end of his long life. His unabated love of reading and contemplation, added to an interesting circle of friendship and affection, were sources of felicity in declining years, which seldom fall to lot of any one. [9]

On 04 July 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. Told that it was the Fourth, he answered clearly, "It is a great day. It is a good day." His last words have been reported as "Thomas Jefferson survives". His death left Charles Carroll of Carrollton as the last surviving signatory of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams died while his son John Quincy Adams was president. [10]

"He saw around him that prosperity and general happiness, which had been the object of his public cares and labours. No man ever beheld more clearly, and for a longer time, the great and beneficial effects of the services rendered by himself to his country. That liberty, which he so early defended, that independence, of which he was so able an advocate and supporter, he saw, we trust, firmly and securely established. The population of the country thickened around him faster, and extended wider, than his own sanguine predictions had anticipated and the wealth, respectability, and power of the nation, sprang up to a magnitude, which it is quite impossible he could have expected to witness, in his day. He lived, also, to behold those principles of civil freedom, which had been developed, established, and practically applied in America, attract attention, command respect, and awaken imitation, in other regions of the globe and well might, and well did he exclaim, 'where will the consequences of the American revolution end!' "If any thing yet remains to fill this cup of happiness, let it be added, that he lived to see a great and intelligent people bestow the highest honor in their gift, where he had bestowed his own kindest parental affections, and lodged his fondest hopes. "At length the day approached when this eminent patriot was to be summoned to another world and, as if to render that day forever memorable in the annals of American history, it was the day on which the illustrious Jefferson was himself, also to terminate his distinguished earthly career. That day was the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. "Until within a few days previous, Mr. Adams had exhibited no indications of rapid decline. The morning of the fourth of July, 1826, he was unable to rise from his bed. Neither to himself, or his friends, however, was his dissolution supposed to be so near. He was asked to suggest a toast, appropriate to the celebration of the day. His mind seemed to glance back to the hour in which, fifty years before, he had voted for the Declaration of Independence, and with the spirit with which he then raised his hand, he now exclaimed, 'Independence forever.' At four o'clock in the afternoon he expired. Mr. Jefferson had departed a few hours before him." -- Daniel Webster in section "Retirement and Death". p9, John Vinci, "Biography of John Adams,"

"They, (Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson,) departed cheered by the benediction of their country, to whom they left the inheritance of their fame, and the memory of their bright example. If we turn our thoughts to the condition of their country, in the contrast of the first and last day of that half century, how resplendent and sublime is the transition from gloom to glory! Then, glancing through the same lapse of time, in the condition of the individuals, we see the first day marked with fulness (sic) of vigor of youth, in the pledge of their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, to the cause of freedom and of mankind. And on the last, extended on the bed of death, with but sense and sensibility left to breathe a last aspiration to heaven of blessing upon their country may we not humbly hope, that to them, too, it was a pledge of transition from gloom to glory and that while their mortal vestments were sinking into the clod of the valley, their emancipated spirits were ascending to the bosom of their God!" -- son John Quincy Adams. [9]

His crypt lies at United First Parish Church (also known as the Church of the Presidents) in Quincy, Massachusetts. Originally, he was buried in Hancock Cemetery, across the road from the Church. [11] [12]

Early Education

Although the first instructor John Adams names in his letter to Dawes is his Latin school instructor, Joseph Cleverly, Adams's earliest teachers were his parents and a neighbor who ran a dame school across the street from his childhood home. Many New England children of Adams's time acquired an informal, rudimentary education in such settings, attending schools in their local communities where they learned basic reading and writing skills. Under the subsequent tutelage of Master Cleverly, young John's education began to diverge from that of many of his peers. Latin school was a place to prepare for college--to read Cicero, learn Latin, Greek, and arithmetic, and master English grammar and composition. There, perhaps in part because of his instructor, whom Adams would later describe as "the most indolent Man I ever knew," young John applied himself more to flying kites and playing marbles than excelling at his schoolwork. At age fourteen, John asked to be transferred to a nearby private school run by Joseph Marsh, the son of the Adamses' former minister, and it was there that John discovered his love of learning. Just over a year later, in 1751, Master Marsh declared his pupil ready for Harvard.

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects. . . .1 We might before this Hour, have formed Alliances with foreign States.—We should have mastered Quebec and been in Possession of Canada. . . . You will perhaps wonder, how such a Declaration would have influenced our Affairs, in Canada, but if I could write with Freedom I could easily convince you, that it would, and explain to you the manner how.—Many Gentlemen in high Stations and of great Influence have been duped, by the ministerial Bubble of Commissioners to treat. . . . And in real, sincere Expectation of this Event, which they so fondly wished, they have been slow and languid, in promoting Measures for the Reduction of that Province. Others there are in the Colonies who really wished that our Enterprise in Canada would be defeated, that the Colonies might be brought into Danger and Distress between two Fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the Expedition to Canada, lest the Conquest of it, should elevate the Minds of the People too much to hearken to those Terms of Reconciliation which they believed would be offered Us. These jarring Views, Wishes and Designs, occasioned an opposition to many salutary Measures, which were proposed for the Support of that Expedition, and caused Obstructions, Embarrassments and studied Delays, which have finally, lost Us the Province.

All these Causes however in Conjunction would not have disappointed Us, if it had not been for a Misfortune, which could not be foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented, I mean the Prevalence of the small Pox among our Troops. . . . This fatal Pestilence compleated our Destruction.—It is a Frown of Providence upon Us, which We ought to lay to heart.

But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it.—The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest and well meaning tho weak2 and mistaken People, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished.—Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their Judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13,3 have now adopted it, as their own Act.—This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with4 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.5

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not.—I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States.—Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing6 Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even7 altho We should rue8 it, which I trust in God We shall not.9

John Adams And Slavery

Although the Continental Congress and the Founding Fathers punted on one of the most serious issues hindering equality and liberty in the United States, many of them voiced their opinion on slavery including John Adams. Did John Adams own slaves? No, and not only because of his family's moderate wealth. Adams was morally opposed to slavery and refused to employ slaves. His wife, Abigail Adams, went so far as to employ free blacks for labor as opposed to the two domestic slaves owned by her father. She also helped educate a young African American man in an evening school and their own family home while living in Philadelphia in 1791. Unfortunately, John Adams' views on slavery were not so proactive. As a member of the Massachusetts State Legislature, Adams openly opposed legislation on the abolition of slavery in the state on the grounds that the issue was too divisive. He even wrote that legislation opposed to slavery should "sleep for a time" until it was less polarizing. Little did he know how many people would die settling the issue some decades down the line.

