John Adams (1735-1826)

Figure 1.--.

John Adams was the second American president. He was a giant of the Revolution. He is, however, now the least remembered of the early presidents. There is no monument to Adams in the Mall in Washington. Most Americans cannot name a single accomplishment of Adams. Yet there has been a reconsideration of Adams in recent years and his reputation has grown, especially his role in moving America toward Revolution and his diplomatic triumphs. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment as President was in keeping the young nation from declaring war on Revolutioinary France which would have probably ended disaterously and may have made Jefferson's Louisana Purchase difficult if not impossible. Adams also played an important role in the development of the political party system in America. An important role of an American president is as leader of his party. It was Adams' failure here that was to doom his presidency and reelection. Adams had to face the war feavor rampant in America almost single handely with out the support of his party. Adams' presidency has not been highly regarded by historians. The Alien and Sedition Acts were a stain on his presedency, although it was primarily a Congressional action, Adams did use it to arrest journalists. A major accomplishment was to found the U.S. Navy over considerable opposition from the Jeffersonians and developing Democratic-Republican Party.


John was the eldest son of his namesake, John Adams, a Massachusets farmer. His father's family included several well known physicians. John's father was a Select Man, a Militia Officer, and a Deacon in the Church. John wrote of his father, "He was the honestest Man I ever knew. In Wisdom, Piety, Benevolence and Charity In proportion to his Education and Sphere of Life. I have never seen his superior ...." [Adams, Autobiography, 1802-7] John's mother was Suzanna Boylston, the daughter of a surgeon and drugest who emmigrated from London in 1656. His grandfather Peter was related to Zabdiel introduced the practice of innoculation for smallpox into the British Empire.


John was born at Braintree (Quincy), Massachussetts on October 30, 1735, in a house built by his father. The farm had been founded by John's great-grandfather about 100 years earlier. John as a young boy does not seem to have been highly motivated. His father worried that he liked to play odle play too much. At an dearly age he realized that the drugery of farm life was not to his liking. John came to have a deep attachment for the land and Adams family farm as well as fo the and for the town of Braintree. As Congressman, foreign diplomat, and later president, his letters to Abigale arefull to references the farm.


John had two younger brothers brohers, Peter Boylston ( ), and Elihu ( -1775). Elihu died in 1775 in command of a company of volunteers of distemper leving three children (John, Susanna, and Elisha).


John was taught to read at home. He then attended schools in Braintree. He was sent to Mrs. Belcher's primary school. She was the mother of a neighbor ho was a Deacon. He was, however, not very happy in Joseph Cleverly's secondary school who he later described as "the most indolent Man I ever knew" though he did not question Cleverly's scholarship. He writes that he was an idle scholar, prefering to "... making and sailing boats and Ships upon the Ponds and Brooks, in making and flying Kites, in driving hoops, playing marbles, playing Quoits, Wrestling, Swiming, Skating, , and above all in shooting, to which Diversion I was addicted to a degree of Ardor which I know not that I ever felt for any other Business, Study or Amusement." [Adams, Autobiography, 1802-7] He blames this ideness and not infrequent trancy primarily on Cleverly's failing as a teacher. Looking back he saw that at age 13 his life "... had been wasted." [Adams, Recollections, 1823.] John was unhappy with Cleverly and told his fther that he wanted to be a farmer. His father thought that a little hard work on the farm might chnge his mind, but it did not. When John explained his unhappines with Cleverly, his father arranged for a Mr. Marsh to undertake his education. At this time John began to seriously apply himself. In a year he was ready for the Harvard entance examination. [Adams, Autobiography, 1802-7] John's father could only afford to send one of his three son's to college and he chose his eldest boy, John. He hoped his son would enter the clergy. He entered Harvard University 1751 at age 16 years. Graduates from Harvard with a A.B. degree in 1754.

School Teacher

Becomes a schoolmaster in Worcester in 1755. He continued his studies on his own. Several subjects were of prticular interest to him: Latin, history, and law. It was at thi time that he decided against his father's plan that he should be a clergyman. He ws increasingly attracted to the law.


