The Presidency of John Adams

In Philadelphia, John Adams was sworn in as the nation’s second president on March 4, 1797. Vice President will be Thomas Jefferson.

Domestic Policies

Adams’s style was essential to delegate domestic matters to Congress and exercise personal control over foreign policy. Not only was the President charged with foreign policy by the Constitution, but perhaps no other American possessed as much diplomatic experience as Adams. As a consequence of his outlook, much of his domestic policy was inextricably linked to his foreign policy, as diplomatic issues frequently sparked a domestic backlash that consumed the President and the nation.

Following the XYZ Affair, there were numerous negative feelings toward the French. Sensing this sentiment among the populace and recognizing an opportunity to destroy Thomas Jefferson’s pro-French Democratic-Republican Party, the Federalist-dominated Congress drafted and passed the Alien and Sedition Acts during the spring and summer of 1798. Adams enacted the legislation. These acts were composed of four pieces of legislation that became the most divisive domestic issue of Adams’ presidency.

While ostensibly enacted the laws to prevent France’s aiding and abet within the United States and obstructing American foreign policy, they had domestic political overtones. Three of the bills targeted immigrants, the majority of whom voted for Democratic-Republican candidates. The Naturalization Act increased the required residency period from five to fourteen years. The Alien Act is the only one of the four acts to receive bipartisan support, authorized the detention of enemy aliens without trial or counsel during times of war. The Alien Enemies Act gave the President the authority to deport aliens deemed a threat to national security. The fourth statute, the Sedition Act, criminalized conspiracy to obstruct federal law enforcement and punished subversive speech with fines and imprisonment. During the last year and a half of Adams’ administration, the Sedition Act resulted in fifteen indictments and ten convictions. Although hundreds of alien immigrants fled the country in 1798 and 1799, no aliens were deported or arrested.

The Federalist Congress increased stamp and house taxes to pay for the military measures it enacted during the XYZ crisis. In what became known as Fries’s Rebellion, farmers in eastern Pennsylvania rioted and attacked federal tax collectors. They believed the new taxes were intended to fund a large standing army and navy, which they opposed. Several of their leaders were arrested and found guilty of treason, and sentenced to death. Adams, however, pardoned all of the prisoners on the eve of the 1800 election.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison secretly prepared a set of resolutions in response to the Federalists’ draconian use of federal power. These resolutions were introduced in the fall of 1798 sessions of the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures. Jefferson and Madison contended that because Who ratified the Constitution through a compact among the states, the people, through their state legislatures, had the authority to determine the legitimacy of federal actions. As a result, they declared the Alien and Sedition Acts to be null and void. (For additional information on the political consequences of these actions and reactions, see the Campaign and Election of 1800 section.)

While no other state formally endorsed the resolutions, they galvanized Democratic-Republican sentiment across the country. They also established the Jeffersonian Republicans within the revolutionary tradition of anti-tyranny resistance. Additionally, the solutions addressed state rights and the constitutional issue of resolving the conflict between the two members without secession or war.

Foreign Policy

Like his predecessor, Adams’ presidency was plagued by problems arising from the French Revolution. After the excesses of 1792, the French Revolution began to worry the most conservative Americans. Many opponents of the Revolution, especially aristocrats and monarchists, were executed in the September Massacres (1792) and the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). The revolutionary leadership moved toward social leveling, ending historic class privileges and distinctions between social classes. Adams, who lived in France and Britain during the French Revolution, saw its potential for terror and anarchy. Then he was proved right.

Nonetheless, the issues facing Washington and Adams stemmed from the French Revolution’s wars. On the other hand, several European monarchical nations allied against the French in 1792, hoping to eliminate the threat of republican revolutionaries. The significant threat to the United States came in 1793 when Britain joined the coalition against France. Despite Washington’s declaration of neutrality, a crisis arose when London tried to block US trade with France. Royal Navy ships seized American ships and cargoes on the high seas to impress American sailors who had allegedly deserted the British navy. By 1794, many wanted war with Britain. Fearful of war, President Washington dispatched John Jay to London to seek a diplomatic solution. As a result, the Jay Treaty of 1794 was signed. The treaty strengthened ties between the United States and the United Kingdom. After interpreting the treaty as a new US-British alliance, France retaliated by seizing American ships carrying British goods. It decided to throw Adams into a foreign crisis that lasted his entire presidency. Adams sent three commissioners to Paris to negotiate a settlement. By refusing to receive them officially, French Prime Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand insulted the American diplomats. Before starting peace talks, he demanded a $250,000 personal bribe and a $10 million loan for his broke country. The XYZ affair sparked a furious reaction in the United States.

Adams responded by requesting funds for defensive measures. These included strengthening the navy, improving coastal defenses, creating a provisional army, and allowing the President to activate up to 80,000 militiamen. Congress approved the Alien and Sedition Acts to suppress dissent, established the Navy Department, organized the Marine Corps, and canceled France’s wartime alliance and commerce treaties. On the high seas, violent incidents erupted. It is called the Quasi-War crisis. Some Americans, especially Anglophiles, hoped for war to save Britain and destroy the French revolutionaries. But from the start, President Adams sought a peaceful solution on American terms. His goal was to show American resolve and, he hoped, bring France to the negotiating table. Who reported a French willingness to talk to him in the autumn and winter of 1798/99. Adams announced his decision to send another diplomatic commission to France when Talleyrand sent unofficial word that The French government would receive American diplomats. On their arrival in Paris late in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte had become France’s leader. This treaty ended the Quasi-War by releasing America from its Revolutionary War alliance with France. After nearly twenty-five years of public service, Adams said the honorable peace he arranged was his crowning achievement.

The end of Adams’ term

The fourth presidential election took place on November 11, 1800. The Federalist Party’s Adams is defeated in his bid for a second term. Because Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr got the same electoral votes, the race went to the House of Representatives, where Jefferson prevailed.