During the War of Independence, John Adams was a part of the dominant group of American leaders who opposed the use of black soldiers out of fear of losing Southern support for the Continental Army. Abolitionism as a national concept did not enter politics until well after Adams had retired from politics in 1801 with his defeat to slaveholder Thomas Jefferson. John Adams, on slavery, had written and said relatively little, but he was on the record as critical of the "privileged" Southern society whose power depended on human bondage. Despite his political retirement, Adams kept up regular correspondence with past political friends and rivals, including Thomas Jefferson. In letters from 1819, 1820 and 1821, late in his life, John Adams and slavery views became more obvious as he condemned the practice as "an evil of colossal magnitude" and worried about the effect slavery would have on the nation in the future. For John Adams, slaves were human beings and fully deserved the rights ordained by God that all men were granted. But for John Adams, slave owner opinion seemed to nullify his approach to the subject during his political career.

During deliberations on the ideals of a new government discussed in the First and Second Continental Congress, John Adams was vocal about his opinion on slavery without saying that he wished to abolish the practice. While discussing trade resolutions in early 1776, Adams said that he supported a resolution to ban the further import of slaves to America. In the same year, while he was advising Thomas Jefferson on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, Adams was happy to read Jefferson's idyllic opinions on abolition (which he never fulfilled in his own life) but was aware that such language would not pass with the Southern members of the colonial effort for independence. Sadly, Adams never acted on his moral disgust for slavery and left the question for later generations to answer on the field of battle.

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What's Inaccurate About the New HBO Series on John Adams

The opening installment of the new HBO miniseries on John Adams, first aired on March 16, skillfully depicts the difficulties and controversies leading to American independence, and often &ndash though not always &ndash does so accurately. If students watch it, they will very likely understand more about the period than they did before. The physical depiction of Revolutionary-era Massachusetts is impressive, and as a drama the series is well acted and well produced. But there are already some very troubling problems. The first episode especially is fundamentally marred by an all-too-familiar and depressingly resilient prejudice against the early Revolutionaries, one that stretches back to late nineteenth-century scholarship and its depiction of the early protests as disingenuous tax riots. Too many scholars still mark the &lsquoreal&rsquo Revolution from 1774 or later, writing off the earlier opposition movement &ndash in which most of the Revolution&rsquos crucial ideas actually emerged &ndash as violent and crude, an embarrassment to the later high-minded cause.

The HBO drama unfortunately begins with inaccuracy. By his own later account, John Adams was not at his Boston home but with friends elsewhere in town when the shots were fired on March 5, 1770. By the time he reached the scene of the massacre in King Street, both the soldiers and the bodies were gone. The scenes in which he agrees to represent Captain Preston and his men largely follow the account in Adams&rsquos autobiography, but with a significant deviation: Adams gave no suggestion that Forrest, the merchant who approached him on behalf of the accused, had been molested or injured by the townspeople. Preston and his men were actually tried separately: the program compresses both trials into one. Adams&rsquos old friend Jonathan Sewall is shown attending the trial throughout in fact, he had removed himself from Boston for several months to avoid having, as attorney-general, to lead the prosecution against the military. More seriously, the verdict in the soldiers&rsquo trial is falsified: not all were acquitted, as the drama insists. Two of the soldiers, who were specifically proven to have fired, were convicted of manslaughter. The other six were acquitted because only five had fired, and it was not known which of them was innocent (at least technically so &ndash witnesses suggested the sixth pulled his trigger, but his powder flashed in the pan).

The depiction of the trial itself is more deeply flawed, rooted in the persistent stereotype of Revolutionary-era Boston as a den of snarling mobs. The anarchy shown in the courtroom is almost certainly inaccurate, unattested even by staunch pro-government men who branded almost any gathering an incipient riot: Massachusetts had great respect for jury trials. The alleged reluctance, even fear, of defense witnesses to testify is contradicted by the fact that there were, in reality, quite a few who testified for the defendants with every sign of freedom. The behavior of the crowd before the shots were fired was indeed much argued over, but the daring of the troops to fire was openly and frequently mentioned, not boldly extracted from a fearful witness in a crucial &ldquoaha!&rdquo moment. (These dares were rooted in a legal opinion, well known in Boston, that soldiers could not fire on civilians without orders from a civil magistrate.) The drama seeks to portray all participants in the King Street crowd as a rabble. Richard Palmes, indeed a crucial defense witness, was not a coarse laborer reluctantly persuaded to appear, but a merchant of substance who had, as a solid citizen, approached Preston before the shots were fired to ask his intentions and warn him of potential consequences. He had not come from the rope walks where the original quarrel with the soldiers had begun some days before, but had been drawn by the noise from the nearby British Coffee House.

Most egregious, however, is the all-too-typical depiction of Samuel Adams, often a symbol for these mistrusted early years of the Revolution, as a leering, ranting, even dangerous fanatic. Samuel may be the most misunderstood figure of the Revolutionary generation, still generally regarded as a disingenuous, scheming, unprincipled and Machiavellian rabble-rouser, manipulating the mobs and fomenting disorder for sinister purposes &ndash the very image of the corrupt urban politician. It is an image straight from the words of his enemies, fostered and perpetuated by neo-Tory historians such as Hiller Zobel, and so deeply ingrained in the assumptions of scholars that few have even questioned it. (The notable exception is Pauline Maier, whose 1976 article, &ldquoComing to Terms with Samuel Adams,&rdquo in the American Historical Review and 1980 book, The Old Revolutionaries: Political lives in the age of Samuel Adams, should have thoroughly discredited these distortions decades ago, had her arguments received the attention they deserve.)

In reality, none other than John Adams, notorious for rarely praising anyone, wrote of his cousin Samuel with frank admiration &ndash except to note his own superior legal knowledge &ndash and was particularly aware of Samuel&rsquos distaste for violence: &ldquo[Samuel] Adams is zealous, ardent and keen in the Cause, is always for Softness, and Delicacy, and Prudence where they will do, but is stanch and stiff and strict and rigid and inflexible, in the Cause &hellip. Adams I believe has the most thourough Understanding of Liberty, and her Resources, in the Temper and Character of the People, tho not in the Law and Constitution, as well as the most habitual, radical Love of it, of any of them &ndash as well as the most correct, genteel and artful Pen. He is a Man of refined Policy, stedfast Integrity, exquisite Humanity, genteel Erudition, obliging, engaging Manners, real as well as professed Piety, and a universal good Character, unless it should be admitted that he is too attentive to the Public and not enough so, to himself and his family&rdquo (in John Adams&rsquos diary, Dec. 23, 1765). Certainly, this testimony to Samuel&rsquos &lsquogentility&rsquo is absent from the HBO program, which shows him practically as a dockyard thug &ndash and yet at the same time ironically suggests that he is rich, and thus at leisure to pursue his devious wiles. This contradictory claim ignores John&rsquos actual worry about Samuel&rsquos neglect of himself and his own: Samuel was in fact in constant financial trouble, often dependent on the charity of his friends. Praise for Samuel&rsquos character went beyond Massachusetts. In 1819, Thomas Jefferson, who had no reason to polish Samuel&rsquos record, wrote almost as fulsome a tribute: &ldquoI can say that he was truly a great man, wise in council, fertile in resources, immoveable in his purposes.&rdquo

In the first episode of the series, Samuel Adams and others are shown repeatedly expressing their opposition to &ldquothe Crown&rdquo and their contempt for those who support it, implying a determined plot to bring about independence as early as 1770. This is a serious, ahistorical distortion: Samuel Adams and his allies were fiercely determined to prove their loyalty to the King, blaming the imperial crisis principally on Crown officers in Massachusetts, and, much more reluctantly, on the Parliament and royal ministers in Britain. The King was not significantly implicated until fighting erupted in 1775.