He begin legal studies in 1756. The reluctant schoolboy had become a disciplined scholar. He acquired a knowledge and respect for the law that was exceptional even among the many educated founding father which included many lawyers. Adams in 1758 was admitted to the bar and began his legal practice in Braintree. He gradually acuired the rputation as a scrupuosly honest nd competent lawyer. He moved his increasinly successful practice to Boston. It was while practing law in Boston that Adams began meeting other men that would become the future leaders of the Massachusetts colony. Adams' most celebrted case was his defence of the British soldiers that had fired on a thretening mob hich became knon s the Boston Massacre.

Abigail Adams (1774-1818)

John courted Abigail Smith for 3 years. She was the daughter of a Weymouth, Massachusetts, minister. They married in 1764 beginning one of the great love affairs of American history. She is also often described as the first important feminist in America, advocating an expanded role for women. The Adams marriage lasted lasted 54 years, I believe the longest of any presidentil marriage, but this needs to be confirmed. It is the lengendary correspondnce between John and Abigail that has allowed us to look at this extrodinary relationship as well as many insight's into Adams himself. As is the case of many presidents, Abagail was an invaluable partner her husband as his political career developed. Her council was particularly important because of Adam's often impetuous and head strong character. The Adamses because of John's many Revolutiinary War assignments spent many years apart (1774-84). John was continuously serving the Revolutionary cause. At first he was in the Continental Congress and later serving as a diplomat abroad. Abigail joined her husband in Europe during 1784 and thereafter remained with him, becoming his oldest and probably most insightful advicer. Abigail died in 1818, 8 years before John.

Adamses Correspondence

The Adames correspondence nmakes for fascinating reading, both because of insights to their personal lives, butb also their thinking on a wide range issues. Few sources provude more information on everyday life as well as activities in the corridors of power. Often the keenest observatiions come from Abigail. No other First Lady has left such a fascinating record of hwer time. The letters also show Adams' thinking on many issues as well as many rather modern outlook. One such passage was, "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." [J. Adams, May 12, 1780.]


John and Abigale between 1765-72 had two daughters and three sons . The first presidential son and perhaps the most brilliant of all the presidential children--becoming a president himself.

Abigail (1765-1813)

Abigail was the first presidential child if we discount the claims that Washington had a child by a slave woman. Abigail was named after her mother and commonly called Nabby or Amelia. After a failed love affair, she married William Stephens Smith. They had four children, but the marriage was not a success. Her husband was not faithfull and lostlarge sums on Western land speculation.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)

John Quincy became the sixth president of the United States, the only such father son presidnts until President George W. Bush was elected in 2000. As a boy he was a brilliant linguist and actually played an important role in diplomacy for the Amerivan colonists. John Quincy was educated at Harvard and practiced law as a young man. After independence, President Washington appointed him Ambassador to the Netherlands. He married Louisa Carherine Jounson, the daughter of the American Ambassador to England. After returning to America he won election to the Senate. He then served as Ambassadir to Russia and became one of the most prominent Secetaries of State. Adams may have made a greater contribution to the United States as President Monroe's Secretary of State than as president. He was the author of the Monroe Doctrine. He became the sixth president in 1924 despite losing the popular vote to General Jackson. After losing the 1828 election to Jackson, he served for years as a Congressman. He was known fir his opposition to slavery and promotion of women's sufferage. John Quincy Adams in many respects paralleled the career as well as the temperament and viewpoints of his illustrious father.

Susana (1768-1770)

Susana died before she reached 2 yeats of age. She was the only Adams child not to survive infancy. The number of Adams's children who survived was unusual for the time and proably speaks to Abigale's care. Susana's father was so moved by her death that he could not bring himself to speak of her for years.

Charles (1770-1800)

Charles was as great a failure as John Quincy was a success. At the age of 11 he was lost at sea and his family thought for a time that he was dead. He like his father and brother attended Harvard, but never practiced law. He married Salley Smith. They had two children. He proved unable to support his famiky and turned to alcohol. He died of cirrhisis at the age of 30 years.