Samuel and his allies are also shown cynically exploiting the Massacre as propaganda to whip up a public frenzy. In fact, though enraged by the shootings, the radical leaders were also deeply concerned: they had sought since 1765 to avoid violence, which would only seem to validate their enemies&rsquo claims that Massachusetts was lawless and disloyal. But they considered the military&rsquos presence in Boston since 1768 unnecessary and illegal inevitable popular resentment, in friction with arrogant and abusive soldiers, had now led to bloodshed. Thus, in addition to condemning the soldiers, the radicals wanted to emphasize that an illegitimate occupation had caused the tragedy: Boston, they stressed, was a law-abiding town, never in need of troops to enforce order. In the television episode, Samuel is shown publicly assailing John Adams for taking the soldiers&rsquo cases, even interrupting the trial with shouted threats. It is true that John met with hostility and anger from some quarters. But he was not opposed by Samuel and other radical leaders. Rising radical lawyer Josiah Quincy, Jr., who joined John Adams in the defense, at first refused to take the case, but changed his mind when urged by a host of radical leaders, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock and the speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Samuel, determined to exonerate the crowd for the violence, was certainly not pleased by the acquittals. But he knew it was essential that Massachusetts prove its ability to provide a fair trial. (David McCullough, on whose book the series is based, does note that Samuel never objected to John&rsquos role in the trials.)

The dramatization contrasts John Adams to this distorted image of his cousin Samuel, showing John as initially wary and even antagonistic toward the radicals, keeping largely aloof from the opposition until the Coercive Acts in 1774. John Adams&rsquos doubts about human nature and his concerns about an ungoverned people are accurately suggested, but his fears applied just as strongly to those given unchecked governmental power. He had, in reality, been very active from the time of the Stamp Act in 1765, writing extensively on the opposition side. After the Stamp Act's repeal in 1766, John turned to his private affairs and his law practice, but the 1767 Townshend Acts drew him back into the fight. In the program, he condemns Samuel Adams and &ldquoyour Sons of Liberty.&rdquo John had, in fact, been actively involved with the Boston Sons of Liberty for years, attending gatherings and helping draft letters to British radical John Wilkes in 1768 and 1769. In May 1769, he drafted Boston&rsquos fiery instructions to its representatives in the provincial legislature that August, he attended a massive gathering of liberty men, declaring that none were &ldquomore sincere, and stedfast than I am.&rdquo When a hated customs informer fired into a hostile crowd and killed a boy in February 1770 &ndash just days before the Massacre &ndash John Adams seethed that &ldquothere are many more Lives to spend if wanted in the Service of their Country&rdquo and &ldquothat the Ardor of the People is not to be quelled by the Slaughter of one Child and the Wounding of another.&rdquo That June &ndash before the trials, but after he had accepted the soldiers&rsquo cases &ndash the town of Boston handily elected Adams to the House of Representatives, in which he was highly active. In the drama, it is only after the verdicts that the radical leaders, in grudging admiration, urge Adams to &ldquorun&rdquo for the Council (itself a misleading term, since there were no campaigns for Council seats) his service in the House is not mentioned. But it is a generally inaccurate scene: John also rejoins that the Townshend taxes have now been repealed, when in fact the partial repeal of 1770 had left the tea duty as a statement of Parliament&rsquos right to tax, thus satisfying no one he further objects that he had already served on the Council, which he had not. In 1773, he was elected to the Council, clearly very reluctantly, though he was vetoed by the governor later that year, he actively and publicly fought against royal salaries for Massachusetts judges that would remove them entirely from popular control. He was, in short, deeply involved in the early Revolutionary struggle, before the Massacre and after.

Certainly, despite the claims of the program, Crown officials had no illusions after the Massacre cases that John Adams was now on their side. The drama shows Sewall after the trial extending an offer of a royal appointment in the widely detested vice-admiralty court. Adams&rsquos autobiography indicates that this offer was made, but in 1768 &ndash two years before the Massacre, and he refused it then as contrary to his principles. By 1769, some Crown officials still thought Adams might be brought over with a similar offer, but the new acting governor, Thomas Hutchinson, dismissed the idea, declaring &ldquoit very dangerous appointing a man to any post who avows principles inconsistent with a state of government let his talents otherwise be ever so considerable.&rdquo

The program&rsquos tone abruptly changes when it reaches the 1774 watershed: suddenly, the Coercive Acts &ndash closing Boston&rsquos port, reimposing harsh military occupation and altering the system of government &ndash appear as uncontrovertibly oppressive. The more subtle and complex issues of the earlier years, which can make opposition look petulant if the immense gravity of those issues is not explored, are set aside: being a revolutionary suddenly seems more fashionable. The illogic of this abrupt transition is highlighted by a curious turn in the drama: in and after 1774, the darkly drawn Samuel Adams suddenly becomes a sympathetic if not a heroic figure, fighting for a just cause. Perhaps the scriptwriters &ndash and too many historians &ndash should consider that he and his cause had not changed that year. Only their rigid preconceptions seem to shift with the calendar.


The election of 1796 was the first contested American presidential election. [3] George Washington had been elected to office unanimously in the first two presidential elections however, during his presidency, deep philosophical differences manifested between the two leading figures in the administration—Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Their competing visions of domestic and foreign policy caused a rift within the administration, [4] [5] and led to the founding of the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party. Thus, when Washington announced that he would not be a candidate for a third term, an intense partisan struggle developed over the presidency began. [6]

1796 electoral vote totals
Name Party Votes
John Adams Federalist 71
Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican 68
Thomas Pinckney Federalist 59
Aaron Burr Democratic-Republican 30
Samuel Adams Democratic-Republican 15
Oliver Ellsworth Democratic-Republican 11
George Clinton Democratic-Republican 7
John Jay Federalist 5
James Iredell Federalist 3
John Henry Democratic-Republican 2
Samuel Johnston Federalist 2
George Washington None 2
C. C. Pinckney Federalist 1

Like the previous two presidential elections, no candidates were put directly to voters in 1796. The Constitution instead provided that each state selected presidential electors, and a vote of the presidential electors selected the president. [7] As the election took place before the ratification of the 12th Amendment, each presidential elector cast two votes for president, though electors were not allowed to cast both votes for the same person. The Constitution prescribed that the person receiving the most votes would become president, provided that they won votes from a majority of the electors, while the person with the second most electoral votes would become vice president. [6] Voters chose the presidential electors in seven states. In the remaining nine states, they were chosen by the state's legislature. [8]