Thomas Boylston (1772-1832)

Thomas also went to Harvard. He accompanied his brother to his diplomatic posts. When his father was elected president, he lived with him in Philadelpahia and the White House in Washington. He married Ann Harold, practiced law, and became a state court judge. He was a scholar of some reputation. He enjoyed luxurious living and was constantly in debt.

Declaration of Independence

The Continental Congress finally decided on a break with Britain, A Committe was chosen to draft a formal document. Massachusettes delegate John Adams suggested that Virgininian Thomas Jefferson draft it. The fighting at the time was confined to Massaschusetts and Adams saw it was important to involve Virginia. And adams knew that Jefferson was an elegant writer. He also knew that Jefferson was better liked and thus his work more likely to be accepted by Congress. He also saw Jefferson as a more elegant writer. Jefferson drafted it (June 11-18, 1776). The resulting document which was only minimally edited is a key American symbol of liberty and Jefferson's most important contribution to the cause. Some of the phrases are a critical part of the American lexicon. Jefferson beautifully and consisely expressed the convictions that had slowly taken root in America. The political philosophy of the Declaration were based on the ideals of individual liberty conceived by John Locke and the French philosophers. Jefferson described the philosophy as "self-evident truths". He then listed grievances against the King to justify the rupture of ties with Britain that the Congress had decided to take. It became one of the great documents of democracy and liberty beginning with the Magn Carta.


Adams was in Europe for much of the Revolution. The very proper Adams joined the unconventional Benjamin Franklin in Paris. The story of the these two great men in Paris is one of the most fascinating stories of the Revolution. Working with other diplomats appointed by Congress, Adams participated in some of the most important international agreements in American history. He was not the most asute diplomat. In fact the French found him difficult to deal with, if not offensive. Franklin was a more effective diplomat. Still the key alliance with France was signed, a critical development in the success of the Revolution. Perhaps the single graetest triumph of Adams and the other american diplomats was the highly advantageous Treaty of Paris with Britain. Here Adams played a more positive role. Adams' negotiantion of a loan from the Dutch was another great achievement.

The Constitutional Convention (1787)

The inadequacy of the Articles of Confederatiion gradually became apparent. A Constitutional Convention autorized by CVongress assembled in Philadelphia (1787). Future president James Madison played a key role at the convention. Much of the Constitution is based on a draft that he brought to the Convention. The delegates were conflicted over their fear of a strong nationalm government and the problems surfacing from a weak national government. Major compromises had to be made. Washington attended, but neither Adams or Jeffersion who held very different views were delegates. A great debate over ratification followed. The Fedralist Papers promoting ratification is one of the great documents in American history. The Constitution came into force when the final number of states ratified it (1788).

Election of 1789

Adams unlike modern vice-presidents was not chosen by Washington. The new Federal Constitution created an Electoral College, chosen by state legislators. A state was assigned one elector for each representative and senator. The electors in February 1789 voted for the first president and vice president. The electors in the early presidenbtial elections actually cast two votes. The person who received the most votes became president and the person with the next highest number became vice president. At the time there were no political parties and running mates. (This illconceived system almost resulted in a dissaster in 1800 when Araon Burr nearly defeated Thomas Jeffereson in the Electoral College voting. The electoral system was of course later changed to enable the separate selection of the president and vice president.) It was a foregone conclusion in 1789 that George Washington would be elected president. In fact, Washington received the vote of all 69 electors. Adams received the next greatest largest number, 34 votes, and became the first vice president of the United States. There was no campaigning for the office, Adams' selection was simply an indication of the high esteem with which Adams was head.

President Washington

Adams had no special relationship with Washington, although Adams in the Continental Congress had played a major role in his selection as the Commander of the Continental Army. Washington's presidency because of his leadership and the precedents the set as the first president it the most important in American history. Most historians rank Washington as the greatest president.