Vice President John Adams and Hamilton both hoped to lead the Federalist Party, but Vice President Adams was widely viewed as Washington's "heir apparent," and he consolidated support among his party's electors. [6] The clear favorite of Democratic-Republicans was Thomas Jefferson, though he was reluctant to run. [9] The Democratic-Republicans in Congress held a nominating caucus and named Jefferson and Aaron Burr as their presidential choices. [6] Jefferson at first declined the nomination, but he finally agreed to run a few weeks later. Federalist members of Congress held an informal nominating caucus and named Adams and Thomas Pinckney as their presidential candidates. [9] [10] The campaign, was, for the most part, unorganized and sporadic, confined to newspaper attacks, pamphlets, and political rallies. [7] Federalists attacked Jefferson as a Francophile and atheist, while the Democratic-Republicans accused Adams of being an Anglophile and a monarchist. [8]

In early November, France's ambassador to the United States, Pierre Adet, inserted himself into the political debate on behalf of Jefferson, publishing statements designed to arouse anti-British sentiment and to leave the impression that a Jefferson victory would result in improved relations with France. [7] [11] Meanwhile, Hamilton, desiring "a more pliant president than Adams," maneuvered to tip the election to Pinckney. He coerced South Carolina Federalist electors, pledged to vote for "favorite son" Pinckney, to scatter their second votes among candidates other than Adams. Hamilton's scheme was undone, however, when several New England state electors heard of it, conferred, and agreed not to vote for Pinckney. [12]

The votes of the 138 members of the Electoral College were counted during a joint session of Congress on February 8, 1797 the top three vote recipients were: Adams 71 votes, Jefferson 69, and Pinckney 59. [9] [13] The balance of the votes were dispersed among Burr and nine other candidates. [14] Almost all of Adams's votes came from Northern electors, and almost all of Jefferson's votes came from Southern electors. [8] As President of the Senate, it fell to Adams to announce himself as president-elect and his chief opponent, Jefferson, as vice president-elect. A week later he delivered an emotional farewell speech to the body whose deliberations he had presided over for eight years. [13] The American two-party system came into being during the run-up to the 1796 election – the only election to date in which a president and vice president were elected from opposing parties. The rivalry between New England and the South, with the middle states holding the balance of power, began to germinate at this time as well. [15]

Adams was inaugurated as the nation's 2nd president on March 4, 1797 in the House of Representatives Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia. Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth administered the oath of office, making Adams the first president to receive the oath from a Supreme Court chief justice. [16]

Adams began his inaugural address (Full text ) with a review of the struggle for independence,

When it was first perceived, in early times, that no middle course for America remained between unlimited submission to a foreign legislature and a total independence of its claims, men of reflection were less apprehensive of danger from the formidable power of fleets and armies they must determine to resist than from those contests and dissensions which would certainly arise concerning the forms of government to be instituted over the whole and over the parts of this extensive country. Relying, however, on the purity of their intentions, the justice of their cause, and the integrity and intelligence of the people, under an overruling Providence which had so signally protected this country from the first, the representatives of this nation, then consisting of little more than half its present number, not only broke to pieces the chains which were forging and the rod of iron that was lifted up, but frankly cut asunder the ties which had bound them, and launched into an ocean of uncertainty.

The 2,308-word speech [17] included an eloquent tribute to George Washington, a call for political unity, and a pledge to support the development of institutions of learning. Adams also stated his desire to avoid war and, to the disappointment of some of his Federalist allies, praised the nation of France. [18]

At the time he entered office, the country's population stood at around five million people, with two-thirds of those living within one hundred miles of the East Coast of the United States. [19] The greatest population growth, however, was occurring in regions west of the Appalachian Mountains. By the end of his term, 500,000 people, principally from New England, Virginia and Maryland, had migrated west into Kentucky, Tennessee and the Northwest Territory. [20]

Cabinet Edit

The Adams Cabinet
PresidentJohn Adams1797–1801
Vice PresidentThomas Jefferson1797–1801
Secretary of StateTimothy Pickering1797–1800
John Marshall1800–1801
Secretary of the TreasuryOliver Wolcott Jr.1797–1800
Samuel Dexter1801
Secretary of WarJames McHenry1797–1800
Samuel Dexter1800–1801
Attorney GeneralCharles Lee1797–1801
Secretary of the NavyBenjamin Stoddert1798–1801

Aside from the appointment process, the Constitution included only a passing reference to the operation of executive branch agencies. [21] The term "cabinet" began to be applied to the heads of the executive branch departments late in Washington's first term, and Washington relied on his cabinet as an advisory council. [22] While the Constitution made it clear that the persons appointed to lead these agencies had to answer to the president, it was silent on termination of cabinet appointments. [23] When Adams became president, there was no precedent regarding the continued service of the previous president's top officials. Rather than seize the opportunity to use patronage to build a loyal group of advisors, Adams retained Washington's cabinet, although none of its members had ever been close to him. [24]

Three cabinet members, Timothy Pickering, James McHenry, and Oliver Wolcott Jr., were devoted to Hamilton and referred every major policy question to him in New York. These cabinet members, in turn, presented Hamilton's recommendations to the president, and often actively worked against Adams's proposals. [1] [25] "The Hamiltonians by whom he is surrounded," wrote Jefferson in a May 1797 letter, "are only a little less hostile to him than to me." [26] The other holdover from the Washington administration, Attorney General Charles Lee, worked well with Adams and remained in the cabinet for the duration of Adams's presidency. [27] In 1798, Benjamin Stoddert of Maryland became the first Secretary of the Navy, and Stoddert emerged as one of Adams's most important advisers. [28] As a split grew between Adams and the Hamiltonian wing of the Federalists during the second half of Adams's term, the president relied less on the advice of Pickering, McHenry, and Wolcott. [29] Upon apprehending the scope of Hamilton's behind the scenes manipulations, Adams dismissed Pickering and McHenry in 1800, replacing them with John Marshall and Samuel Dexter, respectively. [30]

Vice presidency Edit

Adams and Jefferson started off cordially they had become friends 20 years earlier, while serving together in the Second Continental Congress. On the eve of their inaugurations, they met briefly to discuss the possibility of sending Jefferson to France as part of a three-member delegation to calm the increasingly turbulent relations between the two countries. When they concluded that this would be an improper role for the vice president, they agreed on substituting Jefferson's political ally, James Madison. Shortly after the inauguration, Jefferson informed Adams that Madison was not interested in the diplomatic mission to France. Adams replied that, in any event, he would not have been able to select Madison because of pressure from within his cabinet to appoint a Federalist. That was the last time Adams consulted Jefferson on an issue of national significance. For his part, the vice president turned exclusively to his political role as leader of the Democratic-Republicans and to his governmental duty as the Senate's presiding officer. [31]

Adams had the opportunity to fill three Supreme Court vacancies during his term in office. In December 1798, the Senate confirmed Adams's nomination of Bushrod Washington, nephew of former president Washington, to succeed Associate Justice James Wilson. One year later, Alfred Moore succeeded Associate Justice James Iredell. Then, in January 1801, Adams named John Marshall as the Supreme Court's fourth Chief Justice, replacing Oliver Ellsworth, who had retired due to ill health. Adams had initially nominated former Chief Justice John Jay, but Jay declined to return to his former position. [32] Marshall, who was serving as Secretary of State at the time, was quickly confirmed by the Senate, and took office on February 4. He continued to serve as Secretary of State until Adams' term expired on March 4. [33]

Relations with France Edit

XYZ Affair Edit

Adams's term was marked by disputes concerning the country's role, if any, in the expanding conflict in Europe, where Britain and France were at war. Hamilton and the Federalists supported Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France. [34] The intense battle over the Jay Treaty in 1795 had previously polarized politics throughout the nation and alienated the French. [35] The Jay Treaty had resolved few of the major American complaints against the British, including the ongoing British impressment of American sailors, but Washington viewed the treaty as the best method of avoiding another war with the British. [36] The French were outraged by the Jay Treaty and began seizing American merchant ships that were trading with the British. In the 1796 elections, the French supported Jefferson for president, and they became even more belligerent at his loss. [37] Nevertheless, when Adams took office, pro-French sentiment in the United States remained strong due to France's assistance during the Revolutionary War. [38] [39]

Adams hoped to maintain friendly relations with France, and he sent a delegation to Paris, consisting of John Marshall, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Elbridge Gerry, to ask for compensation for the French attacks on American shipping. When the envoys arrived in October 1797, they were kept waiting for several days, and then finally granted only a 15-minute meeting with French Foreign Minister Talleyrand. After this, the diplomats were met by three of Talleyrand's agents. Each refused to conduct diplomatic negotiations unless the United States paid enormous bribes, one to Talleyrand personally, and another to the Republic of France. [40] The Americans refused to negotiate on such terms. [41] Marshall and Pinckney returned home, while Gerry remained. [42]

In an April 1798 speech to Congress, Adams publicly revealed Talleyrand's machinations, sparking public outrage at the French. [43] Democratic-Republicans were skeptical of the administration's account of what became known as the "XYZ affair." Many of Jefferson's supporters would undermine and oppose Adams's efforts to defend against the French. [44] Their main fear was that war with France would lead to an alliance with England, which in turn could allow the allegedly monarchist Adams to further his domestic agenda. For their part, many Federalists, particularly the conservative "ultra-Federalists," deeply feared the radical influence of the French Revolution. Economics also drove the divide between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, as Federalists sought financial ties with England, while many Democratic-Republicans feared the influence of English creditors. [45]

Quasi-War Edit

The president saw no advantage in joining the British-led alliance against France. He therefore pursued a strategy whereby American ships harassed French ships in an effort sufficient to stem the French assaults on American interests, beginning an undeclared naval war known as the Quasi-War. [35] In light of the threat of invasion from the more powerful French forces, Adams asked Congress to authorize a major expansion of the navy and the creation of a twenty-five thousand man army. Congress authorized a ten-thousand man army and a moderate expansion of the navy, which at the time consisted of one unarmed custom boat. [46] [19] Washington was commissioned as senior officer of the army, and Adams reluctantly agreed to Washington's request that Hamilton serve as the army's second-in-command. [47] It became apparent that Hamilton was truly in charge due to Washington's advanced years. The angered president remarked at the time, "Hamilton I know to be a proud Spirited, conceited, aspiring Mortal always pretending to Morality," he wrote, but "with as debauched Morals as old Franklin who is more his Model than anyone I know." [35] Due to his support for the expansion of the navy and the creation of the United States Department of the Navy, Adams is "often called the father of the American Navy". [48]

Led by Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, the navy won several successes in the Quasi-War, including the capture of L'Insurgente, a powerful French warship. The navy also opened trade relations with Saint-Domingue (now known as Haiti), a rebellious French colony in the Caribbean Sea. [49] Over the opposition of many in his own party, Adams resisted the escalation of the war. The president's continued support for Elbridge Gerry, a Democratic-Republican who Adams had sent to France at the beginning of his term and who continued to seek peace with the French, particularly frustrated many Federalists. [50] Hamilton's influence in the War Department also widened the rift between Federalist supporters of Adams and Hamilton. At the same time, the creation of a large standing army raised popular alarm and played into the hands of the Democratic-Republicans. [51]

In February 1799, Adams surprised many by announcing that he would send diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Adams delayed sending a delegation while he awaited the construction of several U.S. warships, which he hoped would alter the balance of power in the Caribbean. Much to the chagrin of Hamilton and other arch-Federalists, the delegation was finally dispatched in November 1799. [52] The president's decision to send a second delegation to France precipitated a bitter split in the Federalist Party, and some Federalist leaders began to look for an alternative to Adams in the 1800 presidential election. [53] The prospects for peace between the U.S. and France were bolstered by the ascent of Napoleon in November 1799, as Napoleon viewed the Quasi-War as a distraction from the ongoing war in Europe. In the spring of 1800, the delegation sent by Adams began negotiating with the French delegation, led by Joseph Bonaparte. [54]

The war came to a close in September when both parties signed the Convention of 1800, but the French refused to recognize the abdication of the Treaty of Alliance of 1778, which had created a Franco-American alliance. [55] The United States gained little from the settlement other than the suspension of hostilities with the French, but the timing of the agreement proved fortunate for the U.S., as the French would gain a temporary reprieve from war with Britain in the 1802 Treaty of Amiens. [56] News of the signing of the convention did not arrive in the United States until after the election. Overcoming the opposition of some Federalists, Adams was able to win Senate ratification of the convention in February 1801. [57] Having concluded the war, Adams demobilized the emergency army. [58]

Relations with Spain Edit

The U.S. and Spain had signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo in 1795, setting the border with the Spanish territory of Louisiana. Yet with war between France and the United States looming, Spain was slow to implement the terms of the treaty, which included the Spanish cession of the Yazoo lands and the disarmament of Spanish forts along the Mississippi River. Shortly after Adams took office, Senator William Blount's plans to drive the Spanish out of Louisiana and Florida became public, causing a deterioration in relations between the U.S. and Spain. Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan patriot, also attempted to stir up support for an American intervention against Spain, possibly with the help of the British. Rejecting Hamilton's ambitions for the seizure of Spanish territory, Adams refused to meet with Miranda, squashing the plot. Having avoided war with both France and Spain, the Adams administration oversaw the implementation of the Treaty of San Lorenzo. [59]