Vice President (1789-87)

Vice President John Adams took office on April 30, 1789. He served as vice president under both of Washington's two 4-year terms. There are few responsibilities given the vice president in the Constitution. It was an office primarily created to provide an orderly tranition in the head of state in the event of a president's death, an event that has occurred eight times in American history (Harrison, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinnley, Harding, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Nixon). The principal cause has ben assasination (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinnley, and Kennedy). Such an office with few respnsibilities did not suit the hyper-active. He like many of his successors looked upon his new office as completely unworthy of his prodigious talents. His assessment was not off the mark. Adams called the vice presidency as "... the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived". This was especially true because Adams had not have an especially close relationship with President Washington. The one real power of the Vice President was to serve as presiding officer of the Senate--the upper house of the ne Federal Congress. This was actually very frustrating for Adams who loved to debate. As presiding officer, he could not participate in the debates and had to listen to many senators who he looked on, with some justification, as his intelectual inferiors. Adams was able, however, to exert some influence by casting tie-breaking votes. There were 20 such votes, quite a large number as such tie votes were later uite infrequent in American history. The votes were on a variety of issues. Adams consistenly voted to loyally support President Washington's programs. He was a strong supporter of the key financial measures proposed by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to place the finnces of the American Government for the first time on a sound financial footing.

French Revolution (1789)

The major event in 1789 was of course not the election of Washington and Adams, it was the French Revolution. Adams as vice president was especially important in promoting American neutrality in a new war which developed beteen Rvilutionary France and Britain. There was support in America for France which had supportd America in the Revolution and now had, like America, established a republican government. Adams also supported the adoption of reprisals against Britain for interfering with American shipping.

President Washington

President Washington was set against political parties. Washington regarded himself as president of the entire nation and looked upon partisan discension as a very unwelcomed development. Washington with his enmense prestige could govern without political parties. He is probably the only Ameican president who could. Despite Washington' attitude, it was in his own cabient that the American political party system which begn to develop during the debates over the Constitution first manifested itself.

The Federalists

The Federalists had been the major supporters of the new Federal Constitution. They were led by the brilliant Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton, and favored a strong central government. Adams generally supported the Federalist cause, but was not the party leader.

Political Parties

Perhaps the most significant steps taken by Adams as vice president were his role in the development of the political party system in America. His failure to fully understand ans master developing party politics was the principal reason that he became the first one-term president. President Washingtom objected to party fractiinalism and this seems to have affected Adams' thinking.

The anti-Federalists

The oppoition was first called anti-Federalists. (The nane eventually changed to Republicans, Democratic-Republicans, and eventually Democrats.) They had at first ben warry of the Consiution. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson emerged as the party leader. They believd in programd emphasizing the power and perogatives of the individual states and an expanded role for individual citizens. Leaving aside the validiy of their views, itwas Jefferson that was to master partisan politices, epecially the manipulation of journalism. There are different assessments of the impact of party politics. One author writes that Jefferson's "ward republicanism" would come to address many future problems, including voter apathy, failing chool systems, excesive federa oversight, maldistribution of wealth, and othr concrns. [Hart]

Adams' role

Adams early in his political career had defended the rights of the people. This is the primary reason he supported the Patriot cause and came to believe that independence was a necessary step. This was not, as was the case of Jefferson, based on any belief in the basic goodness of the common man. Adams in fact feared the tyranny of the masses as much as tyranical dictator. The disorder which he saw unfolding in France affter the 1789 Revolution, espcially thge Reign of Terror, acted to confirm his fears with democratic rule. Adams had befriened Jeffereson during the American Revolution and the two had worked together. Adams as vice president, however, constantly sided with the Federalists against Jefferson. The two parties were not composed of adherents who had identical outlooks. While Adams and Hamilton both supported Washington's policies, they had many major differences. Adams objected, for example, to Hamilton's vision of a government controlled by educated, wealthy aristocrats.

Election of 1796

Washington was unanimously elected in 1789 and 1792. He made the important decissiin in 1796 not to seek a third term not broken until Presidnt Franklin Roosevelt decided to run for a third term in 1940 duing the World War II crisis. Washington's decision mean that the 1796 election was the first contested campaign for preident. establishing the partisan pattern for future prsidential elections. The two most important candidates were Jefferson and Adams. The party picture was more complicated. Federalist leader Hamilton did not support his party's strongest candidate--Adams. Hamilton supported Thomas Pinckney, a diplomat. The Republicans were also split. Aaron Burr, a leader of the New York Tammany Society, contested Jeffereson's leadrship. Most of New England strongly supported Adams, but were illing to follow Hamilton and support Pinckney for vice president. Some New Englanders decided to vote for Adams but not for Pinckney to make sure Adams would defeat him. Hamilton warned that this might result in Jefferson becoming vice president. New England strongly supported Adams and many refused to support Pinckney. The final vote was very close: Adams, 71; Jefferson, 68; Pinckney, 59; and Burr, 30. The result was notable that a president and vice president from different political parties was elected.


President Adams was inaugurated at Federal Hall, Philadelphia (March 4, 1797). At the time the new Federal capital at Washington was still under construction. Adams was elected on the basis of his Revolutiuinary credentials. Adams' personality was not, however, condusive to that of an effective chief executive. He was opinionated and disinclined to accept the council of advisers. He was inclined to take disagreements personally. Perhaps his greatest problem, however, was the fact that he followed George Washington. Any one would have paled in comparison. Adams' presidency has not been highly regarded by historians. There has, however, been some reassessment in recent years.

International affairs

President Adams presidency was dominated by international developments. The overiding issue was the war in Europe and the fact that America was a maritime nation trading with both Britain and France. War broke out between Briain and France (1793). America as a maritime nation founditself caught between the two waring nations. President Washington was determined to maintain neutrality. Adams continued that policy. At the time he was vilified by his own Party as well as Jeffereson's Republicans. Adam's insistence on neutrality destroyed his presidency. Today historians see it as the grerat achievement of his presidency.
The Jay Treaty (1795): Britain declared war on Revolutioinary France (1793). Both countries had powerful navies leading to epic naval clashed. Britain with its powerful Royal Navy seized neutral shipping involved in commerce with France. This included American shipping. The Washington Administration to prevent this negotiated with the British. John Jay succeeded in signing a treaty with Britain--The Jay Treaty (1793). The British obtained trade concessions. Many Americans still viewed the British as an eneny and the Jay Treaty was sharply criticised. Opposition to the Treaty was an important factor in the emergence of the Democratic-Republican Party. The French were outraged. President Washington sent James Monroe to France to calm relations. Monroe who opposed the Treaty himself instead incouraged the French to think the Senate would refudsed to ratify the Treaty. It was hotly debated in the Senate and press, but finally ratified and went into force (1795). This resolved many issues with Britain, but not with France which was also an important naval power.
French reaction: The Jay Treaty infuriated the French who thought the Americans ungrateful for not aiding France against the British after France had played a key role in the Revolution. Thus the French were outraged with the Jay Treaty which seemed to them a virtual alliance with Britain. They gave Monroe an ovation when he left and refused to even let his relacement, Cotesworth Pinckney, stay in Paris. The French Navy at about the same time President Adams assumed office began attacking American ships (1787). In only a few months of 1787, the French seized 300 American ships. The French Government broke relations and expelled American diplomats.
War fever: President Washington's prestige had been able to disuade cries for more more forceful action against either England or France. The Jay Treaty had resolved many of the issues sith Britain, but Washington left the unresolved problen with France for Adams to resolve. With Washington gone and French depredations on American shipping causing substantial losses, popular demands for war expanded. This was especially true within Adams' own Federalist Party. The Federalists from the beginning of the French Revolution had been fearful of the forces being unleased. French actions against American shipping intensified these feelings. Adams had been a strong supporter of Washington's policy of neutrality. Hamilton and other important Federalists demanded war. Jefferson and the emerging Republicans were more sympathetic with France. Adam's resistance to the Extreme Federalists is seen as a major example of presidential leadership. [Beschloss] It also probably cost him reelection by causing rifts among his fellow Federalists.