Move to Washington DC Edit

In 1790, Congress, through the Residence Act, had set the site of permanent national capital along the Potomac River. December 1800 was set as the deadline for completion of government buildings in the new capital. The nascent city was named after President Washington, and the federal district surrounding it was named Columbia, which was a poetic name for the United States commonly in use at that time. The Act also moved the temporary capital from New York City to Philadelphia as of 1791. [60]

Congress adjourned its last meeting in Philadelphia on May 15, 1800, and the city officially ceased to be the nation's seat of government as of June 11. [61] In June 1800, Adams made his first official visit to Washington amid the "raw and unfinished" cityscape, the president found the public buildings "in a much greater forwardness of completion than expected." The north (Senate) wing of the Capitol was nearly completed, as was the White House. [62] The president moved into the White House on November 1, and First Lady Abigail Adams arrived a few weeks later. Upon arriving, Adams wrote to her, "Before I end my letter, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof." [63] [64]

The Senate of the 6th Congress met for the first time in the Capitol building on November 17, 1800. On November 22, Adams delivered his fourth State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress in the Senate chamber. [65] He began his speech by congratulating members on their new seat of government and—pointedly—"on the prospect of a residence not to be changed." He added, optimistically, "Although there is some cause to apprehend that accommodations are not now so complete as might be wished, yet there is great reason to believe that this inconvenience will cease with the present session." This would be the last annual message any president would personally deliver to Congress for the next 113 years. [66] The following February, Congress approved the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801, which officially organized the District of Columbia. In accordance with the Constitution, Congress became the district's governing authority. [60]

Alien and Sedition Acts Edit

The U.S. became increasingly polarized by the Quasi-War, and Adams faced bitter attacks in the press. Many recent immigrants, including those from Ireland, looked favorably on the French and opposed the British. One Irish-American congressman, Matthew Lyon, engaged in a fist fight with a Federalist congressman. In an attempt to quell the threat of subversion among hostile immigrants, the Federalists passed a series of laws, the "Alien and Sedition Acts" in 1798. [35] Historians debate Adams's involvement beyond his signature he denied in his memoirs that he had sought the acts, but his complaints regarding the "libelous" attacks on his presidency may have played a role in the passage of the laws. [67]

The Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four measures – the Naturalization Act, the Alien Friends Act, the Alien Enemies Act, and the Sedition Act. These statutes were designed to mitigate the threat of secessionists by disallowing their most extreme firebrands. The Naturalization Act increased to 14 years the period of residence required for an immigrant to attain American citizenship, partly because naturalized citizens tended to vote for the Democratic-Republicans. The Alien Friends Act and the Alien Enemies Act allowed the president to deport any foreigner which he considered dangerous to the country. The Sedition Act made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the government or its officials. Punishments included 2–5 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. [68]

The acts became controversial due to the prosecution of a congressman and a number of newspaper editors. The Federalist administration initiated fourteen or more indictments under the Sedition Act, as well as suits against five of the six most prominent Democratic-Republican newspapers. The majority of the legal actions began in 1798 and 1799, and went to trial on the eve of the 1800 presidential election–timing that hardly appeared coincidental, according to biographer Ferling. Other historians have cited evidence that the Alien and Sedition Acts were rarely enforced: only 10 convictions under the Sedition Act have been identified Adams never signed a deportation order and the sources of expressed furor over the acts were Democratic-Republicans. However, other historians have emphasized that the acts were employed for political targeting from the outset, causing many aliens to leave the country. The acts as well allowed for prosecution of many who opposed the Federalists, even on the floor of Congress. [69]

Rejecting the constitutionality of the acts, Jefferson and Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, in which the governments of Kentucky and Virginia purportedly nullified the acts. [70] As debate over the acts continued, the election of 1800 became a bitter and volatile contest, with each side expressing extraordinary fear of the other and its policies after Democratic-Republicans prevailed in the elections of 1800, they used the acts against Federalists before the laws finally expired. [35]

Taxation and Fries's Rebellion Edit

To pay for the military buildup of the Quasi-War, Adams and his Federalist allies enacted the Direct Tax of 1798. Direct taxation by the federal government was widely unpopular, and the government's revenue under Washington had mostly come from excise taxes and tariffs. Though Washington had maintained a balanced budget with the help of a growing economy, increased military expenditures threatened to cause major budget deficits, and Hamilton, Alcott, and Adams developed a taxation plan to meet the need for increased government revenue. The Direct Tax of 1798 instituted a progressive land value tax of up to 1% of the value of a property. Taxpayers in eastern Pennsylvania resisted federal tax collectors, and in March 1799 the bloodless Fries's Rebellion broke out. Led by Revolutionary War veteran John Fries, rural German-speaking farmers protested what they saw as a threat to their republican liberties and to their churches. [71] The tax revolt raised the specter of class warfare, and Hamilton led the army into the area to put down the revolt. The subsequent trial of Fries gained wide national attention, and Adams pardoned Fries and two others after they were sentenced to be executed for treason. The rebellion, the deployment of the army, and the results of the trials alienated many in Pennsylvania and other states from the Federalist Party, damaging Adams's re-election hopes. [72]

Midnight judges Edit

From early in his presidency Adams had advocated for the creation of new federal judgeships, but had been rebuffed by Congress. After the Federalists lost control of both houses of Congress and the presidency in the election of 1800, many previously-opposed Federalists came to support the proposal, as expansion of the courts would allow for the appointment of numerous Federalists to life-tenured government positions. The lame-duck session of the 6th Congress approved the Judiciary Act of 1801, which created a set of federal appeals courts between the district courts and the Supreme Court. It also reduced the size of the Supreme Court from six justices to five, to take effect upon the next vacancy. This was done in order to deny Jefferson an opportunity to appoint a justice until two vacancies occurred. As Adams filled these new positions during the final days of his presidency, opposition newspapers and politicians soon began referring to the appointees as "midnight judges." Most of these judges lost their posts when the Democratic-Republican-dominated 7th Congress approved the Judiciary Act of 1802, abolishing the newly created courts, and returning the federal court system to its earlier structure. [73] [74]

After being swept out of power in 1800 by Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party, Federalists focused their hopes for the survival of the republic upon the federal judiciary. [33] During Marshall's 34 years as chief justice, the Marshall Court played a major role in increasing the federal government's power and in establishing the judiciary as a co-equal branch of the federal government alongside the executive and legislative branches. [75] Later, Adams reflected, "My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life." [76]

With the Federalist Party deeply split over his negotiations with France, and the opposition Democratic-Republicans enraged over the Alien and Sedition Acts and the expansion of the military, Adams faced a daunting reelection campaign in 1800. [8] Even so, his position within the party was strong, bolstered by his enduring popularity in New England, a key region for any Federalist presidential campaign. Some observers even talked about a possible alliance between Jefferson and Adams, but such a possibility never materialized. [77] In early 1800, Federalist members of Congress nominated Adams and Charles C. Pinckney for the presidency the caucus did not explicitly indicate which individual was favored for the presidency or the vice presidency. The Democratic-Republicans meanwhile nominated Jefferson and Burr, their candidates in the previous election, but designated Jefferson as the party's first choice. [73]

The campaign was bitter and characterized by malicious insults by partisan presses on both sides. Federalists claimed that the Republicans were radicals who would ruin the country through revolution. Republicans were the enemies of "all who love order, peace, virtue, and religion." They were said to be libertines and dangerous radicals who favored states' rights over the Union and instigate anarchy and civil war. Jefferson's rumored affairs with slaves were used against him. Republicans in turn accused Federalists of subverting republican principles through punitive federal laws, and of favoring Britain and the other coalition countries in their war with France in order to promote aristocratic, anti-republican values. Jefferson was portrayed as an apostle of liberty and man of the people, while Adams was labelled a monarchist. He was accused of insanity and marital infidelity. [78] James T. Callender, a Republican propagandist secretly financed by Jefferson, launched strong attacks on Adams's character and accused him of attempting to make war with France. Callender was arrested and jailed under the Sedition Act, which only further inflamed Republican passions. [79]

Opposition from the Federalist Party was at times equally intense. Some, including Pickering, accused Adams of colluding with Jefferson so that he would end up either president or vice president. [80] Hamilton was hard at work, attempting to sabotage the President's reelection. Planning an indictment of Adams's character, he requested and received private documents from both the ousted cabinet secretaries and Wolcott. [81] The letter was initially intended for only a few Federalist electors. Upon seeing a draft, several Federalists urged Hamilton not to send it. Wolcott wrote that "the poor old man" could do himself in without their help. Hamilton did not heed their advice. [82] On October 24, he sent a pamphlet strongly attacking Adams on a number of points. Hamilton denounced many of Adams's policy decisions, including the "precipitate nomination" of Murray, the pardoning of Fries, and the firing of Pickering. He also included a fair share of personal insults, vilifying the President's "disgusting egotism" and "ungovernable temper." Adams, he concluded, was "emotionally unstable, given to impulsive and irrational decisions, unable to coexist with his closest advisers, and generally unfit to be president." [83] Strangely, it ended by saying that the electors should support Adams and Pinckney equally. [84] Thanks to Burr, who had covertly obtained a copy, the pamphlet became public knowledge and was distributed throughout the country by Republicans, who rejoiced in what it contained. [85] The pamphlet destroyed the Federalist Party, ended Hamilton's political career, and helped ensure Adams's already-likely defeat. [84]

1800 electoral vote totals [86]
Name Party Votes
Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican 73
Aaron Burr Democratic-Republican 73
John Adams Federalist 65
C. C. Pinckney Federalist 64
John Jay Federalist 1

When the electoral votes were counted, Adams finished in third place with 65 votes, and Pinckney came in fourth with 64 votes (one New England Federalist elector voted for John Jay instead). Jefferson and Burr tied for first place with 73 votes each. Because of the tie, the election devolved upon the House of Representatives. As specified by the Constitution, each state's delegation voted en bloc, with each state having a single vote an absolute majority (nine, as there were 16 states at the time) was required for victory. On February 17, 1801 – on the 36th ballot – Jefferson was elected by a vote of 10 to 4 (two states abstained). [8] [14] It is noteworthy that Hamilton's scheme, although it made the Federalists appear divided and therefore helped Jefferson win, failed in its overall attempt to woo Federalist electors away from Adams. [87]

Ferling attributes Adams's defeat to five factors: the stronger organization of the Republicans Federalist disunity the controversy surrounding the Alien and Sedition Acts the popularity of Jefferson in the South and the effective politicking of Aaron Burr in New York. [88] Analyzing the causes of the party's trouncing, Adams wrote, "No party that ever existed knew itself so little or so vainly overrated its own influence and popularity as ours. None ever understood so ill the causes of its own power, or so wantonly destroyed them." [89] Stephen G. Kurtz argues that Hamilton and his supporters were primarily responsible for the destruction of the Federalist Party. They viewed the party as a personal tool and played into the hands of the Jeffersonians by building up a large standing army and creating a feud with Adams. [90] Chernow writes that Hamilton believed that by eliminating Adams, he could eventually pick up the pieces of the ruined Federalist Party and lead it back to dominance. "Better to purge Adams and let Jefferson govern for a while than to water down the party's ideological purity with compromises," Chernow says. [87]

To compound the agony of his defeat, Adams's son Charles, a long-time alcoholic, died on November 30. Anxious to rejoin Abigail, who had already left for Massachusetts, Adams departed the White House in the predawn hours of March 4, 1801, and did not attend Jefferson's inauguration. Since him, only four out-going presidents (having served a full term) have not attended their successors' inaugurations. [73] Adams wrote that he had left the next president a nation "with its coffers full" and "fair prospects of peace." [91] The transfer of presidential power between Adams and Jefferson represented the first such transfer between two different political parties in U.S. history, and set the precedent for all subsequent inter-party transitions. [92] The complications arising out of the 1796 and 1800 elections prompted Congress and the states to refine the process whereby the Electoral College elects a president and a vice president. The new procedure was enacted through the 12th Amendment, which became a part of the Constitution in June 1804 and first took effect in the 1804 presidential election.

Historian Stephen Kurtz has argued: [93]

In 1796 Adams stood at the pinnacle of his career. Contemporaries as well as historians ever since have judged him a man of wisdom, honesty, and devotion to the national interest at the same time, his suspicions and theories led him to fall short of attaining that full measure of greatness for which he longed and labored. As the nation entered the severe crisis with revolutionary France, and in his attempt to steer the state between humiliating concessions and a potentially disastrous war [he] played a lone hand which left him isolated from increasingly bewildered and better Federalist leaders. His decision to renew peace negotiations after the XYZ Affair, the buildup of armaments, the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the appointment of Hamilton to command of the army came like an explosion in February 1799. While a majority of Americans were relieved and sympathetic, the Federalist party lay shattered in 1800 on the eve of its decisive conflict with Jeffersonian Republicanism.