The XYZ Affair: President Adams attempted to mediate between the war and peace parties, despite the fact that Adams was not particvularly well disposed toward the French and many in his party wanted war. He took the unpresedented action of calling a special Congressional section. He promoted a peaceful ressolution of the problem. He proposed sending a diplomatic mission to France to secure a peaceful settlement. To apease the war party, he proposed keeping American military forces ready if the peace mission failed. Actually American military forces at the time was minimal. The army was mostly poorly trained militia and the navy did not exist. Congress consented and a three American diplomats were sent to France. France was in turmoil and just emerging from The Terror. French officials refused to meet with the American mission. The Americans, however, were contacted by representatives Foreign Minister Charles Talleyrand. The French agents demanded outrageous bribes. They also insisted on reparations for susposed harm to France as well as a substantial loan. The terms were rejected by the Americans. President Adams attempted to keep the report of the affair confidential. Rumors about the report surfaced. The Republicans accused Adams of duplicity and not fairly dealing with the French. The President finally relented. He released the report, but used XYZ instead of the names oif the French agents. This back fired on the Reoublicans. When the report was published, there were renewed cries for war with France.
Renewed calls for war: The relevations put Jeffereson and the Republicans on the defensive. Jefferson suggested thatvthe agents were not really French officials. Hamilton and other Federalists demanded war. Congress renounced the treaties signed with France during the American Revolution. Congress approved military expendututes as a preparation for war. The army was expanded and the navy created. Congress established the Department of the Navy, the first cabinent department (ministry) established beyond those provided for in the Constitution. Congress apprived the construction of naval ships. The construction of ships, espcially a series of frigates was striongly resisted by the Jeffersonians. (Ironically it would be Jefferson and Madison as future presidents who would make the most use of these frigates.) George Washington was recalled lead the army with Hamilton as his deputy.
Undeclared naval war: The new Navy launched more than 12 ships by December 1798. Naval operations and an undeclared naval war was initiated with France. France and America fought an undeclared but bloody naval war mostly in the West Indies where France had valuable island colonies producing sugar. It would not be the last undeclared naval war waged by presidebnts.
Political ramifications: President Adams and Alexander Hamilton were the two leading Federalists, but grew apart during this time, primarily over the war issue. Adams was prepared to fight the French, but did not want a war. Adams believed that by demonstrating resolve, the French might be brought to the bargaining table. Hamilton wanted war, in part because of natioinalist sentiment and in part to discredit the pro-French Jefferson.
Further negotiations: At first Adams seemed to be accepting Hamilton's views. Adams increasingly came into conflict with his Cabinet which included Hamilton loyalists. On his own he adoopted a new policy toward the French. He appointed another diplomatic mission (February 18, 1799). Hamilton called President Adams a coward. Cabinent members were critical, but Adams insisted. The French Government did meet with the secind mission. The negotiations were difficult, but agreement was reached.
War averted: President Adams alost single-handedly and at great political cost had avoided war. He had also made an enemy of Hamilton and split the Federalist Party. One might wonder why averting war was so important. The outcome of any war is difficult to assess. Given the strength of the Royal Navy it would probably not have been disastrous. There are, however, many unanticipated consequences of war. Here the most likely is the future of the Louisiana Territory. Napoleon's subsequent decession to sell the Louisana Territory to America was a largely anti-British measure. If America had fought a war with Britain as an ally, it seems unlikely that Napoleon would have sold Louisiana to America. The potential consequences are staggering.