Polls of historians and political scientists rank Adams toward the top of the middle third of presidents. Historian George Herring argues that Adams was the most independent-minded of the founders. [94] Though he aligned with the Federalists, he was somewhat a party unto himself, disagreeing with the Federalists as much as he did the Jeffersonian Republicans. [95] He was often described as "prickly", but his tenacity was fed by good decisions made in the face of universal opposition. [94] Adams was often combative, which diminished presidential decorum, as Adams himself admitted in his old age: "[As president] I refused to suffer in silence. I sighed, sobbed, and groaned, and sometimes screeched and screamed. And I must confess to my shame and sorrow that I sometimes swore." [96] Adams' resolve to advance peace with France, rather than to continue hostilities, especially reduced his popularity. [97] This played an important role in his reelection defeat, however he was so pleased with the outcome that he had it engraved on his tombstone. [98] Historian Ralph Adams Brown argues that, by keeping the United States out of war with France, Adams allowed the fledgling nation to grow and prosper into the transcontinental nation it eventually became in the 19th century. [99]

Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Adams as an average or above-average president, and one of the best who served a single term. In a 2017 C-SPAN survey 91 presidential historians ranked Adams 19th among the 43 former presidents, (down from 17th in 2009). His rankings in the various categories of this most recent poll were as follows: public persuasion (22), crisis leadership (17), economic management (15), moral authority (11), international relations (13), administrative skills (21), relations with congress (24), vision/setting an agenda (20), pursued equal justice for all (15), performance with context of times (19). [100] A 2018 poll of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Adams as the fourteenth best president. [101]

Early career

During Adams time in Worcester, he began keeping his famous journal. His first entry was on January 14, 1756. John wrote that while he was forming good resolutions, he was never executing upon them. Thus Adams began his life long pattern of self doubt. Adams made regular entries in his journal for the rest of his life.

Soon Adams was looking to escape the hum drum life of a schoolmaster. After discarding many ideas of a new career, Adams settled on practicing law.

John Adams: Life Before the Presidency

Born into a comfortable, but not wealthy, Massachusetts farming family on October 30, 1735, John Adams grew up in the tidy little world of New England village life. His father, a deacon in the Congregational Church, earned a living as a farmer and shoemaker in Braintree, roughly fifteen miles south of Boston. As a healthy young boy, John loved the outdoors, frequently skipping school to hunt and fish. He said later that he would have preferred a life as a farmer, but his father insisted that he receive a formal education. His father hoped that he might become a clergyman. John attended a dame school, a local school taught by a female teacher that was designed to teach the rudimentary skills of reading and writing, followed by a Latin school, a preparatory school for those who planned to attend college. He eventually excelled at his studies and entered Harvard College at age fifteen. He graduated in 1755. Young John, who had no interest in a ministerial career, taught in a Latin school in Worcester, Massachusetts, to earn the tuition fees to study law, and from 1756 to 1758, he studied law with a prominent local lawyer in Worcester.

Legal and Publishing Career

Adams launched his legal career in Boston in 1758. He faced several years of struggle in establishing his practice. He had only one client his first year and did not win his initial case before a jury until almost three years after opening his office. Thereafter, his practice grew. Once his practice started to flourish, he began to court Abigail Smith, the daughter of a Congregational minister in nearby Weymouth. They were married in 1764. Five children followed in the next eight years, although one, Susanna, died in infancy. By 1770, Adams was a highly successful lawyer with perhaps the largest caseload of any attorney in Boston, and he was chosen to defend the British soldiers who were charged in the Boston Massacre in March 1770. Through his able defense, none of the accused soldiers were sent to jail. During these years, he lived alternately in Boston and Quincy, an outgrowth of Braintree, where he had been reared. As success came, Adams wrote extensively, publishing numerous essays in Boston newspapers on social, legal, and political issues.

When the colonial protest against parliamentary policies erupted against the Stamp Act in 1765, Adams was initially reluctant to play a prominent role in the popular movement. With a young and growing family, he feared for his legal practice. In addition, he distrusted many of the radical leaders, including his cousin Samuel Adams. He not only believed the imperial leaders in London had simply blundered but also suspected that the colonial radicals had a hidden agenda, including American independence. Nevertheless, under pressure to act, he did assist the popular movement, writing anonymous newspaper essays and helping to churn out propaganda pieces. In time, as Britain continued its attempts to tax the colonies and to strip them of their autonomy, Adams gradually grew convinced that the radicals had been correct, and he became an open foe of ministerial policy.

In 1774, Adams went to Philadelphia as one of the four delegates from Massachusetts to the First Continental Congress. He was reelected to the Second Continental Congress, which convened in May 1775, just a few days after war with the mother country had erupted at Lexington and Concord. When Congress created the Continental army in June 1775, Adams nominated George Washington of Virginia to be its commander. Adams soon emerged as the leader of the faction in Congress that pushed to declare independence. In June 1776, Congress appointed Adams, together with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, among others, to prepare the Declaration of Independence. Adams served on more committees than any other congressman—ninety in all, of which he chaired twenty. He was the head of the Board of War and Ordinance, the congressional committee that oversaw the operations of the Continental army. He was also an important member of the committee that prepared the Model Treaty, which guided the envoys that Congress sent to France to secure foreign trade and military assistance.

Early in 1778, after nearly four years service in Congress, Adams was sent to France to help secure French aid. Subsequently, he was sent to The Hague to obtain a much needed loan and to open commerce. In 1781, together with Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens, Adams was part of the commission of American diplomats that negotiated the Treaty of Paris, the pact that brought an end to the War of Independence. Adams returned home once during the war, a brief sojourn from July until November 1779, during which time he helped draft the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

Adams remained in Europe following the war. From 1784 to 1785, he served on a diplomatic mission whose goal was to arrange treaties of commerce with several European nations. In 1785, he became the first United States minister to England. During 1784, he had been joined by his wife, whom he had not seen for five years. She was accompanied to Europe by the Adams's daughter, "Nabby." Their sons, Charles, Thomas Boylston, and John Quincy, spent these years in the United States completing their schooling.

By the end of the American Revolution, John Adams had earned a solid reputation as a patriot who had served his country at considerable personal sacrifice. He was known as a brilliant and blunt-spoken man of independent mind. He additionally acquired a reputation for the essays he published during the 1770s and 1780s. His "Thoughts on Government" (1776) argued that the various functions of government—executive, judiciary, and legislative—must be separated in order to prevent tyranny. His Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787) presented his thinking that the greatest dangers to any polity came from unbridled democracy and an unrestrained aristocracy capable of becoming an oligarchy. The antidote to these dangers was a strong executive. He spoke of this powerful executive as the "father and protector" of the nation and its ordinary citizens, for this person was the sole official with the independence to act in a disinterested manner. In 1790, he expanded on this theme in a series of essays for a Philadelphia newspaper that were ultimately known as "Discourses on Davila." Many contemporaries mistakenly believed that they advocated a hereditary monarchy for the United States.

Adams returned home from London in 1788 after a ten-year absence. He came back largely to secure an office in the new national government that had been created by the Constitution drafted by the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 and ratified the following summer. Knowing that George Washington would be the first President, Adams sought the vice presidency. He was elected to that position in 1789, receiving the second largest number of votes after Washington, who won the vote of every member of the electoral college. Adams was reelected vice president in 1792.

Heated conflict broke out early among Washington's cabinet members over the shape the new nation would take, as well as over divisive foreign policy issues. By late 1792, formal political parties had come into being. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, supported a strong central government that favored industry, banking interests, merchants, and close ties with England. Opposed to them were the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson. Supported by landowners and much of the South, the Democratic-Republicans advocated limited powers for the federal government, personal liberty, and support for France. Adams was a Federalist.

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  1. Vilhelm

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  2. Teirtu

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