Domestic developments

President Adams'presidency was consumed almost entirely with foreign affairs. There were virtually no major domestic accomplishments, in sharp contrast to his both his predecessor and successor. The principal domestic legislation for which he is known are the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). This is the one black mark on Adams otherwuise illustrious career. These Acts are some of the most dangerous pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress. They could have been the precussor to authoritarian efforts to install permanent Federalist rule. The Acts limited the right of free speech and political dissent. Adams did not like to be criticised and in fact the press at the time was often dominated by political parties and often contained vicious personal attacks and wild, inflamatory rumors. The Acts were a clear effort to limit press criticism of Adams and the Federalists and to prevent the election of Jefferson and his Republicans. The Federalists in Congress were respinsible for the Acts. Although President Adams signed them, to his credit he did not vigorously enforce them. As president, however, the public disapproved of the Acts generally connect Adams with the Acts. The effect of the Acts was to discredit both Adams and the Federalists.

Federalist split

A president appoints his cabinent. Adams expeienced, however, considerable difficulty with his cabinent. Here one factor was Adam's personality and character. He was an opinionated man that did not easily take council, especuilly critical advise. He was also not easy on subordinates. He was prone to fits of anger. There were also policy differences. Many in his cabinent, like many Federalists, were more in agreement with Alexander Hamilton, especially on the key question of war with France. In particular Adams distrusted Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and Secretary of War James McHenry. It is fair to say that both men were disloyal to Adams, but the role of cabinent officers was still evolving at the time. And many viewed their role as cabinent officers more in the British sence. Both men took actions at Hamilton's suggestioin and ignored Adam's orders. Frustrated, Adams demanded McHenry's resignation and simply dismissed Pickering. The result was an open split in the Federalist Party just as the 1800 presidential election was approaching.

Election of 1800

The election of 1800 proved to be one of several contested eclection results, in this case because of a defect in the Constitution. The election was one of the most important elections in America history, primarily because it confirmed the peaceful transfer oif power. It was the first election in which the press played a major role. The election was also a stunning defeat for President Adams and one in which he took as a personal rebuke. Alexander Hamilton by 1800 was completely estranged from President Adams. Other important Federalists backed Hamilton rather than President Adams. Early presidential nominations were made by party caucuses in Congress. The Federalist Party was dominated by its New England delegation, thus ensuring President Adam's nomination. The Party also nominated John Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina. The Republicans who began to use the name Democratic-Republicans, nominated Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Hamilton campaigned for Pinckney, but not President Adams. With the Federalist Party so deeply divuded, Adams had no chance of winning the election. As a result of the system established by the Constitution, The Democratic-Republican candidates Jefferson and Burr tied with 73 votes each in the Electoral College. This was not susposed to happen. Burr was nominated with the vice-presidency in mind, but he refused to step aside. The election was thus thrown into the House of Representatives. Here Hamilton played a key role in swinging the vote to Jefferson. Adams was shocked at his loss in the election. He took the loss as a personal repudiation. He was embirted to be have been rejected by the country that he had spent his life serving. Even his own party had rejected him. He reffused to attend Jefferson's inaguration and quietly slipped out of Washington to return to Massachusetts.

Midnight Judges

President Adams's last major official act was to make a number of judicial appointments. He chose Federalists. These were life time appointments and thius would ensure continued Federalist influence for a generatioin despire Republical electoral victories. The press soon began calling these appointments as the "midnight judges." The appointments enfuruated President-elcr Jeffersob because they were made after the election. The most prominent appointment was Secretary of State John Marshall, whom Adams appointed Chief Justice of the United States. Marshall was to serve 30-year and have a major impact in shaping both the Federal judiciary and the Federal Government itself. Here Adams influence was felt long after he left Washington. Marshall was a constant irritant to Jeffeerson and helped strenhthen the Federal Government that Jefferson at the onset of his administration sought to weaken.


Adams returned to Massachusetts and lived on his farm there for 25 years. He withdrew from public life, but followed developments closely. Adams was especially proud of the developing career of his son John Quincy who was was able to see him elected president in 1824. Unfortunately John Quincy was possessed of many of the same characteristics of his father and had an even less successful presidency.

Reconciliation with Jefferson

Gradually as the years passed, the passions of his presidential years passed. The American public began to view Adams as the great patriot and man of integrity that thet he was. Adams and Jefferson even reconciled in 1812. At tht time the began to correspond. The range of their letters is impressive, covering history, philosophy, religion, and much more. Poigentely, Jefferson admitted to Adams that he had misjudged the character of the French Revolution and the bloodshed that would result. This was, of course, one of the principal issues that led to gheir break. The correspondence which continued until their death on the same day is one of the great artifacts of American history.


Adams died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. His friend, colleague, and adversary, Thomas Jefferson died the same day.


Adams, John. Autobiography (1802-7).

Adams, John. Recollections (1823).

Adams, Anigail and John. Correspondence. John to Abigail. May 12, 1780.

Beschloss, Michael. Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changes America, 1789-1889 (Simon & Schuster, 2007), 430p.

Hart, Gary. Restoration of the Republic: The Jeffersonian Ideal in 21st Century America (Oxford University Press: 2002), 273p.


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Created: September 1, 2002
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